Matthew 2:15
"Hosea 11:1 clearly refers not to the Messiah but to the people of Israel, who were called God’s son even before leaving Egypt (Exodus 4:22). The previous two Tanakh quotations (1:23, 2:6) involved literal fulfillment, but this does not. In what sense, then, does Yeshua’s flight to Egypt fulfill what Adonai had said through the prophet?
To answer, we must understand the four basic modes of Scripture interpretation used by the rabbis. These are:
  • P˒shat (“simple”)—the plain, literal sense of the text, more or less what modern scholars mean by “grammatical-historical exegesis,” which looks to the grammar of the language and the historical setting as background for deciding what a passage means. Modern scholars often consider grammatical-historical exegesis the only valid way to deal with a text; pastors who use other approaches in their sermons usually feel defensive about it before academics. But the rabbis had three other modes of interpreting Scripture, and their validity should not be excluded in advance but related to the validity of their implied presuppositions.
  •  Remez (“hint”)—wherein a word, phrase or other element in the text hints at a truth not conveyed by the p˒shat. The implied presupposition is that God can hint at things of which the Bible writers themselves were unaware.
  •  Drash or midrash (“search”)—an allegorical or homiletical application of a text. This is a species of eisegesis—reading one’s own thoughts into the text—as opposed to exegesis, which is extracting from the text what it actually says. The implied presupposition is that the words of Scripture can legitimately become grist for the mill of human intellect, which God can guide to truths not directly related to the text at all.
  •  Sod (“secret”)—a mystical or hidden meaning arrived at by operating on the numerical values of the Hebrew letters, noting unusual spellings, transposing letters, and the like. For example, two words, the numerical equivalents of whose letters add up to the same amount, are good candidates for revealing a secret through what Arthur Koestler in his book on the inventive mind called “bisociation of ideas.” The implied presupposition is that God invests meaning in the minutest details of Scripture, even the individual letters.
 The presuppositions underlying remez, drash and sod obviously express God’s omnipotence, but they also express his love for humanity, in the sense that he chooses out of love to use extraordinary means for reaching people’s hearts and minds. At the same time, it is easy to see how remez, drash and sod can be abused, since they all allow, indeed require, subjective interpretation; and this explains why scholars, who deal with the objective world, hesitate to use them.
 These four methods of working a text are remembered by the Hebrew word “PaRDeS,” an acronym formed from the initials; it means “orchard” or “garden.”
 What, then, is Matthew doing here? Some allege he is misusing Scripture, twisting the meaning of what Hosea wrote from its context in order to apply it to Yeshua. Such an accusation stands only if Matthew is dealing with the p˒shat. For there is no question that the p˒shat of Hosea 11:1 applies to the nation of Israel and not to Yeshua.
 Some think Matthew is using the drash approach, making a midrash in which he reads the Messiah into a verse dealing with Israel. Many rabbis used the same procedure; Matthew ’s readers would not have found it objectionable.
 Nevertheless, I believe Matthew is not doing eisegesis but giving us a remez, a hint of a very deep truth. Israel is called God’s son as far back as Exodus 4:22. The Messiah is presented as God’s son a few verses earlier in Matthew (Mt 1:18–25), reflecting Tanakh passages such as Isaiah 9:5–6(6–7), Psalm 2:7 and Proverbs 30:4. Thus the Son equals the son: the Messiah is equated with, is one with, the nation of Israel. This is the deep truth Matthew is hinting at by calling Yeshua’s flight to Egypt a “fulfillment” of Hosea 11:1.
 This fact, that the Messiah Yeshua stands for and is intimately identified with his people Israel, is an extremely important corporate aspect of the Gospel generally neglected in the individualistically oriented Western world. The individual who trusts Yeshua becomes united with him and is “immersed” (baptized; see 3:1&N) into all that Yeshua is (see Ac 2:38&N), including his death and resurrection—so that his sinful propensities are regarded as dead, and his new nature, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is regarded as alive (Ro 6:3–6&N). Likewise, just as this intimate identification with the Messiah holds for the individual, so the Messiah similarly identifies with and embodies national, corporate Israel. Indeed it is only because Yeshua identifies himself with the Jewish people, national Israel, the “olive tree” into which Gentile Christians have been “grafted” (Ro 11:17–24), that he can plausibly identify with the Messianic Community, the Church, as “head of the Body” (1 Cor 11:3; Ep 1:10, 22; 4:15, 5:23; Co 1:18, 2:19) and “cornerstone” of the building (below at 21:42, Mk 12:10, Ac 4:11, Ep 2:20, 1 Cor 2:6–7).
 Modern readers of the Bible, by using “grammatical-historical exegesis,” ignore all modes of interpretation except the p˒shat, discounting them as eisegesis. This is in reaction to the tendency of the Church Fathers in the second through eighth centuries to over-allegorize, an error which probably resulted from their misunderstanding the limitations of, and therefore misusing, the other three rabbinic approaches to texts. But the New Testament is a Jewish book, written by Jews in a Jewish context; and the first-century Jewish context included all four ways of handling texts. Matthew knew perfectly well that Hosea was not referring to Yeshua, to a Messiah, or even to any individual. Yet he also sensed that because Yeshua in a profound yet recondite way embodies Israel, his coming from Egypt re-enacted in a spiritually significant way the Exodus of the Jewish people. Since remez and p˒shat have different presuppositions one should expect fulfillment of a prophecy by remez to be different from literal fulfillment. At 1:23 and 2:6 the plain, literal sense of the text, the p˒shat, suffices to show how the prophecies are fulfilled, but here it does not.
 The phrase, “what Adonai had said through the prophet,” takes our attention off the prophet himself and puts it on God who spoke through him. It lets the reader understand that Adonai might have been saying more than what the prophet himself understood when he wrote. It prepares him for the possibility that behind Hosea’s p˒shat was God’s remez to be revealed in its time and lends credibility to the “PaRDeS” mode of interpretation.
 Recognition that there are four modes of Jewish exegesis also resolves much of the controversy concerning how certain passages in the Tanakh ought to be interpreted. For example, most Christians say that Isaiah 53 refers to the Messiah, and some (though not all) traditional Jews say it refers to Israel. But if there is a mystical identification between the Messiah and the people whose king he is (an idea expounded at length by the best-known Christian theologian of the twentieth century, Karl Barth, in his Church Dogmatics), then the interpretational conflict vanishes; both claimants hold part of the total truth.
 Moreover, the idea that the Messiah personifies or is identified intimately with Israel is a Jewish one. First of all, we see it in the Tanakh itself. Compare Isaiah 49:3 (“You are my servant Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”) with Isaiah 49:6 (“Is it too slight a thing that you should be my servant … to restore the preserved of Israel?”). The servant is at once Israel and he who restores Israel, that is, the Messiah. In chapter 12 of Raphael Patai’s The Messiah Texts he quotes Pesikta Rabbati 161–162, where the Messiah is called Efrayim (a name symbolizing Israel) and is at the same time presented as bearing Israel’s sufferings. Likewise the thirteenth-century work which is at the core of the Jewish mystical approach called kabbalah, the Zohar (2:212a), links the Messiah’s suffering with that of Israel. Patai also retells the eighteenth-century Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav’s story of the viceroy and the king’s daughter, adding that most interpreters understand the viceroy to represent both Israel and the suffering Messiah."
David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary : A Companion Volume to the Jewish New Testament, electronic ed. (Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996), Mt 2:15.
What prophecy is Matthew 2:23 referring to regarding Jesus being a Nazarene?
Matthew 2:23 says about Jesus, “He went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” Where is this prophecy in the Old Testament?
Matthew is obviously not quoting a prophecy directly, as there is no Old Testament passage with the wording he uses. Three major options exist for interpreting this verse. First, it may be that Matthew is associating the word Nazarene with the Hebrew word netser (“branch or sprout”). The “Branch” was a common term for the Messiah, such as in Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” Hebrew was written with only consonants, and netser would have appeared as NZR—the same main consonants as Nazareth. In fact, in Aramaic, the common language of Jesus’ day, the word for “Nazareth” and the Hebrew word for “branch” sounded very much alike. Matthew’s point could be that Jesus was “sprouting up” from an obscure village in Galilee; Jesus was the Branch predicted by the prophets, and the name of the town He grew up in happens to sound just like the prophets’ word for “branch.”
A second option is that Matthew is citing a prophecy not found in the Hebrew Scriptures but in another source. If so, Matthew referred to a prophecy known to his original audience yet unknown to us today. However, this is unlikely and an argument from silence.
A third option is that Matthew uses the word Nazarene in reference to a person who is “despised and rejected.” In the first century, Nazareth was a small town about 55 miles north of Jerusalem, and it had a negative reputation among the Jews. Galilee was generally looked down upon by Judeans, and Nazareth of Galilee was especially despised (see John 1:46). If this was Matthew’s emphasis, the prophecies Matthew had in mind could include these two passages concerning the Messiah:
“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads” (Psalm 22:6–7). It’s true that Nazarenes were “scorned by everyone,” and so one could see this messianic prophecy as an allusion to Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth.
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3). Again, in Jesus’ day, Nazarenes were “despised and rejected,” and so Isaiah’s prophecy could be viewed as an indirect reference to Jesus’ background as the supposed son of a carpenter from Nazareth.
If Psalm 22:6–7 and Isaiah 53:3 are the prophecies that Matthew had in mind, then the meaning of “He shall be called a Nazarene” is something akin to “He shall be despised and mocked by His own people.” Jesus not only identified with humanity by coming to our world; He also identified with the lowly of this world. His upbringing in an obscure and despised town served as an important part of His mission. Jesus identified Himself as “Jesus of Nazareth” during His encounter with Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:7–8). After his conversion, Paul mentioned Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 26:9). One of the names of the early Christians was “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5), and the term Nasara, meaning “Nazarene,” is still used today by Muslims to identify a Christian.