Very few things in this world are more traumatic to the integrity of one’s heart than unfaithfulness. Unfaithfulness can drive one to murder another human being, murder one’s self, or spiral downward into severe depression. A broken heart is devastating.
Scripture testifies to the heartlessness of unfaithfulness with the mandate found in Leviticus 20:10: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” Wow, just think if we still enforced this precept today. We definitely wouldn’t have a population problem…and unemployment? Forget about it!
According to Jewish tradition, Joseph and Mary were as good as married. After Joseph proposed his intentions to Mary, he had to serve Mary’s father for a specified period of time…a poor-man’s dowry. During this time, Joseph and Mary had to abstain from intimate relations, but they were considered married for all intents and purposes. Joseph was waiting patiently—or quite possibly, impatiently—for his wedding night with Mary, and then BAM…one day she shows up preggers. Talk about a smack in the face. Joseph knew about the Levitical mandate when he discovered that his fiancé was pregnant. Joseph knew he could legitimately have her executed. Unfortunately, he didn’t know who the culprit was, and Mary wasn’t fessing up. In fact, Mary had concocted some far-fetched “conceived by the Holy Spirit” mumbo jumbo. In a valiant display of grace and mercy, Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly in order to avoid the public stoning of the woman he loved. Joseph’s heart was breaking. The love of his life had been unfaithful.
We know today that Mary didn’t develop a fanciful story regarding the conception of Jesus; we know that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless…for the fun of it, let’s put ourselves in Joseph’s sandals for a second. Perhaps a visit from an angel in my dreams confirming my fiancé’s alibi would convince me to stay with her, but it wouldn’t completely heal my heart; it wouldn’t eradicate all doubt. Even though Joseph married Mary, he was probably still nursing the aftermath of his broken heart.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and the Magi from the East presented their gifts to Jesus, Joseph’s favorite angel paid him another visit in yet another dream. I can hear Joseph saying, “Oh great…it’s you again!” The angel said to Joseph, “Get up! Take the child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him.” Matthew tells us that Joseph got up, took Jesus and His mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. Joseph stayed in Egypt until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matthew 2:13-15).
Many skeptics argue that this particular prophecy from Hosea wasn’t speaking of Jesus (God’s Son), but of Israel. Upon reading the verse, Hosea 11:1, one would have to agree with the skeptics. Hosea 11:1-2 reads: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.”
There’s really nothing to be skeptical about it. Matthew wasn’t an idiot…he knew exactly what he was doing by referencing this verse. Joseph’s trip to Egypt—with Mary and Jesus in tow—and then back again wasn’t the fulfillment of some literal interpretation of Hosea 11:1. Instead, it was the fulfillment of the essence of Hosea’s prophecy…in its entirety. The book of Hosea gives us a visual image into how God feels when his people are unfaithful. God commands the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute who, even after she marries Hosea, continues to cheat on him with other men in public. God tells Hosea to do this so that Hosea could feel the way God feels every time His people put their trust in other gods. Hosea 11 is a window into the very heart of God. God wants nothing more than to deliver His people from the slavery of sin and desolation. Even when the love of His life is unfaithful, God remains faithful to His commitment—God’s love never ceases. God never gives up wanting to save His people, even when they find comfort in the arms of another. At the conclusion of this passage, God expresses His love for His people in this sonnet:
“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities. They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes.”
God sent the heart-broken Joseph back to Egypt to illustrate the true purpose of Jesus. It wasn’t so Jesus could fulfill Hosea’s prophecy by traveling from Egypt back to Israel. It was so Jesus could fulfill Hosea’s prophecy by redeeming a people who perpetually broke God’s heart through unfaithfulness. Jesus is the final solution through which God will deliver His wandering people from the slavery of sin and death that is so often equated to the bondage they experienced in Egypt.
Jesus, the Lion of Judah, roars upon his victory over the grave. Jesus’ victory delivers us from our Egypts…from our Assyrias…from all those places in our lives that hold us captive. Even though our unfaithfulness breaks God’s heart, through Jesus, God calls us (his sons and daughters) out of Egypt…out of sin and death and He redeems us. Now we can flutter like doves, and settle in our homes…in our homes with the Lord.