In Matthew’s gospel, the life and deeds of Jesus echo key events in the history of Israel, not that he reenacts them, but instead, he brings what God began in the past to fruition in the kingdom of God. The Nazarene is the Greater Lawgiver foreshadowed in the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt.
This is not done simply for literary effect. By presenting parallels between Moses and Jesus, Matthew sets the stage for the teachings of the “Coming One,” especially in his so-called ‘Sermon on the Mount’.
Moses delivered the Law to Israel at Mount Sinai, and so, on the “mount,” Jesus pronounces his definitive interpretations of the “law and the prophets.”
After the “wise men” told King Herod of their intent to find the one “born king of the Jews,” he asked them to inform him when they found the child so that he, too, could pay homage to him. But the “wise men” were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, for he intended to kill the child, and so they returned home another way – (Matthew 2:1-12).
OUT OF EGYPT
Likewise, at the time Moses was born, the “king of Egypt” ordered the “Hebrew midwives” to kill all male infants when they were born. But they “feared God and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them” – (Exodus 1:17).
In Matthew, an angel warns Joseph to take the infant to Egypt, “for Herod will seek to destroy the child.” And that is exactly what the king did when he ordered the slaughter of all the males under the age of two in Bethlehem.
Joseph and his family remained in Egypt until Herod died in fulfillment of the prophecy in the book of Hosea, originally, a passage applied to Israel and referred to the nation’s deliverance from Egypt – “Out of Egypt, I called my son” – (Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:13-16).
Likewise, Moses fled Egypt because Pharaoh sought to slay him, and he remained in Midian until Pharaoh died. Only then did Yahweh “hear the groanings of the children of Israel and remember his covenant with Abraham” and sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver Israel – (Exodus 2:15-25, 3:14).
Similarly, after his baptism in the Jordan River, the “Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the Devil.” And the temptation as recorded in Matthew echoes the tests that Israel faced in the wilderness, only she failed each test.
In contrast, at each point, Jesus overcame the Devil, and the scriptures he used in response to Satan were from that critical episode in Israel’s history – (Matthew 4:1-11).
And in the wilderness, the Israelites complained that they missed the “fleshpots of Egypt.” God responded by sending them “manna” to eat, though many came to despise it.
Years later, Moses reminded the nation how God “fed you with manna…that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh,” the very passage Jesus quoted to Satan in the wilderness – (Exodus 16:3, Deuteronomy 8:3).
At Massah, the Israelites grumbled about the lack of drinkable water, and in doing so, they “tempted Yahweh.” Before entering Canaan, Moses reminded them of the incident when he warned Israel not “to tempt Yahweh your God, as you tempted him in Massah.”
In the wilderness, Jesus cites the same passage from Deuteronomy when Satan challenges him to throw himself down from the “pinnacle of the Temple” – (Exodus 17:1-7, Deuteronomy 6:16).
And when the Devil offered Jesus political power, he responded by again citing the words of Moses issued to Israel:
- “Beware lest you forget Yahweh who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt. You shall fear Yahweh your God, and you shall serve him” – (Deuteronomy 6:12-13).
After the temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee where he began to proclaim the gospel. Consequently, “great multitudes from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem and Judea” started to follow him – (Matthew 4:18-25).
The geographic names indicate the crowds were comprised of Gentiles and Jews. In the same passage, Galilee is referred to as “Galilee of the nations,” and in the first century, it was populated by Jews and Gentiles. “Decapolis” refers to the confederation of ten cities with largely Greek-speaking non-Jewish populations to the east of Galilee.
Matthew’s description of the “multitudes” is reminiscent of the “mixed multitude” that “came up with the children of Israel” when God brought them out of Egypt “with a high hand…and with signs and with wonders.”
And so, also, many members of the “multitude” in Galilee that followed Jesus were attracted by his miraculous healings and exorcisms rather than his teachings and summons to discipleship – (Exodus 12:38, Deuteronomy 26:8).
SERMON ON THE MOUNT
The background from Exodus and Deuteronomy prepares the reader for the first major block of Christ’s teachings, his Sermon on the Mount. In chapter 5, after “seeing the multitudes,” Jesus led his disciples “up into the mountain,” and there, he sat down and began to teach them.
The Greek text uses the definite article or “the” with “mountain.” It was “THE mountain.” However, the text does not name it or provide any information about its identity. Instead, it includes a verbal allusion to the story of Moses when he “ascended unto the mount” at Sinai.
Matthew wants us to hear these parallels with the story of Moses. While Israel was encamped on the plain, Moses “went up to Yahweh” on the mount and received the “ten words” inscribed on the stone tablets.
In the Greek Septuagint version of Exodus, Moses “ascended unto the mount” (anebé eis to oros). The same precise clause is found in the Greek text of Matthew describing how Jesus “ascended unto the mount” (anebé eis to oros). This is not coincidental.
Moses also set “bounds for the people” around the mountain to prevent the Israelites from even approaching it so none would “go up into the mount” as he had done, and anyone who even touched it would “surely be put to death” – (Exodus 12:12-25).
When he ascended the mountain again into the presence of Yahweh, only Aaron went with him. Not even the sanctified priests were allowed on the mountain – “Let not the priests and the people break through to ascend up unto Yahweh, lest he break forth upon them.”
Thus, having ascended the “mount” as Moses did, Jesus taught the words of God to his closest disciples. But unlike Moses, he gave the definitive interpretation of the Law and the will of his Father.
The “law came through Moses, but grace and truth came to be through Jesus.” The Son dwells in the “bosom of the Father,” therefore, he is the only one qualified to “interpret” the unseen God – (John 1:14-18).