Matthew portrays Jesus as the Greater Moses, the True Lawgiver who brings the “Law and the Prophets” to their intended fulfillment.
In Matthew’s gospel, the life of Jesus echoes events from the history of Israel. The point is not that Christ reenacted what Yahweh did in Moses and for Israel, but that he brought what God had begun in the distant past to fruition. He is the Greater Lawgiver foreshadowed in the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt under Moses.
This is not simply for literary effect. By presenting parallels between the lives of Moses and Jesus, Matthew sets the stage for the teachings of Jesus, and especially for his ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ Moses delivered the Law to Israel at Mount Sinai, and so, on the “mount,” Jesus pronounced his definitive interpretations of the Torah.
After the “wise men” told 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, and so they returned home another way – (Matthew 2:1-12).
FROM ISRAEL’S HISTORY
Similarly, 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).
An angel warned Joseph to take the infant and his mother 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. This was in fulfillment of the prophecy from the book of Hosea, originally, a passage applied to Israel that referred to the nation’s deliverance from bondage in 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 after Pharaoh had died. And it was only then that Yahweh “heard the groanings of the children of Israel and remember his covenant with Abraham,” appearing to Moses and sending him back to Egypt to deliver Israel – (Exodus 2:15-25, 3:14).
After his baptism in the Jordan, the “Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the Devil.” The temptations recorded in Matthew echo 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 to respond to Satan were chosen from that critical episode in Israel’s history – (Matthew 4:1-11).
In the wilderness, the Israelites complained how they missed the “fleshpots of Egypt.” God responded by sending them “manna” to eat, which some of them came to despise.
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 that “you shall not tempt Yahweh your God, as you tempted him in Massah.”
Jesus cited the same passage when Satan challenged him to throw himself down from the “pinnacle of the Temple” – (Exodus 17:1-7, Deuteronomy 6:16).
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).
Jesus returned to Galilee only after successfully resisting Satan, where he began to proclaim the gospel (“he was teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease among the people”). Consequently, “great multitudes from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem and Judea” followed him – (Matthew 4:18-25).
The geographic names point to crowds comprised of both 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” referred to a confederation of ten cities with largely Greek-speaking and non-Jewish populations.
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.” Likewise, many members of the “multitude” that followed Jesus were attracted by his miraculous healings and exorcisms – (Exodus 12:38, Deuteronomy 26:8).
SERMON ON THE MOUNT
The background from Exodus and Deuteronomy sets the stage 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 the mountain or provide any information about its identity. Instead, the sentence 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 to receive the “ten words” inscribed by God on the stone tablets.
In the Greek Septuagint version, Moses “ascended unto the mount” (anebé eis to oros), which is precisely the same clause found in the Greek text of Matthew when Jesus “ascended unto the mount” (anebé eis to oros). This is not coincidental.
And Moses also set “bounds for the people” around the mountain to prevent the Israelites from even approaching it, so none of them 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 awesome 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” like Moses before him, Jesus began to teach the words of God. 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” and therefore is the only one qualified to “interpret” the unseen God.