In his gospel, St Matthew says that the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape King Herod’s plan to murder the infant Jesus. He wrote that they “remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’” (Matthew 2:15).
This was a quote from the Old Testament prophet Hosea. Hosea lived in northern Israel and prophesied at the same time as Isaiah. He spoke about Israel’s rocky relationship with God as a difficult marriage, with God as the loving husband and his unfaithful people as his wife.
To further explore this theme of unconditional love, Hosea also looked back on the nation’s history. He wrote that at the time of the Exodus – when the Israelites escaped Egypt for the Promised Land – they were like a child under his loving care. He said: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” (11:1 cf Exodus 4:22-23).
In the first instance, Hosea was referring to a past event – the Exodus. However, St Matthew explains that the passage actually has a secondary, hidden meaning. He says that it also referred to a future event – the return of the Son of God from Egypt.
Christ himself said that there were references to his life throughout the Old Testament, including the prophets (Luke 24:27). This text from Hosea was one of them. It was a secret clue that the child Jesus, like the Israelites before him, would spend some time in Egypt.
This painting of the Stay in Egypt, which brings this prophetic story to life, is by the school of Federico Barocci. Barocci was an Italian Renaissance painter (1535-1612). Other Italian painters of the era copied his style; this particular example is by an unknown student of his work. The painting is included here by kind permission of the Gillow Trust.
This scene of the Holy Family in Egypt pictures a rest on the journey either to or from Egypt. The pyramids and palm trees in the background help us locate the scene in ancient Egypt. Angels have flocked to worship the infant Jesus, while one of them presents him with what appears to be a garland. In his right hand, Jesus holds a crown of thorns, as a symbol of his eventual death.
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