The OT quotation almost certainly comes from Hos 11:1, which refers to Israel’s exodus from Egypt. In what sense can Matthew mean that Jesus’ return to the land of Israel “fulfilled” this text? Four observations clarify the issue.
(1) Jesus is often presented in the NT as the antitype of Israel, or better, the typological recapitulation of Israel. For example, Jesus’ temptation after forty days of fasting recapitulated the forty years’ trial of Israel (see comments on 4:1-11). Pharaoh had to let Israel go because Israel was the Lord’s son (Ex 4:22-23). Thus it is only fitting that Jesus also come out of Egypt as God’s Son, for already by this time he has been presented as the messianic “son of David” and, by the virginal conception, the Son of God (see also 3:17).
(2) The verb “to fulfill” (GK G4444) has broader significance than mere one-to-one prediction (see comments on 5:17). Not only in Matthew but elsewhere in the NT, the history and laws of the OT are perceived to have prophetic significance. Hebrews, for example, argues that the laws regarding the tabernacle and the sacrificial system were from the beginning designed to point toward the only Sacrifice that could really remove sin and toward the only Priest who could serve once and for all as the effective Mediator between God and humankind. “Fulfillment” must be understood against the background of such interlocking themes and their typological connections.
(3) It follows, therefore, that the NT writers do not think they are reading back into the OT things that are not already there germinally. Regarding v. 15, Hos 11 pictures God’s love for Israel. Although God threatens judgment and disaster, yet because he is God and not a man (11:9), he looks to a time when in compassion he will roar like a lion and his children will return to him (11:10-11). In short Hosea himself looks forward to a saving visitation by the Lord. The “son” language is part of this messianic matrix; insofar as that matrix points to Jesus the Messiah and insofar as Israel’s history looks forward to one who sums it up, in that sense Hos 11:1 looks forward to Jesus the Messiah. The NT writers insist that the OT can be rightly interpreted only if the entire revelation is kept in perspective as it is historically unfolded (e.g., Gal 3:6-14).
(4) If this interpretation of Mt 2:15 is correct, it follows that for Matthew Jesus himself is the locus of true Israel. This does not necessarily mean that God has no further purpose for racial Israel; but it does mean that the position of God’s people in the Messianic Age is determined by reference to Jesus, not race.