Lesson 3 of 5
In Progress

Background of Hosea

The book of Hosea is one of the four books that come to us from prophets who were active during the eighth century B.C.E. (the others are Amos, Micah, and Isaiah). During this time, God’s people were divided into two nations. Like Amos, Hosea was a prophet who was active in the northern kingdom of Israel (Hosea also refers to Israel as “Ephraim” and “Samaria.”). And like the book of Amos, the book of Hosea somehow made its way south to Jerusalem where it was copied, edited, and preserved to serve as God’s word for future generations. Unlike Amos, Hosea himself was a citizen of the northern kingdom.

Hosea had a very long prophetic ministry, probably from about 750 to 722 B.C.E. Hosea began his prophetic activity in the northern kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II (died 746 B.C.E.). The years of Jeroboam’s reign were the last days of what had been a century of peace and prosperity. Shortly after Jeroboam II died, Tiglath-Pileser III ascended the throne of Assyria and initiated Assyrian military campaigns into Israel’s region. The threat of Assyrian power paints the background against which Hosea’s ministry must be understood.

As Assyrian might increased, political stability in Israel decreased. Of the six kings who reigned following Jeroboam’s death, four were murdured–in 745 B.C.E. alone, three different kings sat on Israel’s throne. In about 735 B.C.E., Pekah joined other neighboring countries in a revolt against Assyria. Assyria prevailed over the revolting countries; Pekah was murdered by Hoshea, who reigned over a brief period of peace. But Hoshea led another revolt against Assyria, which resulted in Israel’s final demise. In 722 B.C.E., Samaria, the capital of Israel, was conquered and the nation ceased to exist. The end of Hosea’s life and ministry is not recorded, but it is likely that he was still active when Samaria was conquered (13:9-16).

Not much is known of Hosea’s life, other than what can be discerned about his family life from chapters 1-3. The interpretation of these chapters is controversial. One likely way of interpreting the chapters is to conclude that on God’s command Hosea married Gomer, who was either “a promiscuous woman” or a “cultic prostitute.” She bore three children, whose names served symbolic purposes in Hosea’s preaching. It is possible that Hosea came from a priestly lineage, although this is uncertain.

Hosea announced God’s condemnation of Israel for worship of other gods, for wickedness, and for the oppression of the poor by the wealthy. Hosea was particularly critical of the priests and prophets, who had been given the responsibility to teach the people the ways of the Lord but who neglected that responsibility. Hosea proclaimed that the people would suffer because they did not know God’s ways; the priests who were supposed to teach God’s ways would suffer as well. Like Amos and other prophets, Hosea did not teach a new morality. His message was conservative in that he called people to faithfulness to the laws of Moses. Hosea served up a withering attack on the religious and political structures of Israel. God had made a covenant with Israel. Because of the nation’s wickedness, the people would be punished.

In spite of the coming punishment, Hosea also knew that on the other side of judgment, God would graciously continue a relationship with the people. Using tender and emotional language, Hosea proclaimed that God longed for a relationship with the people and would not finally let them go.

It should also be noted that interpretation of Hosea is complicated by the fact that the Hebrew text of Hosea is very difficult. At many points, the text is not clear. One likely reason for this is that the prophet spoke a northern dialect of Hebrew that we do not fully understand.