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 AmosProphet to the northern kingdom who condemned Israel's oppression of the poor, calling for justice to "roll down like waters." More, Micah, and IsaiahIsaiah, son of Amoz, who prophesied in Jerusalem, is included among the prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. (along with Amos, Hosea, and Micah)--preachers who boldly proclaimed God's word of judgment against the economic, social, and religious disorders of their time. More). During this time, God’s people were divided into two nations. Like Amos, Hosea was a prophet who was active in the northern kingdomThe Northern Kingdom consisted of ten of the twelve tribes of Israel and lasted for 200 years until it was destroyed by Assyria in 721 B.C.E. In the northern kingdom the kings were evil. Prophets like Elijah and Amos railed against them and their evildoing. More 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 IIThe king of Israel (786-746) during a time when Israel increased in prosperity and power. Although Jeroboam's policies brought prosperity to some in Israel, especially those who dwelt in the cities, the suffering of the poor also increased. Tthe prophet Amos criticized Jeroboam for lack... More (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 MosesProphet who led Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land and received the law at Sinai More. Hosea served up a withering attack on the religious and political structures of Israel. God had made a covenantA covenant is a promise or agreement. In the Bible the promises made between God and God's people are known as covenants; they state or imply a relationship of commitment and obedience. More 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.