Commentary: Hosea in History


Like many of the prophets, we know very little about Hosea. Scholars have pieced together aspects of his life from the internal comments made in his prophecies.

Hosea began his prophecy during the reign of King Jeroboam II (785–743 BCE) which began as a period of expansion and prosperity for Israel, the Northern Kingdom. The resurgence of relative stability and increasing prosperity resulted in large measure from a combination of several factors. 

First, the power of Damascus was broken by the rise of Assyria. Adad-Nirari III (811–783) although he collected tribute from Israel, the kingdom was not under Assyria’s heel. His successors were ineffectual rulers who were unable to maintain a foothold east of the Euphrates River.

The second major factor in Israel’s resurgence was the long rule of Jeroboam II, who was able to extend Israel’s influence, if not its actual rule, into the Transjordan. The archaeological evidence confirms the biblical account of enormous prosperity. Most scholars believe that the population was about 350,000. Trade in olive oil, wine, and possibly horses, was the basis of increased prosperity, Israel selling to Egypt and especially Assyria. The scholarly evidence is found in what are known as the Samarian Ostraca, writings in Paleo-Hebrew script on potsherds.  

Worship of the Lord was at Bethel, the place where Jacob was believed to have built an altar as commanded (Gen 35). However, there was also worship of the golden calf, the image of Baal.

Assyria was starting to rise up against Israel, however. Hosea’s prophecy extended through “the reigns of Jeroboam’s three successors, Zechariah (743), Shallum (743) and Menahem (743–738). Zechariah, remembered for having done what was “evil in the sight of the Lord” reigned for six months and was murdered by a captain in his army named Shallum. He lasted one month being murdered by Menahem, another captain who fared somewhat better since he lasted five years. 

Hosea refers to himself as “the watchman of Ephraim,” which indicates that he lived in that tribal region. Hosea’s prophecies continued throughout these tumultuous years. The nation had fallen into disarray and worship of Baal cults was common.  

Hosea’s prophecies stop abruptly around 720 about the same time as the Assyrian conquest. Israel, seeing the danger that was coming from Tiglath-pileser, the king of Assyria, tried to make an alliance with Egypt but it failed Israel in the end. ​​​​​​​