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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Hosea - Introduction

Hosea prophesied in the second half of the eighth century BCE from the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (c.787–747) to that of Hoshea (c.731–722), the last king of Israel. Although ch. 1 and perhaps ch. 4 reflect the long, peaceful reign of Jeroboam II, much of the book dates from the period of coups d'état which afflicted the northern kingdom in its last decades following his death. Cf. 7:7 , ‘All of them are hot as an oven, and they devour their rulers’.

Jeroboam II was succeeded by his son Zechariah, who was murdered after only six months' rule (c.747–746) and this ended the dynasty of Jehu, which had ruled for almost a century. His slayer Shallum was himself struck down after only one month (c.746) and was succeeded by Menahem (c.746–737), who paid tribute to the newly aggressive Assyrian ruler Tiglath-pileser III (745–727). His son Pekahiah ruled c.737–736, but was assassinated by his captain Pekah, who reigned c.736–731. This event is probably reflected in 6:7–9 , with its reference to bloodshed in Gilead, since Gilead is where the rebellion started.

Pekah made an alliance with Rezin, king of Syria (the Syro-Ephraimite alliance) in order to besiege Jerusalem under King Ahaz with the intention of putting on the throne one willing to join an anti-Assyrian alliance. Ahaz (rejecting Isaiah's advice, cf. Isa 7 ) appealed to Tiglath-pileser III, who intervened, annexing Galilee, Gilead, and much of the coastal plain from Israel and exiling part of the population in c.733, as well as destroying Damascus in 732. The internecine strife between Judah and Israel then is reflected in 5:8–15 .

Next Hoshea (c.731–722) assassinated Pekah, and pursued a pro-Assyrian policy for a few years, paying tribute to the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V (727–722), but later paid tribute to ‘So king of Egypt’ instead (2 Kings 17:4 ). Consequently, the Assyrians invaded Israel, imprisoned Hoshea (possibly alluded to in 13:10 ), and besieged Samaria for three years, capturing it in 722. Thus ended the northern kingdom of Israel; 27,290 prisoners were exiled by Shalmaneser V's successor, Sargon II, in 720. These last years of the northern kingdom are echoed in Hosea's references to the changing shift of alliances between pro-Assyrian and pro-Egyptian policies, e.g. 7:11 , ‘Ephraim has become like a dove, silly and without sense, they call upon Egypt, they go to Assyria’.

The northern kingdom's end was predicted by Hosea, who saw this as YHWH's judgement on Israel's sin. Hosea has often been compared with Amos, who a little earlier (c.760–750) likewise prophesied judgement on Israel. Whereas Amos had little hope for the future (Amos 9:11–15 is a later addition) and concentrated his invective on social injustice, corruption, and hypocritical religiosity, Hosea hoped for restoration after judgement and concentrated his anger on the religious syncretism of the Baalized YHWH cult and the political follies of coups d'état and foreign alliances. Whilst the differing historical circumstances of the two prophets partly explain these differences, some of them are attributable to their differing temperaments.

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