Over the next month I’ll be working through Hosea in sermons and some blog posts. The short book of powerful prophetic poetry (accompanied by two brief narrative sections), cannot be read in strict isolation. It contains virtually no historical context, and without at least some knowledge of the setting the prophetic words are almost impossible to consider rightly. There are at least two elements which need to be briefly described and grasped on some level before Hosea can really come to life for us. First, we must get a sense of the rise of the Assyrian empire, and how Israel responded to that rise, which is the subject of this post. Secondly, we must consider the nature of the Baal worship that Hosea so sharply criticizes. While other historical and cultural factors certainly add color to our reading of Hosea, these two simply cannot be ignored if we are to grasp the essence of the book’s message. On the bright side, if you get these two down a little bit, Hosea is going to make enough sense to you for you to absorb some of its raw and powerful poetic punch.
The resurgence and expansion of the Assyrian empire in the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries BCE dominated the geo-political world of the Ancient Near East. In what historians refer to as the Neo-Assyrian period, a succession of ambitious and capable rulers built an empire capable of efficiently expanding through vicious military campaigns. Israel, located to the south-West of Assyria, would become Assyrian prey early on, paying tribute first of all in 841 BCE during the reign of Israel’s king Jehu. Continue reading “Historical Background of Hosea—Assyria”