John J. Collins
Hosea is not the first of the prophets chronologically, but he provides a good introduction to the prophetic corpus, as he is unrivaled for the beauty of his poetry and the emotional power of his oracles. He lived at a time of great crisis for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He began his career in the middle of the eighth century (about 750 BC). Little more than a decade later Israel came under threat from the mighty Assyrian empire, which was expanding westward. The king of Israel became a vassal, or subject, of Assyria in 732 BC, the kingdom was brought to an end, and its capital Samaria destroyed, in 722 BC. In the period between the death of King Jeroboam II (who is mentioned in Hos 1, 1 ) in 746 BC and the first submission of Israel in 732 BC, no fewer than five kings sat on the throne (and a sixth succeeded in 732 BC). It was, then, a period of great instability. While we cannot specify the occasions of Hosea's individual prophecies, it is important to be aware of this general background.
As noted in the New American Bible, the first three chapters stand apart from the rest of the book because of the theme of the prophet's marriage. It is difficult to discern any pattern in chapters 4 through 14 . Most of the oracles proclaim the destruction of Israel, but the book ends with an invitation to repentance ( 14, 2–9 ). There is also an important prophecy of restoration at 11, 8–11 .