Jeroboam II was king in Israel. His purpose as leader was to “Make The Northern Kingdom Great Again!™” His own name hearkened back to Jeroboam, the leader who had wrested control of the ten tribes from the oppression from Solomon’s son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 12). Like all the northern leaders, the book of Kings describes Jeroboam II as evil. Listen to his-reign-adapted-refrain, “He did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin” (2 Kings 14:24). But in terms of his aim at Making Israel Great Again™ he was a great success. It is too bad his restoration project never took him beyond the flawed leadership of his nation’s past.
Jeroboam II reigned for 41 years (though some of his reign may be a co-regency with his father Joash). He was able to restore, through war, land which had previously been taken from it—territory from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of Arabah (2 Kings 14:25). Jeroboam’s success came because God saw Israel’s suffering, and saved them by through his hand (2 Kings 14:26-27). It was still some decades before the nation of Israel would succumb to Assyrian might and Jeroboam II’s reign was a prosperous one.
Enter the prophet.
Hosea son of Beeri, father of three and married to a prostitute, arose sometime in Jeroboam II’s reign and called the nation to task for their sin. What were Israel’s sins? Unlike his contemporary Amos, Hosea did not single out the rich for their oppression of the poor (Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, 13). Hosea issues sweeping allegations against the entire nation; however while it is possible to distinguish the sins of Israel from those of the common man, the state—its institutions and political and religious leaders—are explicitly critiqued in Hosea’s condemnations. He exposes the violence of kings, the lack of knowledge of God, idolatry, and Israel’s dishonest dealings.
Prophets warn of judgement, but as Abraham Heschel notes, doom and destruction are never the point. “The words of the prophet are stern, sour, stinging. But behind this austerity is love and compassion for mankind” (The Prophets Vol. 1 , 12):
The prominent theme is exhortation, not mere prediction. While it is true that foretelling is an important ingredient and may serve as a sign for the prophet’s authority, his essential task is to declare the word of God to the here and now; to disclose the future in order to illumine what is involved in the present. (ibid.)
In other words, the prophets articulated judgement, but the hope was that their words lead to the people’s repentance. As we’ll see, hope has the final word in Hosea’s presentation.
What does Hosea have to teach us?
He is a voice from the past with a troubled family life. He comes across as a jerk. He married a prostitute to teach the nation a lesson and then shamed her for being a prostitute. He purposely named his kids awful things which caused them to be made fun of on the playground. Total jerkface.
And yet, Hosea exposed the lies of the culture. He spoke truth to power and exposed the dangers of systemic violence, injustice and idolatry. We, like Hosea, have a leader committed to making our nation great again.™ Perhaps the parallels end there. But if we too are a nation marked by violence, idolatry, injustice and exceptionalism, then the prophet has a lot to teach us. . .