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Hosea 3:4-5 says that there will be a period of time that the children of Israel will have no king, nor sacrifices, nor efod or terafim:

כִּ֣י ׀ יָמִ֣ים רַבִּ֗ים יֵֽשְׁבוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֵ֥ין מֶ֙לֶךְ֙ וְאֵ֣ין שָׂ֔ר וְאֵ֥ין זֶ֖בַח וְאֵ֣ין מַצֵּבָ֑ה וְאֵ֥ין אֵפ֖וֹד וּתְרָפִֽים
אַחַ֗ר יָשֻׁ֙בוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וּבִקְשׁוּ֙ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֔ם וְאֵ֖ת דָּוִ֣יד מַלְכָּ֑ם וּפָחֲד֧וּ אֶל־יְהֹוָ֛ה וְאֶל־טוּב֖וֹ בְּאַחֲרִ֥ית הַיָּמִֽים

For the children of Yisra᾽el shall remain for many days, having no king, nor prince, nor sacrifice, nor pillar, nor efod, nor terafim
afterwards the children of Yisra᾽el shall return, and seek the Lord their G-d, and David their king; and shall come trembling to the Lord and his goodness in the latter days (Koren T'nakh)

What time period is being mentioned here? There have been a few times where there has been no king of Israel, which is Hosea referring to?

2 Answers 2

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The period of the prophet Hosea's ministry is given in the first verse:

Hos 1:1 - This is the word of the LORD that came to Hosea son of Beeri in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and of Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel.

These kings all preceded the Babylonian Captivity of the southern kingdom of Judah; and preceded the Assyrian deportation of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Thus, Hosea 3:3, 4 is usually understood to refer primarily to the Babylonian captivity of Judah during which the country was: "without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, and without ephod or idol(= altar?)." That is, the Israelites had no:

  • government ("king or prince")
  • functioning sacrificial system ("sacrifice or sacred pillar")
  • temple and its services ("ephod or idol(= altar?)")

Following the return from Babylon which began in 538 BC, these were gradually restored but not the monarchy (except for the temporary and invalid attempt under Aristobulus I which was NOT Davidic). Judah's rightful king only came when Jesus came as the great Messiah-King. Matt 1:1, 20, 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30, 15, 21:9, 15, Mark 10:35, Luke 1:32, 33, 18:38, 39, John 1:49, Acts 13:32-37, Heb 1:8.

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    + 1 with a minor correction. A monarchy was indeed restored after the Maccabean revolt under Aristobulus I but it was not a Davidic monarchy. Moreover it combined the high priest's office with that of the king. This led to opposition, especially from the Pharisees and Essenes, and led to the development of strong messianic expectations. Commented Jun 11 at 23:09
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    @DanFefferman - thanks for reminding me of this. I was primarily thinking of the Davidic monarchy and its associated covenant (2 Sam 7). The Monarchy of Aristobulus was not truly valid (in human terms) because it combined the office of Priest and King. By contrast the Messiah combined prophet Priest and King into a single eternal person. I updated the answer to include you comment. Many thanks.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jun 11 at 23:45
  • I've primarily associated the prophesies in Hosea especially chapters 1,2 and 3 with the exile and fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel - connected to the kingly line of the tribe of Ephraim in Samaria. Not Judah and the southern kingdom. Reading the first 3 chapters you wont hear a single negative judgement against Judah. In fact you find the exact opposite. Judah's fate is directly contrasted positively against the negative prophecies spoken against the Northern Kingdom - with special negative emphasis and focus on the kingly tribe of Ephraim and their lands Samaria.
    – Marshall
    Commented Jun 20 at 3:52
  • Additional things to note. The prophet Hosea was alive and active during the period preceding the Assyrian exile - not the period proceeding the Babylonian exile. As listed in Hosea 1:1 the reign of Jeroboam II (c. 786–746 bc). This immediately precedes the Assyrian exile of Northern Kingdom in approx 721BC. He does prophesy against Judah in later chapters but not in the same way as Israel. The prophesies about Judahs exile come at a significantly later period through later prophets
    – Marshall
    Commented Jun 20 at 3:53
  • Then just with basic textual analysis. Hosea does not use the words Israel or Israelite to refer to Judah or even the combined northern and southern kingdoms together. He uses this term Israel to specifically refer to the northern kingdom. He uses the term Judah to refer to the Southern Kingdom. This is easy to see. Look for example at Hosea 1:6-7 and note the difference in the use of these terms and also the pronouncements against them.
    – Marshall
    Commented Jun 20 at 3:53
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The time period begins from the Babylonian captivity is relatively uncontroversial, but determining its duration require careful consideration. The crux of this lies within the insights from Hosea 3:5

Afterward the Israelites will return* and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.* (NIV)

Hosea 3:5 comprises two paragraphs, which may either be intertwined or separate in meaning. Let's explore the potential interpretations.

"Return" (Strong 7725)

The term 'return', if interpreted literally, it implies the Israelites' physical return to Jerusalem in 538BC. However, its usage in Hosea 6:1 reveals a deeper, spiritual connotation, suggesting His people to reestablish their spiritual connection with the Lord.

“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. (NIV)

"in the last days"

The parable in Hosea chapter 2 could shed light on this matter.

7 She will chase after her lovers (idols) but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.’......

16 “In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ 17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked.

18 In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. 19 I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. 20 I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.

21 “In that day I will respond,” declares the Lord— “I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; 22 and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, and they will respond to Jezreel (means God plants). 23 I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” (NIV)

Thus, "the last days" will endure until the second coming of Christ, a time when both Jews and Gentiles will earnestly seek their Lord and becomes His loved one.

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