Chapters 7 and 8 carry readers through the end of Jeroboam’s reign, as told in 2 Kings 14:23-29. These chapters also lead us through 2 Kings 15: 8-18, which covers a two-year transition of the crown to Israel’s King Menahem, whom Benjamin refers to as the Viper. The political environment described reflects historical and cultural realities.
Chapter 7 answers the last point raised in Chapter 6 – Benjamin’s need for a righteous instructor. He thinks of Jonah, but through some sad and comic episodes, Benjamin finds the Old Testament prophet Hosea.
I don’t know about you, but God often uses such roundabout paths or methods to get me where He wants me. Perhaps it reflects my stubborn mind, or the difficult ways in which I make decisions. But through each stage, He remained persistent in His efforts and calling. Do you have similar stories to share from your walk with God?
The Bible provides little background about Hosea. Analysts estimate his prophetic ministry may have ranged from around 755 to 715 BC, which fits this narrative. Much of what you read here – outside of references to this “minor” prophet’s wife – represents a novelist’s speculation based on the time period and Hosea’s namesake book, which provides cultural insights on these dynamic times.
Benjamin’s observations about Bethel’s temple district also reflect historical speculation. The Bible does not tell us how many temples Jezebel’s initiatives brought about, although it does disclose one dedicated to Baal that King Jehu shut down, killing all of its priests. While known for eliminating the household of Ahab and Jezebel, Jehu (a forefather of Jeroboam II who lived about 100 years before the events of this book) earned God's wraith by tolerating the golden calf idols long placed in the northern kingdom's substitute places of Hebrew worship. 2nd Kings tells us Jehu's son and successor, Jehoahaz, returned to the ways of Jeroboam 1 and his successors, doing “evil in the eyes of the Lord.” That biblical phrase usually refers to sinful choices (or life paths) that work against God, often starting with the manipulation or desecration of worship practices.
We have no idea how many foreign temples Jeroboam II allowed under his reign, if any. As suggested later in The Jonah Cycle, such heathen worship often took place in a hidden or secluded location, from the privacy of a home to a hidden vale or hilltop. But with the number of deities favored by Israel’s neighbors and the spread of such beliefs among the Hebrew people from the time of the Judges through the last of its kings, worship options most likely grew and became more open and recognized over time. This would explain how Elijah could face 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah in their classic Mount Carmel confrontation, well before the times depicted in this novel. As these heathen religions continued after the time of Jehu, their organized worship most likely resumed, for as noted above, Scripture tells us subsequent northern kingdom monarchs did evil in the sight of God. You may find plentiful insights on this in the Old Testament books of Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Hosea. Those seeing a summary should go straight to 2nd Kings 17.
As for Benjamin's hints of sexuality and cultic prostitution, this practice was long considered commonplace in many ancient Canaanite religions, with some historians citing Old Testament references as early as Genesis 38 (the story of Judah and Tamar). But this issue has become a point of contention among some religious historians in recent years.
Benjamin’s spiritual awareness blossoms with a Chapter 7 epiphany. As he escapes his owners, fear of pursuit tightens his focus… and Benjamin is charmed by the nature around him. It marks perhaps the first time Benjamin notices God’s invisible qualities, as explained in Romans 1:20.
Have you experienced such an eye-opening moment? What was it like?
Benjamin’s awakening led to his first meeting with Hosea outside a crowded, rundown refuge. The old prophet asks the lad to join him. Weary, caught off-guard, our young protagonist hesitates, his old caution dampening his new understanding. Hosea repeats his offer. This time Benjamin accepts.
Such persistence marks one of the main themes in the Bible – and one of the bedrock qualities of God. Can you share similar stories of God’s tenacity or diligence in your life?