THE EVIL DYNASTIES OF THESE FIVE ISRAELITE KINGS PAINT A GRIM PICTURE OF DEATH, DESTRUCTION AND BLOODSHED
This is not pleasurable reading. There are not many glimmers of hope in these kingdom vignettes where entire households are brutally destroyed as one dynasty is replaced by the next. Each seems equally devoid of genuine faith and divine blessing.
Dale Ralph Davis: This text has it all: carousing and conspiracy, assassination and civil strife—everything that gives the evening news its reason for existence. The northern kingdom appears to be careening down the waterslide of history, bashing along to its own self-destruction when, suddenly, it levels out on the hill of Samaria and enjoys a bit of stability under Omri’s reign. Kings have their own interests. One prefers to drink himself silly (v. 9); another practices treachery and commits spectacular suicide (vv. 10, 18); another struggles for dominance and builds himself a new capital (vv. 22, 24). Yet they have something in common: each of these politicians stands under divine judgment.
August Konkel: In the accounts of Kings and Chronicles, there is the consistent perspective that God is about the business of bringing his purposes to fruition. The book of Kings struggles with the division of the nation and the internal conflicts that represent God’s kingdom. God is seen to be actively at work in each of the capitals, in discipline and judgment, but with continued frustration of the covenant relationship.
I. (15:32 – 16:7) BAASHA’S EVIL REIGN IN THE NORTH
(:32) Transition – Climate of Warfare
“And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days.”
A. (:33) Selected Touchpoints of Baasha’s Reign
1. When Did He Become King?
“In the third year of Asa king of Judah,”
2. Which Kingdom Did He Govern?
“Baasha the son of Ahijah became king over all Israel at Tirzah,”
3. How Long Did He Reign?
“and reigned twenty-four years.”
B. (:34) Summary Evaluation of Baasha’s Reign
“And he did evil in the sight of the LORD,
and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel sin.”
Mordechai Cogan: The impression that the short text leaves concerning Baasha’s two-decade rule is that it was one of continuous strife. It began in a bloody revolt against the House of Jeroboam, while the army was engaged in the northern Shephelah fighting the Philistines (15:27); the lack of success on that front is notable, because a quarter of a century later the same adversaries still stared at each other across the same battle line (16:15). Nor did Baasha’s moves against Judah meet with much success: Baasha was outmaneuvered by Asa’s renewal of the treaty between Damascus and Jerusalem, which brought Aramean troops to the Israelite Galilee (15:17–21). This dismal record may have instigated the military revolt against Baasha’s son Elah within a year of his assuming the throne.
C. (:1-4) Word of Prophetic Judgment Against Baasha
“Now the word of the LORD came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying,”
1. (:2) Reason for the Judgment
a. Privileges Bestowed
“Inasmuch as I exalted you from the dust
and made you leader over My people Israel,”
b. Provoking God to Anger
“and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam
and have made My people Israel sin,
provoking Me to anger with their sins,”
Guzik: The Bible tells us that by nature, God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy (Psalm 103:8). Because He is slow to anger, it took a lot of wickedness on the part of Baasha to succeed in provoking Him to anger.
2. (:3-4) Severity of the Judgment
a. (:3) Destruction of Posterity
“behold, I will consume Baasha and his house,
and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”
b. (:4) Desecration Instead of Proper Burial
“Anyone of Baasha who dies in the city the dogs shall eat,
and anyone of his who dies in the field the birds of the heavens will eat.”
MacArthur: Baasha had angered the Lord by following the sinful paths of Jeroboam. Appropriately, he faced the same humiliating judgment Jeroboam had (14:10, 11). Though he waded through slaughter to his throne, he owed it to the permission of God, by whom all kings reign. His judgment was that no long line of heirs would succeed him; instead, his family would be totally annihilated and their corpses shamefully scavenged by hungry dogs and birds.
Constable: Baasha had an outstanding opportunity to lead Israel back to true covenantal worship after he had killed Nadab and terminated Jeroboam’s dynasty. However, he chose not to do so. He evidently regarded his elevation from a lowly origin (v. 2) to Israel’s throne as an opportunity to fulfill personal ambition rather than to glorify Yahweh. For Baasha’s failure, God announced that He would cut off his line as He had Jeroboam’s (vv. 3- 4; cf. 14:11). The prophet God used was Jehu, whose father, Hanani, was also a prophet in Judah (cf. 2 Chron. 16:7). God ended Baasha’s reign for two primary reasons: his continuation of Jeroboam’s cult, and the motive and manner with which he assassinated Nadab (v. 7).
D. (:5-6) Overall Summary of Baasha’s Reign
1. (:5) Recorded Deeds of Baasha
“Now the rest of the acts of Baasha and what he did and his might, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?”
2. (:6a) Death and Burial of Baasha
“And Baasha slept with his fathers and was buried in Tirzah,”
3. (:6b) Succession
“and Elah his son became king in his place.”
E. (:7) Additional Word of Prophetic Judgment Against Baasha
“Moreover, the word of the LORD through the prophet Jehu the son of Hanani also came against Baasha and his household, both because of all the evil which he did in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger with the work of his hands, in being like the house of Jeroboam, and because he struck it.”
August Konkel: The prophets never find it contradictory to hold wicked individuals responsible for their actions, even when God accomplishes his purposes through them. Peter in addressing the men of Israel on the day of Pentecost speaks in exactly the same terms as the condemnation of Baasha in Kings. The leaders in Jerusalem through their own wicked deeds have carried out the purpose of God in killing Jesus of Nazareth, a man they knew to be of God through the great deeds he did in their midst (Acts 2:22–23). For this act they are guilty, even though through it God overcomes the power of death and fulfills the promise he made to David (vv. 24–31). Human deeds are never regarded as a divine coercion. Humans act freely of their own volition for good or ill. In the prophetic viewpoint, all are responsible for the choices they make. At the same time, God never fails to accomplish his purpose, whatever may have been the human volition and intent.
Peter Pett: But Baasha had been so evil that the prophetic author could not leave it there, and he repeats that YHWH had sent his prophet Jehu to him, and this time it is emphasised that it was with ‘the word of YHWH’, Being YHWH’s word its effectiveness was certain (compare Isaiah 55:11). And the double charge was that he had continued in the way of Jeroboam, and especially that he had murdered the house of Jeroboam (‘because he smote him’). For both of these sins he was to be especially punished.
Once again we have a lesson concerning God’s holiness and hatred of sin, and the certainty of punishment for those who continue in sin and who allow other ‘gods’ to interfere with their worship of Him. It is a recurrent lesson of this book.
II. (16:8-14) ELAH’S EVIL REIGN IN THE NORTH
A. (:8) Selected Touchpoints of Elah’s Reign
1. When Did He Become King?
“In the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah,”
2. Which Kingdom Did He Govern?
“Elah the son of Baasha became king over Israel at Tirzah,”
3. How Long Did He Reign?
“and reigned two years.”
B. (:9-10) Conspiracy by Zimri to Assassinate Elah
1. (:9a) Summary Statement
“And his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots,
conspired against him.”
2. (:9b) Circumstances
“Now he was at Tirzah drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza,
who was over the household at Tirzah.”
Wiersbe: Elah appears to be a dissolute man who would rather get drunk with his friends than serve the Lord and the people. Arza was probably the prime minister. Both men forgot the words of Solomon, who knew a thing or two about kingship:
“Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, and your princes feast in the morning! Blessed ae you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles, and your princes feast at the proper time – for strength and not for drunkenness.”
3. (:10) Assassination and Ascension to the Throne
“Then Zimri went in and struck him and put him to death, in the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and became king in his place.”
Wiersbe: Baasha had fulfilled the prophecy of Abijah and Zimri fulfilled the prophecy of Jehu. But it must be pointed out that a person who fulfills divine prophecy is not innocent of sin. Both Baasha and Zimri were murderers and guilty of regicide, and the Lord held them responsible and accountable. The dynasty of Jeroboam was no more and the dynasty of Baasha was no more. In Judah, the dynasty of David continued.
C. (:11-12) Destruction of the Household of Baasha
“And it came about, when he became king, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he killed all the household of Baasha; he did not leave a single male, neither of his relatives nor of his friends. 12 Thus Zimri destroyed all the household of Baasha, according to the word of the LORD, which He spoke against Baasha through Jehu the prophet,”
Knapp: In less than fifty years the first two dynasties of Israel’s kings had come to an end and every member of their families been exterminated. God meant to make their doom an example to those who should thereafter live ungodly.
D. (:13) Summary Evaluation
“for all the sins of Baasha and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned and which they made Israel sin, provoking the LORD God of Israel to anger with their idols.”
E. (:14) Recorded Deeds of Elah
“Now the rest of the acts of Elah and all that he did,
are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?”
III. (16:15-22) ZIMRI’S EVIL REIGN IN THE NORTH
A. (:15a) Selected Touchpoints of Zimri’s Reign
1. When Did He Become King?
“In the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah,”
2. How Long Did He Reign?
“Zimri reigned seven days”
Dale Ralph Davis: He reigned seven days and made no change of policy. We, of course, would lighten up. What’s seven days more of Jeroboamism? But Yahweh seems to regard this perversion as so culpable that he judges a man for not making a change within a seven days’ reign! Seven days is a brief time; seven days is a responsible time. It’s long enough to show your colors.
3. Which Kingdom Did He Govern?
B. (:15b-18) Omri Prevails Over Zimri
1. (:15b) People Camped Against Gibbethon
“Now the people were camped against Gibbethon,
which belonged to the Philistines.”
2. (:16a) Report of Zimri’s Treachery
“And the people who were camped heard it said, ‘Zimri has conspired and has also struck down the king.’”
3. (:16b) Omri Made King over Israel
“Therefore all Israel made Omri, the commander of the army,
king over Israel that day in the camp.”
4. (:17) Besieging Zimri at Tirzah
“Then Omri and all Israel with him went up from Gibbethon,
and they besieged Tirzah.”
5. (:18) Death of Zimri
“And it came about, when Zimri saw that the city was taken,
that he went into the citadel of the king’s house
and burned the king’s house over him with fire, and died,”
Dale Ralph Davis: Zimri was ruthless and efficient. When he cut down tipsy Elah (vv. 9–10), he wasted no time in obliterating Baasha’s whole household, whether relatives or friends (v. 11). Zimri reigned from Tirzah, six miles northeast of Shechem (v. 15), while the army was assaulting Gibbethon (v. 15b; see 15:27), a good way to the southwest in the Philistine sphere of influence. Zimri was a military man (v. 9) but was not with the army at Camp Gibbethon. The field army there was pro-Omri. Zimri learned to his chagrin that one dare not carry out a coup without the army’s support. When news of Zimri’s deed reached Gibbethon the army felt that one coup deserved another and so proclaimed Omri king (v. 16). They then marched on Zimri and Tirzah and took the outer city (vv. 17–18a). Zimri went into the inner bastion of the king’s house and burnt it and himself in one blaze of despair (v. 18b).
Guzik: Zimri is one of the few suicides in the Bible, along with Samson (Judges 9:54), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4) and Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23). The Bible never approves of suicide. It is sin; the sin of self-murder. Yet we are wrong if we regard it as the unforgivable sin, and anyone who does commit suicide has given in to the lies and deceptions of Satan, whose purpose is to kill and destroy (John 10:10).
Morgan: Suicide is always the ultimate action of cowardice. In the case of Saul, and in many similar cases, it is perfectly natural; but let it never be glorified as heroic. It is the last resort of the man who dare not stand up to life.
C. (:19) Summary Evaluation of Zimri’s Reign
“because of his sins which he sinned, doing evil in the sight of the LORD, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin which he did, making Israel sin.”
D. (:20) Recorded Deeds of Zimri
“Now the rest of the acts of Zimri and his conspiracy which he carried out, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?”
E. (:21-22) Succession – Omri Prevailing Over Tibni
“Then the people of Israel were divided into two parts: half of the people followed Tibni the son of Ginath, to make him king; the other half followed Omri. 22 But the people who followed Omri prevailed over the people who followed Tibni the son of Ginath. And Tibni died and Omri became king.”
Dale Ralph Davis: Zimri’s cremation did not clear up Israel’s political dilemma. The people were divided, some devoted to Omri and some to Tibni son of Ginath (v. 21). Tibni may have had more social clout than Omri (note his patronym, ‘son of Ginath’), but the truth is we simply know next to nothing about them. Political limbo went on for about four years (compare vv. 15 and 23) with Omri’s partisans gathering strength (v. 22a); then we read that marvelously laconic statement, ‘So Tibni died and Omri became king’ (v. 22b, niv). Was Tibni knocked off? Or did pneumonia or a ruptured appendix get him? We have no certainty either way—only that Tibni has his funeral and Omri his coronation.
IV. (16:23-28) OMRI’S EVIL REIGN IN THE NORTH
A. (:23-24) Selected Touchpoints of Omri’s Reign
1. (:23a) When Did He Become King?
“In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah,”
2. (:23b) Which Kingdom Did He Govern?
“Omri became king over Israel,”
3. (:23c) How Long Did He Reign?
“and reigned twelve years; he reigned six years at Tirzah.”
4. (:24) Acquisition of Samaria
“And he bought the hill Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver; and he built on the hill, and named the city which he built Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill.”
MacArthur: The hill of Samaria, named after its owner, Shemer, was located 7 mi. NW of Shechem and stood 300 ft. high. Though ringed by other mountains, it stood by itself so that attackers had to charge uphill from every side. This new capital amounted to the northern equivalent of Jerusalem. Its central location gave Israelites easy access to it.
August Konkel: Though the establishment of the capital of Israel at Samaria is never declared to be the divine will and is not accomplished by a king subservient to the covenant, Samaria becomes an icon of political success. With the strategic location of the capital and the alliances with neighboring countries, Israel became a nation of considerable political force. The splendor of Samaria can still be seen in the ruins uncovered by archaeologists.
B. (:25-26) Summary Evaluation of Omri’s Reign
“And Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, and acted more wickedly than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and in his sins which he made Israel sin, provoking the LORD God of Israel with their idols.”
Constable: Assyrian records refer to Israel as “the land of Omri.” His influence extended far. He defeated the Moabites, the record of which constitutes one of the inscriptions on the famous Moabite Stone. He also made a treaty with Ethbaal, king of Tyre and Sidon (887-856 B.C.), that involved the marriage of his son, Ahab, and Ethbaal’s daughter, Jezebel. A granddaughter of Ethbaal, Dido, founded Carthage. Still the writer of Kings did not mention these strengths, only the fact that he was the worst king Israel had had spiritually (v. 25). He was very bad because he personally followed Jeroboam’s cult and caused the people to sin by allowing it to flourish in Israel
Peter Pett: In some ways it spoils the prophetic author’s purpose to outline the greatness of Omri, for his purpose was to indicate that (religiously speaking) Omri was a disaster. With all his greatness he was a nothing. The book of Kings is not written to man’s glory but to God’s glory, and as far as the author was concerned Omri was a bad lot. He was simply the builder of Samaria and part of the reason for the final destruction of Samaria. But in view of the probable historical interest of the reader we will consider what we know from external sources about Omri.
1). Israel was known in Assyrian annals for centuries as ‘Bit-Humri’. the house of Omri, and their kings as ‘the son of Humri’ (even when they were not). From their spies and political contacts Assyria had clearly been impressed with the power and effectiveness of Omri (although of course his founding of Samaria might have contributed to his fame), and saw him as someone to be reckoned with and treated with respect.
2). We know from the Moabite Stone that he ‘humbled — and occupied the land of Medaba’ and built fortresses at Ataroth and Yahez. As a result northern Moab would be subject to Israel for the next forty years.
And we must remember that these two examples are simply two ‘accidental’ pieces of information. Without the external inscriptions we would never have known of them. We may yet discover more of his exploits if other inscriptions are found in the surrounding nations. And all this, we should note, was after recovering from a cruel and extended civil war.
3). He also married his son Ahab to a princess of the Sidonians, presumably with a view to it sealing a treaty relationship with that important centre.
R. D. Patterson: Despite Omri’s forward-looking vision for restoring Israel’s strength and his many accomplishments, spiritually he was more destitute than all his predecessors (vv. 25-26). Not only did he perpetuate the spiritual sins of Jeroboam, but his ties with Phoenicia were to unleash on Israel the common pagan social and religious practices known to the ancient world. Therefore the scriptural record concerning Omri is both brief and condemnatory.
C. (:27-28) Overall Summary of Omri’s Reign
1. (:27) Recorded Deeds
“Now the rest of the acts of Omri which he did and his might which he showed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?”
2. (:28a) Death and Burial
“So Omri slept with his fathers, and was buried in Samaria;”
3. (:28b) Succession
“and Ahab his son became king in his place.”
House: Omri, the builder of Samaria and a man of high international fame, is dismissed in eight verses (1 Kgs 16:21-28). Why? Probably because he plays no particularly significant role in Israel’s decline. Again, characterization is based largely on its role in plot development, not on how it will or will not satisfy modern historians.
V. (16:29-34) AHAB’S EVIL REIGN IN THE NORTH
A. (:29) Selected Touchpoints of Ahab’s Reign
1. Which Kingdom Did He Govern?
“Now Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel”
2. When Did He Become King?
“in the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah,”
3. How Long Did He Reign?
“and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel
in Samaria twenty-two years.”
B. (:30) Summary Evaluation of Ahab’s Reign
“And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD
more than all who were before him.”
C. (:31-33) Specific Offenses
1. (:31a) Married Jezebel
“And it came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians,”
Mordechai Cogan: The reign of Ahab is introduced in typical fashion, with synchionism and length of reign. The critical evaluation of the king as being the worst to have come to Israel’s throne is supported by the notice of his having taken the Phoenician princess Jezebel to wife and his worship of Baal and Asherah; the juxtaposition is evidently meant to intimate the corrupt influence of this marriage. In this, Ahab’s apostasy follows that of Solomon (cf. 11:1–10); both monarchs were led astray by their foreign wives. Such evaluations are typical of Deuteronomic thought, which saw outmarriage as the root of all sin against YHWH (cf. Deut 7:3–4; cf. Josh 23:12). The formulaic conclusion to Ahab’s reign is not given until 1 Kgs 22:39–40, because Dtr has introduced a lengthy series of prophetic stories of varied origin and interest; in most of them, Ahab plays a leading role in his opposition to the heaven-sent men of God.
Peter Pett: Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel was clearly a political one, sealing a treaty between Israel and Tyre, securing for Israel a market for their agricultural produce and their olive oil, and for Tyre the supply of these products on a permanent and lasting basis. But there is no doubt that Ahab was enamoured of his wife, and deeply influenced by her and her worship of Baal Melkart.
2. (:31b) Worshiped Baal
“and went to serve Baal and worshiped him.”
3. (:32) Built Temple and Altar to Baal in Samaria
“So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal,
which he built in Samaria.”
Constable: The temple and altar to Baal that Ahab erected in Israel’s capital symbolized his official approval of this pagan religion. Remember the importance of David bringing the ark into Jerusalem, and Solomon building a temple for Yahweh, and what those acts symbolized. Evidently Baal worship became widely accepted in the Northern Kingdom.
4. (:33a) Made Asherah
“And Ahab also made the Asherah.”
5. (:33b) Summary of Evil
“Thus Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”
William Barnes: Once again, we find here mostly formulaic denunciations, but with even more “mustard” than in the past. Ahab is the worst king of all so far! Among other things, such statements prepare us for Elijah’s harsh words of condemnation for both Ahab and Jezebel in the next chapters; and ironically, these words also prepare us to be shocked by the events of chapter 21, where Ahab’s repentance brings about a startling delay of the inevitable disaster awaiting the dynasty and kingdom. (Cf. 21:27–29 with 2 Kgs 22:19–20, the only two places in 1-2 Kings containing the term “humble oneself,” a Niphal of kana’ [TH3665, ZH4044].) So, notwithstanding the present harsh, condemnatory passage, as well as the next several chapters of repeated, deserved prophetic denunciations, there is always hope, it would seem, for even the most wicked of leaders if they repent of their sins and change their ways. This seems to be the overall agenda of the editor(s) of 1-2 Kings. But for the present, it is only condemnation, severe condemnation, and, eventually, monstrously disastrous condemnation.
D. (:34) Arrogant Defiance of the Divine Curse on Rebuilding Jericho
“In his days Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho; he laid its foundations with the loss of Abiram his first-born, and set up its gates with the loss of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which He spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.”
Dale Ralph Davis: This is not a piece of unrelated trivia about construction work. The writer includes it as what was characteristic of Ahab’s reign. The opening phrase, ‘in his [Ahab’s] days,’ implies that Hiel did not undertake this project on his private initiative but under Ahab’s direction. To ‘build’ (bānāh) here means to ‘rebuild’ or ‘fortify’ as in 15:17. After the destruction of Jericho Joshua had pronounced a curse upon anyone who would rebuild Jericho (Josh. 6:26), the curse to which our writer refers in the last half of this verse. The curse did not prohibit folks from living on the site, for there seem to have been post-conquest settlements there (cf. Josh. 18:21; Judg. 3:13; 2 Sam. 10:5). The curse was on anyone who dared to rebuild Jericho as a fortress. . .
The text is telling you that open defiance of Yahweh’s word typified Ahab’s regime. Our writer makes this clear in that he does not merely say Hiel’s sons died in accord with Joshua’s curse; rather, he explicitly says it was ‘in line with the word of Yahweh which he spoke by the hand of Joshua.’ Was Jericho fortified? Oh yes—a monument to Ahab’s defense strategy. But there were other monuments. Walk outside Bethel to Hiel’s family burial plot and see the graves of Abiram and Segub, monuments to Yahweh’s certain judgment. But that was the reign of Ahab—folks thought nothing of flying in the teeth of Yahweh’s word.
William Barnes: the unfortunate actions of Hiel are probably meant to reflect negatively on the reign of Hiel’s king, Ahab. While any king can repent and thus bring blessing to himself, his land, and perhaps to his future dynasty, no king can undo a truly prophetic word from God, whether it be from an unnamed “man of God” (cf. ch 13), or from the renowned leader Joshua. Perhaps the continuing conundrum of free will versus predestination has never been illustrated so clearly as in these parallel passages: God literally has the last word in history, but authentic repentance can remarkably change the future, at least to some extent (yet not rendering void any clear long-term prophecies from God). What a divine mystery this is! What a hope and what a warning to believers in any age!