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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

1 Kings 16

XVI.

The brief record continues of the troubled times of civil war and foreign danger in Israel, to which, perhaps, the tranquillity of Judah under Asa was partly due.

Verse 1

(1) Jehu the son of Hanani—probably of Hanani the seer of Judah in the reign of Asa (2 Chronicles 15:7). Jehu must have been now young, for we find him rebuking Jehoshaphat after the death of Ahab, and writing the annals of Jehoshaphat’s reign (2 Chronicles 19:2; 2 Chronicles 20:34).

Verse 2

(2) Forasmuch as I exalted thee . . .—The prophecy—closely resembling that of Ahijah against Jeroboam—clearly shows that Baasha had a probation, which he neglected; and it seems to be implied in 1 Kings 16:7 that his guilt was enhanced by perseverance in the very sins for which, by his hand, so terrible a vengeance had been inflicted.

Verse 7

(7) And also.—This second reference to the prophecy of Jehu seems to be a note of the historian—perhaps added chiefly for the sake of the last clause, which shows that Baasha’s act, though foretold, was not thereby justified.

Verse 9

(9) Drinking himself drunk.—There seems an emphasis of half-contemptuous condemnation in the description of Elah’s debauchery, evidently public, and in the house of a mere officer of his household, while war was raging at Gibbethon. On the other hand, Zimri—noted emphatically as “his servant”—was apparently the high officer left in special charge of the palace and the king’s person, while the mass of the army was in the field. Hence his name passed into a proverb for unusual treachery. (See 2 Kings 9:31.)

Verse 13

(13) Vanities—that is, idols (as in Deuteronomy 32:21; 1 Samuel 12:21; Psalms 31:6; Isaiah 41:29; Jer. viii 19; &c.): not only the idols of Dan and Bethel, but the worse abominations which grew up under cover of these. In the Old Testament generally the contempt for idolatry and false worship as a gross folly, wasting faith on unrealities, is at least as strong as the condemnation of them, as outraging God’s law, and connected with sensual or bloody rites. (See, for example, the utter scorn of Isaiah 44:9-20; Psalms 115:4-8.)

Verse 16

(16) Made Omri . . . king.—This exaltation of Omri, as a matter of course, shows how entirely the kingdom of Israel had become the prize of the sword. By a curious coincidence (see 1 Kings 15:27) the dynasty of Baasha had been founded in the camp before the same city of Gibbethon. Zimri’s conspiracy appears to have been hastily planned, with no provision of adequate means of support; for Tirzah is taken at once.

Verse 18

(18) The palace of the king’s house.—The same phrase is found in 2 Kings 15:25. The word here rendered “palace” evidently means (as is clear from its derivation) “the high place,” or “citadel,” of the building. Some render it the “harem,” with which the curious rendering (ἄντρον) of the LXX.—signifying properly a cave or “lurking-place”—may perhaps, agree. But this is not suggested by the word itself. This desperate act of Zimri, which has many parallels in Eastern history, seems to indicate that there was held to be something especially treasonable, and therefore unpardonable, in his assassination of Elah. (See 1 Kings 16:20, and 2 Kings 9:31.)

Verse 19

(19) In walking in the way of Jeroboam.—The use here of this constantly-recurring phrase probably indicates only the historian’s sense of the curse lying on the whole kingdom from its idolatry, which Zimri did not attempt to repudiate; unless, perhaps, his conspiracy had clothed itself under pretence of a righteous zeal for the fulfilment of the prophecy of Jehu (1 Kings 16:3-4), and had thrown off the religious pretence after the deed was done. For except in this way, he had no time for “walking in the way of Jeroboam.”

Verse 21

(21) Tibni.—Of him we know nothing. No doubt he also was a military chief—possibly Zimri’s colleague, under the supreme command of Omri—and the LXX. speaks of a brother, Joram, who fought and fell with him. There is an ominous significance in the terse description of the alternatives of fortune in this internecine struggle, “so Tibni died, and Omri reigned.” By comparison of 1 Kings 16:23 with 1 Kings 16:15, it appears that the struggle had lasted four years.

Verse 23

(23) Began Omri to reign over Israel.—The accession of Omri after this long civil war opened a new epoch of more settled government and prosperity for about forty-eight years. Omri had (as appears from 1 Kings 20:34) to purchase peace with Syria by some acknowledgment of sovereignty and cession of cities. He then allied himself with the royal house of Tyre, probably both for strength against Syria, and for revival of the commercial prosperity of the days of Solomon, and proceeded to found a new capital in a strong position. That he was a warrior is indicated by the phrase, “the might that he shewed.” Probably, like Jeroboam and Baasha, he also had his opportunity of restoring the spiritual strength of his people by returning to the pure worship of God, and threw it away, doing “worse than all who were before him.”

Verse 24

(24) Built on the hill.—Omri only followed the usual practice of a new dynasty in the East, of which Jeroboam had set an example at Shechem, and probably Baasha at Tirzah. Possibly the seeds of disaffection may have still lurked in Tirzah, the place of Zimri’s conspiracy, and (as has been conjectured) of Tibni’s rival power. But the site of Samaria must have been chosen by a soldier’s eye. Its Hebrew name (Shomerôn) means a “watch-tower,” and may well have had a double derivation, from its natural position, as well as from its owner’s name. Its position was one of great beauty, and, in the warfare of those days, of singular strength, as is shown by the long sieges which it withstood (1 Kings 20:1; 2 Kings 6:24; 2 Kings 17:5; 2 Kings 18:9-10). It lay north-west of Shechem, on an isolated hill with precipitous sides, rising in the middle of a basin of the hills of Ephraim, not far from the edge of the maritime plain, and commanding a view of the sea. Its history vindicated the sagacity of its founder. Even after its destruction and depopulation by the Assyrians, it seems to have revived, for Alexander took it on his invasion of Palestine, and placed a Greek colony there. Again destroyed by John Hyrcanus, it was rebuilt by Herod, and called Sebaste, in honour of Augustus. In the Assyrian inscriptions it is known as Beth-Khumri (“the house of Omri”).

Verse 25

(25) Did worse than all that were before him.—This phrase, used of Jeroboam in 1 Kings 14:9, may indicate, in addition to the acceptance and development of the old idolatry, some anticipation of the worse idolatry of Baal, formally introduced by Ahab. The “statutes of Omri” are referred to by Micah (Micah 6:16) in parallelism with the “works of the house of Ahab,” as the symbol of hardened and hopeless apostasy.

Verse 31

(31) Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians.—The mention of Ethbaal, clearly the Eithobalus of Menander (see Jos. against Apion i. 18), affords another comparison of Israelite with Tyrian history. He is said to have assassinated Pheles, king of Tyre, within fifty years after the death of Hiram, and to have founded a new dynasty. He was a priest of Astarte, and it is notable that he is called, not, like Hiram, “king of Tyre,” but “king of the Sidonians,” thus reviving the older name of “the great Zidon,” which had been superseded by Tyre. His priestly origin, and possibly also this revival of the old ideas and spirit of the Phœnician race, may account for the fanatic devotion to Baal visible in Jezebel and Athaliah, which stands in marked contrast with the religious attitude of Hiram (1 Kings 5:7; 2 Chronicles 2:12). The marriage of Ahab with Jezebel was evidently the fatal turning-point in the life of a man physically brave, and possibly able as a ruler, but morally weak, impressible in turn both by good and by evil. The history shows again and again the contrast of character (which it is obvious to compare with the contrast between Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Lady Macbeth), and the almost complete supremacy of the strong relentless nature of Jezebel.

2. The Baal here referred to is, of course, the Zidonian god, worshipped as the productive principle in nature, in conjunction with Astarte, the female or receptive principle. The name itself only signifies “Lord” (in which sense, indeed, it is applied, in Hosea 2:16, to Jehovah Himself), and is marked as being a mere title, by the almost invariable prefix of the article. Being, therefore, in no sense distinctive, it may be, and is, applied to the supreme god of various mythologies. Thus we find that in Scripture the plural Baalim is first used, of “the gods many and lords many” of Canaanitish worship (see Judges 2:11; Judges 3:7; Judges 10:6; 1 Samuel 7:4); and we have traces of the same vague use in the Baal-peor of Numbers 25:0, the Baal-berith of Judges 8:33; Judges 9:4, the Baal-zebub of 2 Kings 1:2-3, and in the various geographical names having the prefix Baal. The worship of the Phœnician Baal—variously represented, sometimes as the Sun, sometimes as the planet Jupiter, sometimes half-humanised as the “Tyrian Hercules”—was now, however, introduced on a great scale, with profuse magnificence of worship, connected with the Asherah (“grove”), which in this case, no doubt, represented the Phœnician Astarte, and enforced by Jezebel with a high hand, not without persecution of the prophets of the Lord. The conflict between it and the spiritual worship of Jehovah became now a conflict of life and death.


Verse 34

(34) Did Hiel . . . build Jericho.—This marks both the growth of prosperity and power, and the neglect of the old curse of Joshua (Joshua 6:26). The place had not, it would appear, been entirely deserted. (See Judges 3:13; 2 Samuel 10:5.) But it was now made—what it continued to be even down to the time of Herod—an important place. Its natural advantages were great. It stood in a position well watered, and accordingly of great beauty and fruitfulness (“the city of palm trees”), and was, moreover, a city of military consequence, as commanding the pass from the valley of the Jordan to the high ground of Ai and Bethel. Having been assigned to Benjamin (Joshua 18:21), it should have properly belonged to the kingdom of Judah. Its being rebuilt by a Bethelite, evidently under the patronage of Ahab, is one of the indications of a half-dependent condition of the Southern kingdom at this time.


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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Kings 16". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-kings-16.html. 1905.