Elah, Zimri, and Arza
1 Kings 16:16
There was once a king in Israel called Elah. He reigned over Israel in Tirzah two years. He had a servant called Zimri who was a captain of his chariots. Zimri was a born traitor. Treachery was in his very blood. In the case of Elah, Zimri had a marked advantage; for Elah was a drunken fool; he was in the habit of visiting the house of another of his servants, a steward called Arza, and there he had what drink he asked for; and he asked for a good deal, so much so that he was often drunk in his servant"s house, and on one of these occasions, Zimri went in and killed him, and reigned in his stead. These are the facts which we have to deal with. Are they very ancient, or are they happening round about us every day? Is Elah dead? Is Zimri clean gone for ever? And is the house of the servant Arza closed, so that the master can drink no more with the steward?
Elah lives in every man who has great chances or opportunities in life, but allows them to slip away though one leak in the character. Elah was a king and the son of a king, so his openings in life were wide and splendid; but he loved strong drink, and through that leak in his character all that might have made him a man oozed away, and left him a king in nothing but the barren name. Strong drink will ruin any man. It is the supreme curse of England. I will say nothing now of the old, but to the young I may speak a word. I care not, young Prayer of Manasseh, how many and how brilliant in life your chances are, if you drink wine in the morning, as many young men in London do, you are as good as damned already. You think not, but that only shows the infinite deceitfulness of the enemy. He tells you, "Nothing of the kind; this is parson"s twaddle; take your wine when you want it, and let it alone when you don"t care for it." There is suppressed mockery in that high challenge. There is no soundness of health in it. Every drink leaves you weaker. Every emptied glass is another link added to the strong chain thrown upon your limbs. You take sherry in the morning, and it brightens and lightens you for the day, you think. Let me tell you what it does. It exhilarates you; it takes you out of yourself for a while; but it takes away the sources of your will, it throws a cloud over your brain, it blunts your moral criticism, it hastens you along a road that dips easily but surely into hell. The young man who drinks in the morning may be saved, for I dare not set limits to the mercy of God, but how he is to be saved it is impossible for me to say. The devil has hold of both his hands, his feet are upon a slippery incline, and how he is to get back again, I cannot tell. God help him! God save him!
What is true of this leak in a man"s character is true of every other. Take indecision for example, or idleness, or love of company, or devotion to pleasure. Give me a young man with a king for a father, a throne for an inheritance, a kingdom for a field to cultivate, and let him be idle, or undecided, or pleasure-loving, and his doom is sealed. A great merchant once said to me of a certain man in his employment, "I would tomorrow give that man a thousand a year to begin with, if he could do one thing, and that Isaiah, hold his tongue, but he would no sooner get the appointment than he would go into an ale-house, and tell the whole company everything I am doing." There is the leak in the character, and it means ruin! It is astounding what one leak will do. I remember lowering a brass valve put into some water apparatus which had been fitted by one of the most skilful of plumbers; but when all was done, there was a faint thread of water running; the valve was taken to pieces, and Revelation -fitted, and still the thread of water was there; and at last it was found that in the very middle of the valve there was a sand hole, not larger than the point of a needle; but there it was, and no skill in mere plumbing could meet such a case; the valve must go back to the founder, be put through the fire once more, before it could be used. It is just the same with character. The leak is very small, but it is fatal. Night and day it runs. Sleeping and waking it runs. Summer and winter it runs. And no cistern, no reservoir can stand a perpetual leak.
Zimri still lives in all persons who take advantage of the weaknesses of others. Zimri knew that Elah was a drunkard, and he further knew that through his habit of drunkenness alone he could reach the king. On every other side of his character Elah may have been a strong man: acute, shrewd, farsighted; but when in drink, weak and foolish. And Zimri played his game accordingly. He said: "He goes to Arza"s house after sun down; in half an hour after going in he will begin to fall under the effects of wine, then the worst wine will be brought out, then he will go mad under its poison, and then drowsy. I must get Arza out of the way; the fool will go on any errand I name, on promise of another horse; that is it." "And Zimri went in and smote him and killed him."
Zimri still lives. He took advantage of his master"s weakness, and his progeny is numerous on the earth. They say of you, "He is fond of wine: give him as much as he will take, and then begin your plan;"—of you, "He is fond of flattery, praise him high, and you will get all you want;"—of you, "He will do anything for money; show him the golden sovereign, and you may lead him where you please." So the progeny of Zimri still lives! Some people trade on the weaknesses of others. They study them. They adapt themselves to them. They watch for striking time, and seldom miss the mark. How else could the net be always ready for the bird? How else the pit be always prepared for the unexpected and bewildered traveller? There is an infernal science in these things,—a devil"s black art!
And does not Arza still live in those who find the means whereby men may conceal their evil habits and indulge their unholy desires? They seem to say, "In my house you may do what you please. I shall not look at you. Come when you please; go when you like; I am nobody, if you like to call me so." My wonder is that any young man can keep his morals uncorrupted in a great city. Houses of destruction are open in every street. There is a public-house at every corner. I have watched working men in connection with the public-house until my heart has sickened. They hardly get their wages before they stumble into the place of ruin, their poor wives hanging about the streets in hope, in fear, in misery,—women whom they have cursed with their mocking love, and driven to the devil by their unholy and pestilent habits. And there the glittering houses stood ready to receive them! Trap-doors into perdition! And houses of divers other kinds stand open with invitations written upon them to young persons to go in and be ruined, lost, damned! How is a young man to keep himself even tolerably right in the midst of a state of things like this?
We may well ask, Do men like Zimri do all this mischief and escape? Are they allowed to work out their deadly plans, and is there none to avenge? We have an answer in the text. How long did Zimri reign in Tirzah? He got the throne by treachery, how long did he hold it? Here is the answer, and may we receive its deep meaning into our souls: The traitor reigned seven days! Short is the day of the wicked, and he is left without candle in the night time. The people heard that Zimri had conspired and slain the king, and they rose in anger and made Omri the captain of the host, king over Israel that day in the camp, and when the cowardly traitor heard this, he went into the palace of the king"s house and burned the king"s house over him with fire, and was roasted to death in the hot ashes! And so died Zimri the regicide, the coward, the traitor, a servant set on horseback and driven to hell by his own ambition. Judgment comes upon the wicked like a sudden storm, they get what they want and it kills them. They snatch the prize, and, lo! it turns to fire in their greedy grasp. They say, Doth God know? Is there one in heaven that considereth these things? May we not do this in the dark and feel ourselves acquitted in the morning?
How foolish, too, are the wicked! If they would devote their talents to some virtuous end they would attain honourable success, sweetened with a sense of honesty. They often have great talents, fine powers, large capacities, and if they gave themselves with ardour and energy to the pursuit of good ends they would outrun many and gain a prize worthy and lasting.
Tirzah ("pleasantness"); an ancient royal city of the Canaanites, captured by Joshua ( Joshua 12:24). After its conquest it is not again mentioned in history till the time of Jeroboam, who appears to have chosen it as his principal residence. He was at least living there when his son Abijah died ( 1 Kings 14:17). From this period till the founding of Samaria by Omri (some fifty years) it continued to be the capital of the northern kingdom ( 1 Kings 15:21, 1 Kings 15:33). It was the scene of Elah"s murder ( 1 Kings 16:8), and there too Zimri the murderer, to escape the avenging sword of Omri, "burnt the king"s house over him with fire, and died" ( 1 Kings 16:18). The last notice of it in Scripture history is in connection with Menahem, who went from Tirzah to Samaria, "and smote Shallum, and reigned in his stead" ( 2 Kings 15:14).
The geographical position of Tirzah has not been given by any ancient geographer. Eusebius and Jerome simply mention it as a city captured by Joshua. Brocardus, a writer of the thirteenth century, appears to have been the first to identify it. He says: "From Samaria it is three leagues eastward to the city of Thersa, which is situated on the high mountain." From that time until the visit of Dr. Robinson it remained unknown; but that acute geographer discovered it in the modern Tellȗzah. "The place lies in a sightly and commanding position. It is surrounded by immense groves of olive trees, planted on all sides around; mostly young and thrifty trees. The town is of some size and tolerably well built. We saw no remains of antiquity, except a few sepulchral excavations and some cisterns." When compared with other sites in Palestine, the appropriateness of Solomon"s figure will be perceived: "Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah" ( Song of Solomon 5:4).
Elah, son of Baasha, king of Israel. After a reign of two years (b.c930-929), he was assassinated while drunk, and all his kinsfolk and friends cut off by Zimri, "the captain of half his chariots." He was the last king of Baasha"s line, and by this catastrophe the predictions of the prophet Jehu were accomplished ( 1 Kings 16:6-14).
Zimri.—In the twenty-sixth year of Asa, king of Judah, Elah, the son of Baasha, began to reign over Israel in Tirzah. After he had reigned two years, Zimri, the captain of half his chariots, conspired against him when he was in Tirzah, drunk, in the house of his steward. Zimri went in and smote and killed him, and reigned in his stead, about b.c928; and he slew all the house of Baasha so that no male was left. Zimri reigned only seven days in Tirzah. The people who were encamped at Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines, heard that Zimri had slain the king. They made Omri, the captain of the host, king over Israel in the camp. Omri besieged Tirzah and took it. Zimri, seeing that the city was taken, went into the king"s palace, set it on fire, and perished in it for his sins in walking in the way of Jereboam, and for making Israel to sin ( 1 Kings 16:1-20; 2 Kings 9:31).
Almighty God, thine eye has been upon us from the beginning of the year until the end, the days have been bright with thy looking, the nights have been sacred by thy nearness. Thou hast beset us behind and before, and laid thine hand upon us, for wheresoever our eyes have looked, behold, we have seen the Lord. Heaven has been over us like a great banner—Jehovah-nissi. The whole time has been an opportunity for advancing to higher life. Every month has given us new openings into wider liberty, into higher stature of Soul. Thou hast not forsaken us one moment. We know not what thou dost yet intend us to do and to be—nor care we. We are thine. Put us here or there, as thou pleasest, where thou pleasest; if thy will be done, our peace is assured. We are all parts of one another. We forget this, and therefore are we filled with envy and rivalry, and our spirit is moved with bitterness and clamour. It is each man for himself—as if he were anything of himself and by himself. Thus do we create schism in thy body, thou Creator of man. We have spoiled the image because the eye has said, "I am not of the body"; and the ear has said, "I am not of the body"; and the foot has said, "I am not of the body"; and the hand has said, "I am not of the body." So we are little entities, and each man is making his own god, his own heaven, and his own future—poor fool! in thy sight. Yet the years teach him no Wisdom of Solomon, and experience is wasted upon him like summer rains upon an ungrateful sand. Show us that we belong to one another, and all to thee: that man is one, that society is one, that in a great house there are vessels of gold and vessels of silver, vessels of honour and vessels of inferiority; but the roof is one, the enclosure is one, the ownership is one. In my father"s house are many mansions. Show us that the old and the young belong to the same family, and that we must make way for one another by ascension—leaving those who come behind to continue the fight and turn the war to conquest. Give us nobler thoughts, brighter conceptions, a sense of more delightful and vital fellowship with thyself. Then we shall have no pain, no fear, no dread of tomorrow, bring with it what it may; nor shall there be any more sea, or crying, or pain, or night, or death, but life shall be one loud triumph-song. This is what we are aiming at. This is our hope and aspiration. It is no child of ours. It is the birth of the Holy Ghost. It is the miraculous conception—that in the human mind there should be born an irrepressible and holy desire for God. The poor year we send back to thee, blessing thee that we have been able to render it back a day at a time. We dare not have given it back to thee as a whole, for even our arms would have shrunk from carrying so much corruption; but thou dost take it by instalments—a trifle now and then, a little day at the close of its own sin and labour, so that the pressure is migitated and the burden is felt to be less. But it is no less: it is all there—no sin lost, no crime turned paler for the keeping; but the whole iniquity—black, hideous, reeking as from a pit of pestilence. God be merciful unto us sinners. Now we see what the cross means; now we feel the need of the agony and the sacrifice—words we cannot interpret from the outside, but which come to us with infinite pathos when we feel what they were meant to signify. The Lord bless us, heal us, comfort us, and make our latter end brighter, grander than any day that has gone before. Then shall we feel the time, through the blessed Lord Jesus our Saviour, heighten itself into eternity. Amen.
1 Kings 16:21-23
21. Then were the people of Israel divided into two parts [a division of a division]: half of the people followed Tibni the son of Ginath, to make him king; and half followed Omri.
22. But the people that followed Omri prevailed against the people that followed Tibni the son of Ginath [the contest between the two pretenders lasted four years; comp. 1 Kings 16:15, 1 Kings 16:23 and 1 Kings 16:29]: so Tibni died ["Tibni"s death exactly at this time can scarcely be supposed to have been natural—either he must have been slain in battle against Omri, or have fallen into his hands and have been put to death"], and Omri reigned.
23. In the thirty and first year of Asa king of Judah began Omri to reign over Israel, twelve years: six years reigned he in Tirzah [or, as given in "The Speaker"s Commentary"—"So Tibni died, and Omri reigned in the thirty-first year of Asa, king of Judah. Omri reigned over Israel twelve years; six years reigned he in Tirzah; these six years are probably made up of the four years of contention with Tibni, and two years afterwards, during which enough of Samaria was built for the king to transfer his residence there"].
Tibni and Omri
Omri bought the hill of Samaria, a place in the heart of the mountains of Israel, a little west of their watershed; politically it was more central than Shechem, and in a military point of view admirably calculated for defence. No further change was made in the seat of government. "Shechem and Tirzah were each changed and abandoned: but through all the later alterations of dynasty Samaria continued uninterruptedly to the very close of the independence, to be the capital of the northern kingdom." Omri bought the hill of Samaria from its owner, Shemer, for two talents of silver (equal to from five to eight hundred pounds of English money). Omri excelled all his predecessors in doing evil. To be the very prince of wicked men seemed to be his ambition! After a life of supreme corruption he was buried in Samaria, and his son Ahab reigned in his stead. Ahab reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-and-two years. And Ahab excelled even his father Omri in doing evil! He not only repeated all that Omri did, but he took to wife Jezebel, and went and served Baal and worshipped him, and he made an altar for Baal, and a grove; and "did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him."
"Tibni died, and Omri reigned" ( 1 Kings 16:22).
We have often been struck by the difference in the lot of men upon the earth; for example, as between the rich man and Lazarus, and between the great king and the poor wise man. The text brings these differences before us sharply,—"Tibni died, and Omri reigned." A short explanatory story is needed here. When Zimri killed Elah, the people proclaimed Omri as king; but the proclamation was not unanimous; half of the people wanted Tibni, and half wanted Omri: the half that wanted Omri prevailed; so Tibni died, and Omri reigned. Our purpose is to show that both Tibni and Omri are still living, and that we may learn a good deal from their different lots in life.
Tibni and Omri are both living in the persons of those who divide public opinion respecting themselves. Is there any man living with whom everybody is satisfied? Take a Christian minister—any minister in this great London, and see how public opinion is divided about him. To one set of men he is the supreme human teacher; to another set of men he is almost unfit to be in the pulpit at all. Take a statesman; to one class he is the salvation of the kingdom, to another he is an empiric, a traitor, or in some degree a political rascal. Take any friend in social life; to one man he is an idol, to another he is a bore. There are great moral lessons coming out of these simple facts. These facts are not to be treated lightly. We are differently constituted, and no man is at liberty to set himself up for the judgment and condemnation of all. Especially ought this to be observed in the Church of Christ. Let us have our preferences by all means; this is simply inevitable; but do not let us run down the preferences of other people. Love your teacher if he has done you good; speak of him with warmest love; but do not tell other people that their ministers are unworthy of honour, nor try to lure them away from the pastor of their choice. Some people are fond even of dry sermons, and an odd man here and there likes a long one. If you clamorously cry up one man against another you may forget that the best of men are only servants, and that the worshipful One and All-holy is in heaven. "It hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, that there are contentions among you; every one saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptised in the name of Paul?" Society will always be divided about its leading men; but let us insist that there may be difference without bitterness, and that you may make one man king without taking away the character and perhaps the life of his rival. Let us pray God to show us the best points in every man"s character. Life is too short for slanderous criticism; we have work enough to do without tearing one another to pieces; he who debates much, is in danger of praying little; and he who is keenest in censure may be most barren and reluctant in sympathy.
Tibni still lives in the man who comes very near being a king but just misses the throne. Half the people in the camp were in his favour. In some of the popular shouts you could hardly tell whether Tibni or Omri was the uppermost name. Now the one seemed to fill the whole wind and now the other. The men themselves did not know for certain which of them was to have the crown. Let us see if there be not a good deal of our own life in this apparently remote and uninteresting fact. Whatever you strive for most anxiously in life is the crown to you, because it is the thing you want beyond all others. Sometimes it is so near! You feel as if you could put out your hand and take it! And yet though so near, it is so far, like a star trembling in a pool. Great broad providences you can understand and in a measure account for, as for example that one man should be poor and another rich: you can make up your mind to accept such a distinction; but when the prize you covet is actually at the door, within one step, just waiting for one word of distinct claim, you are apt to think that Providence means you to have it, for you cannot imagine that a hairbreadth line can separate a king from a civilian, a destiny of happiness from a destiny of sorrow. Here we come upon the very first lines of Providence, and the finer the lines the subtler the temptation. We are tempted to step over some lines; it seems right that we should do so; we say we ought to take advantage of our good fortune, and if God has come so near he means us to take the one last step. It is just there that many a man suffers the supreme trial of his faith and the supreme agony of his sensibilities. The situation you would like above all others is just there; so is the high office in the State, in the Church, in the city; it seems to be let down from heaven on purpose for you, and yet you cannot take possession of it; a cloud keeps you back; a thin impalpable veil! May you not break through and seize the gleaming prize? No. It is where Providence is so near that we need to pray most. It is when people would take us and force us to be kings, that, in the strength of God, we should pass through them and betake ourselves to the wilderness until beyond all doubt we are sent for from heaven.
We have referred to the supreme trial of a man"s sensibilities; let us explain our meaning. We often say of this man or that, How narrowly he escapes being a great man! There is only one thing wanting, one element, one force, one virtue,—one thing thou lackest, one thing is needful! And the man himself is tormented by a sense of greatness which is always nearing the point of royalty but never absolutely reaching it. The small man can be happy; the executive man can enjoy himself; but there is a man with a certain degree of power who cannot mingle with pigmies, who is not mighty enough for giants, who comes very near being a king, but misses the throne, and this man suffers agonies which he can never properly explain. He feels that the great poem which would give him literary immortality is breathing within him and around him, but the moment he puts pen to paper the inspiration ceases and will not harden into words. He has in him strange wild dreamings of power; he can write a book, he can found a new school of philosophy, he can illumine the whole horizon of theology, he can save the State; innumerable things he attempts and completes in his dreams, but the day of execution never dawns! It is in such men that Tibni still lives; in disappointed hearts, in blighted hopes, in brilliant prospects overcast, in kingdoms made of cloud, in castles built in air.
Omri still lives in those who turn great powers and great openings to dishonourable and unholy uses. Omri got the throne. For twelve years he reigned in Israel, six of them in Tirzah. His rival died, and he was left in undisputed sovereignty. But his way was not honourable before the Lord. "Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him." Some providences seem to be altogether thrown away, and we stand aghast at the destruction, saying, "Why was this waste made?" Great talents are made to serve the devil; great voices of song are never heard in the sanctuary; noble powers of speech are dumb when the righteous cause has to be pleaded. It has sometimes seemed as if the rain had fallen on the wilderness and missed the garden that would have returned a flower for every drop. We say, If this man had owned the money it would have been well spent; if that man had been entrusted with the power, it would have been beneficially exercised; instead of that, the wicked man keeps the bank, and the mischievous man lays down the law. There must be a time of rectification. A mystery lies upon the whole scheme of life. Yet there is a shape in it which keeps me from being an atheist; there is a sorrow in it which moves my purest pity; there is a light in it which will not let my hope expire; there is a darkness upon it which makes it terrible; it is full of solemnity, full of grandeur, full of meaning! Its best explanation I find is Christ. If he could endure it, well may I. If he died for it, I must think it possible to be saved. Where he gave blood, I may give service. My hope is in his cross. "He shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied."
Application: (1) If we cannot be great we can be good; (2) There is one throne which we need not miss.
Almighty God, thy grace is greater than our sin. Where sin abounds grace doth much more abound. Thou dost not only pardon, thou dost abundantly pardon, as a sea might swallow up a little stream. When we look at our sin we burn with shame, we stagger under a great burden which we cannot carry; but when we look at thy grace, at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, behold, how wondrous it Isaiah, and how our hearts are constrained to right again, and how our whole life answers the mighty appeal of thy love. Thou wilt conquer sin: thou wilt destroy all the darkness,—yea, the sun itself shall be counted dark, and as for the moon, thou wilt drop it out of thy great creation as needed no more. The Lamb shall be the light of the new place, the face of God shall irradiate the heavens. Thou doest great things and marvellous; yea, thou dost overpower our imagining and make all our fancy foolish when we attempt to set forth before ourselves the wonders of thy doing. We would live in the spirit of this education: we would be moved by impulses arising from this contemplation of thy greatness. Then shall our life be ennobled, our whole being shall assume new proportions, our lowliest service shall be touched with a royal value, and all we say and do will have about it the breathing of the grandeur of eternity. We bless thee for any uplifting of mind, and especially for the elevation of soul which comes at the altar of the sanctuary in the overpowering presence of the dying Son of God. Here thou dost exalt our thought, and here thou dost give us softening of love and melting of heart so that our whole life runs out to thee, for thou alone art its beginning and its sufficiency. We pray for one another. Every heart, having spoken its own little prayer for its own little self, would think of the other now,—the dumb tongue that cannot pray, the hard heart that will not pray, the weary traveller who cannot find strength to pray. The Lord remember us every one, omit none from his blessing, but seek out that which is lost, find it, save it, and may every heart be touched with comfort, be enriched with new grace, and arise to new conceptions of Christian thought, and offer itself a new sacrifice on the altar of the cross. Dry our tears when we cannot count them. Give us lifting up of mind when the clouds are like a burden upon our head, and whisper to us some gentle word that shall be a singing gospel in the heart when no other voice can reach our weariness or heal our woe. We come with this prayer because of the authority and encouragement of Jesus Christ. He hath opened a door that is very wide, he hath uttered welcomes broader than our necessity, penetrating into the region of our pain and distress, and he hath offered us the hospitality of God, whereby our hunger and our thirst may be for ever appeased, and he has given unto us thy rest, which is an infinite calm. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Kings 16". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany