“Behold, I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”
And because of this YHWH would do to the house of Baasha what He had done to the house of Jeroboam. He would ‘sweep them away’ and all his sons would be destroyed.
“Him who dies of Baasha in the city will the dogs eat, and him who dies of his in the countryside will the birds of the heavens eat.”
This is the same fate as Ahijah the prophet had prophesied of Jeroboam. See on 1 Kings 14:11. The bodies of his male household would be left out in the open to be eaten by scavengers, a fate considered to be worse than death (compare the care that Rizpah took to ensure that it did not happen to her dead sons in 2 Samuel 21:10-11).
1 Kings 16:5
‘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?’
As usual we are informed that the remaining acts of the king, what he did and the might that he demonstrated, can be found in the court annals of Israel.
1 Kings 16:6
‘And Baasha slept with his fathers, and was buried in Tirzah, and Elah his son reigned instead of him.’
Baasha himself died peacefully and was buried in Tirzah. And Elah his son reigned instead of him, but only very briefly, for he was assassinated by one of his commanders. When a king of Israel died the throne was seen as up for grabs.
Tirzah had probably become Jeroboam’s capital towards the end of his reign (1 Kings 14:17), and would remain Israel’s capital city until Omri transferred it to Samaria. It was eleven kilometres (seven miles) north east of Shechem. Excavations have revealed that at this time it had standard houses and a large administrative building, and was heavily fortified.
1 Kings 16:7
‘And moreover by the prophet Jehu the son of Hanani came the word of YHWH against Baasha, and against his house, both because of all the evil that he did in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger with the work of his hands, in being like the house of Jeroboam, and because he smote him.’
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.
The Reign Of Elah King of Israel c. 885-884 BC (1 Kings 16:8-14).
The death of a king after a long reign often ushered in a period when rivals for the throne reared their heads, and Israel had no established dynasty. Elah, the son of Baasha, does, however, appear to have been generally accepted as the rightful king, for the army as a whole were carrying out their usual responsibilities quite contentedly, and only intervened when they learned that Elah had been assassinated.
This occurred because unfortunately, among their number was a prominent chariot commander named Zimri, who saw Baasha’s death as an opportunity to seize the kingship for himself. Assassinating Elah in the capital, he immediately destroyed all his male progeny, and himself seized power. The army as a whole, however, on hearing of the blood bath that had taken place in Tirzah, were not pleased and appointed Omri, a prominent commander in the field, as rival king, and he immediately proceeded to besiege Tirzah where all the action had taken place. Realising the hopelessness of his position Zimri committed suicide. He had reigned for seven days! This would then introduce for Israel a period of civil war, for a further claimant named Tibni arose with strong support, and he and Omri vied with each other until finally Omri emerged triumphant. In all this Israel were seen as suffering because of their insistence on following the evil ways of Jeroboam with regard to false worship.
a In the twenty and sixth year of Asa king of Judah, Elah the son of Baasha began to reign over Israel in Tirzah, and reigned two years (1 Kings 16:8).
b And his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him (1 Kings 16:9 a).
c Now he was in Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was over the household in Tirzah, and Zimri went in and smote him, and killed him, in the twenty and seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned instead of him (1 Kings 16:9-10).
b And it came about that, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, he smote all the house of Baasha. He left him not a single man-child, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends. Thus did Zimri destroy all the house of Baasha, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke against Baasha by Jehu the prophet, for all the sins of Baasha, and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned, and by which they made Israel to sin, to provoke YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger with their vanities (1 Kings 16:11-13).
a 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? (1 Kings 16:14).
Note that in ‘a’ Elah began to reign over Israel, and in the parallel his acts can be found in the annals of the kings of Israel. In ‘b’ Zimri conspired against him, and in the parallel what he did is described. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the description of how he assassinated Elah and took his throne.
1 Kings 16:8
‘In the twenty and sixth year of Asa king of Judah began Elah the son of Baasha to reign over Israel in Tirzah, and reigned two years.’
Due to the way Israelites calculated the reigns of their kings at this time, this means that he reigned only for a few months, part of his accession year, and part of the following year.
1 Kings 16:9 a ‘And his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him.’
Elah’s chariot force was divided into two sections, and Zimri was the commander of one of those sections. His exalted position had made him ambitious and he decided that he would like to be king. After all, the present newly made king was descended from a nobody.
1 Kings 16:9-10 ‘Now he was in Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was over the household in Tirzah, and Zimri went in and smote him, and killed him, in the twenty and seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned instead of him.’
So while Elah was drinking himself drunk in the house of his chief steward, Zimri went in and killed him. Arza may well have been in collusion with Zimri. Thus in the twenty seventh year of Asa’s reign Zimri set himself up as king of Israel.
1 Kings 16:11
‘And it came about that, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, he smote all the house of Baasha. He left him not a single man-child, neither of his kinsfolks (literally ‘redeemers’), nor of his friends.’
Zimri in fact only reigned for seven days, but during that seven days he engaged in a bloodbath greater than any previously, not only slaying all the males in Baasha’s own house, including all who might feel that they had the responsibility of blood vengeance (‘his redeemers’) but also all those who were Elah’s friends and associates. He was taking no chances.
1 Kings 16:12-13
‘Thus did Zimri destroy all the house of Baasha, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke against Baasha by Jehu the prophet, For all the sins of Baasha, and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned, and by which they made Israel to sin, to provoke YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger with their vanities.’
And this evil behaviour fulfilled what God had said through his prophet would happen to the house of Baasha. And it was because of Baasha’s sins, and Elah’s sins, and because they had failed to false religion which Jeroboam had initiated, and which led the people into sin, provoking YHWH’s righteous anger over their follies.
1 Kings 16:14
‘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?’
Elah’s acts during his short reign could also be found in the official annals of the kings of Israel. While the account may appear a little repetitive we should notice that the sin was getting deeper and deeper. Israel were receiving the kings that they deserved, and were suffering accordingly. It is a reminder to us that unless we are very prayerful and thoughtful we too can get the leaders that we deserve. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
The Reign Of Zimri King Of Israel c. 884 BC (1 Kings 16:15-20).
As we have already seen Zimri’s reign was short and brief, but it was found in the annals of the kings of Israel and so it is included. His excessive bloodbath may have been what enraged the army against him, or they may have considered that he was too junior in command to be allowed to be king. Thus while still in their camp they immediately appointed their own representative to be king, Omri, who was commander of the hosts of Israel.
Omri then went and besieged Zimri in Tirzah, and when Zimri saw that the city was quickly taken he went into the king’s own house and burnt it around him, dying as a result. It was a fitting end for a fiery man. And it was the end that he earned because of the support that he had throughout his adult life given for the false worship of Jeroboam, and which he had intended to continue, and for all his sins. The point here was that his rebellion had had nothing to do with seeking to re-establish the true worship of YHWH. He had only had himself in mind.
a In the twenty and seventh year of Asa king of Judah did Zimri reign seven days in Tirzah (1 Kings 16:15 a).
b Now the people were encamped against Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines. And the people who were encamped heard it said that, “Zimri has conspired, and has also smitten the king” (1 Kings 16:15-16 a).
c For which reason all Israel made Omri, the captain of the host, king over Israel that day in the camp, and Omri went up from Gibbethon, and all Israel with him, and they besieged Tirzah (1 Kings 1:16-17).
b And it came about, when Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the castle of the king’s house, and burnt the king’s house over him with fire, and died, for his sins which he sinned in doing that which was evil in the sight of YHWH, in walking in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin which he did, to make Israel to sin (1 Kings 16:18-19).
a Now the rest of the acts of Zimri, and his treason that he wrought, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? (1 Kings 16:20).
Note that in ‘a’ we learn of Zimri’s reign and in the parallel are referred for details to the annals of the kings of Israel. In ‘b’ news came to the camp that Zimri had conspired and slain the king, and in the parallel we are informed of what the consequences were for him in that he then slew himself. Centrally in ‘c’ we learn of the armies reaction in making Omri king and besieging Zimri in Tirzah.
1 Kings 16:15 a ‘In the twenty and seventh year of Asa king of Judah did Zimri reign seven days in Tirzah.’
It is noteworthy here that it does not say that he reigned ‘over Israel’. The validity of his claim to kingship is not acknowledged. And his reign only lasted for seven days. The name ‘Zimri’ is probably Aramaean (compare Zimri-lim of Mari) and he may well not have been a true Israelite, but a mercenary commander over half Israel’s chariot force. We are not informed about his antecedents.
1 Kings 16:15 b ‘Now the people were encamped against Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines.’
It was when he was encamped before the same Gibbethon that Nadab the son of Jeroboam had been assassinated by Baasha (1 Kings 15:27). But unlike Elah at least Nadab had been there with his men, not enjoying drunken frivolities in his capital city while others fought on his behalf.
1 Kings 16:16
‘And the people who were encamped heard it said that, “Zimri has conspired, and has also smitten the king,” for which reason all Israel made Omri, the captain of the host, king over Israel that day in the camp.’
News reached the camp of what Zimri had done in Tirzah. And as soon as they heard that Elah was dead, and that Zimri was playing the king, they appointed their own commander-in-chief as king, in the camp that very day.
1 Kings 16:17
‘And Omri went up from Gibbethon, and all Israel with him, and they besieged Tirzah.’
Omri then left the siege at Gibbethon along with his troops (‘all Israel’ is not to be taken too literally. It meant all Israel who were with him. In other words he had unanimous support from his men) and besieged Tirzah.
1 Kings 16:18-19
‘And it came about, when Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the castle of the king’s house, and burnt the king’s house over him with fire, and died, for his sins which he sinned in doing that which was evil in the sight of YHWH, in walking in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin which he did, to make Israel to sin.’
It is doubtful how much support Zimri had in Tirzah, apart from his own charioteers, with the result that the city would easily be taken (a fact not lost on Omri as we subsequently discover in his building of Samaria). Consequently when he realised that he was doomed, Zimri went into the most palatial part of the king’s house (one last dream?) and burned it around him, perishing in the flames. And we are told that this was because his rebellion had not been to do with the restoration of the true worship of YHWH. In his short reign he had carried on, and had intended to carry on, the false worship of Jeroboam. Thus he shared in his sins, doing what was evil in the eyes of YHWH.
“The castle of the king”s house.’ The word translated ‘castle’ is usually translated ‘palace’. It may signify the palace strongpoint, or the most palatial part of the palace.
1 Kings 16:20
‘Now the rest of the acts of Zimri, and his treason that he wrought, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’
Once more we close with reference to the annals of the kings of Israel. But in this case only we learn that Zimri’ behaviour was seen as ‘treasonable’. This in fact is what we would expect to find there, for the record would have been made in the time of Omri and he would have wanted it made clear that he himself had acted honourably, and that Elah’s death was not of his conniving. Zimri’s treachery in fact became legendary (2 Kings 9:31).
The whole story is a vivid reminder of Paul’s words, that whatever a man sows that will he also reap (Galatians 6:7).
The Reign Of Omri King of Israel c. 884-872 BC. (1 Kings 16:21-28).
We now come to the reign of one of Israel’s greatest kings humanly speaking, even though from the divine viewpoint he was a disaster. You would not, however, gather his greatness from the narrative (but see note below). For to the prophetic author of Kings Omri was an irrelevance because all he did was deepen the sin of Jeroboam, and take it a step further into pure Baalism. Thus all his greatness counted for nothing in the eyes of YHWH.
His reign began with civil war as Tibni, the son of Ginath, vied with him for the kingship. We are told nothing of Omri’s antecedents, which suggests that he was of humble birth and had worked his way up simply by his abilities. Tibni may well therefore have represented the aristocratic and landed classes of Israel who were seeking to prevent the upstart from taking the throne. Even Omri’s name was possibly not Israelite, although some see it as being a shortening of ‘Omri-yahu’ (YHWH is my life) or ‘Omri-baal (‘Baal gives me life’ - many Israelite names contained the name of Baal seeing it as signifying ‘Lord’ and therefore as referring to YHWH e.g. Ish-baal, Meri-baal the descendants of Saul), and the fact that he was appointed by ‘all Israel’ (i.e. his men) suggests that he himself must have been seen as an Israelite,, He was possibly part Israelite, part Canaanite.
It took a few years for the civil war to be decided, but almost inevitably, because of his superior military skill, Omri was victorious, and the result was that ‘Tibni died’. Omri then proceeded not only to support the false religion of Jeroboam but to ‘deal wickedly above all who were before him’. Indeed he may well have been part Canaanite himself which would explain why he took things to excess. The one noteworthy thing that the author records about him was that he founded Samaria as Israel’s capital city. That was so noteworthy an achievement that it had to be recorded, not only because Samaria became a famous city, but also because it finally gave its name to Israel. But there was a darker side to the picture. For Samaria became a centre for the worship of Baal.
a Then were the people of Israel divided into two parts, half of the people followed Tibni the son of Ginath, to make him king, and half followed Omri, but the people who followed Omri prevailed against the people who followed Tibni the son of Ginath. So Tibni died, and Omri reigned (1 Kings 16:21-22).
b In the thirty and first year of Asa king of Judah Omri began to reign over Israel, and reigned twelve years. He reigned six years in Tirzah, and he bought the hill Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver, and he built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill, Samaria (1 Kings 16:23-24).
c And Omri did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and dealt wickedly above all who were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sins by which he made Israel to sin, to provoke YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger with their vanities. (1 Kings 16:25-26).
b Now the rest of the acts of Omri which he did, and his might that he showed, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? (1 Kings 16:27).
a So Omri slept with his fathers, and was buried in Samaria, and Ahab his son reigned instead of him (1 Kings 16:28).
Note that in ‘a’ Omri finally obtained the kingship, and in the parallel he passed it on to his son. In ‘b’ some slight information is given concerning his reign and in the parallel we are referred to the official annals of the kings of Israel for more detail. Centrally in ‘c’ we learn that Omri outdid all who were before him for wickedness.
1 Kings 16:21-22
‘Then were the people of Israel divided into two parts, half of the people followed Tibni the son of Ginath, to make him king, and half followed Omri. But the people who followed Omri prevailed against the people who followed Tibni the son of Ginath. So Tibni died, and Omri reigned.’
The record of the civil war is brief but Tibni was successful enough for Omri not to be reckoned as king for three or four years. (He began to reign in the thirty first year of Asa, whilst Elah died in the twenty seventh). In the end, however, superior military ability succeeded and Omri became king. The laconic ‘so Tibni died’ speaks volumes.
1 Kings 16:23 a ‘In the thirty and first year of Asa king of Judah Omri began to reign over Israel, and reigned twelve years.’
The twelve years of Omri’s reign (and six years of his ruling in Tirzah) includes the period of the civil war. Thus once that war was over and he had settled into the kingship he began to look around for a new capital.
1 Kings 16:23-24 ‘He reigned six years in Tirzah, and he bought the hill Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver, and he built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill, Samaria.’
Having finally defeated Tibni Omri settled in Tirzah. But he was not satisfied with Tirzah. He had discovered earlier that it was not easily defendable. So he looked around for a better site for his capital city. This he found in ‘the hill of Samaria’ (Shemer’s hill) which he bought from Shemer for two talents of silver. And he built a fortified city on that hill and called it ‘Samaria’ after the name of the previous owner of the hill (which may well have been part of the sale agreement). Then he transferred to Samaria and rule from there for his final six years.
Omri may have had a number of reasons for his change of city:
1). That he wanted a city which belonged to him (as the city of David belonged to David) and would establish his name. He could then have a new beginning and decide who lived in it.
2). That he wanted a strong and invulnerable city which would stand the test of time. He had cause to know that Tirzah was vulnerable to attack, and as an experienced general recognised the potential of a city built on the hill of Samaria. It would certainly prove a tough nut to crack (1 Kings 20:1-21; 2 Kings 6:24-25; 2 Kings 18:9-10).
3). That he wanted a city where he could introduce his own ideas of worship along Canaanite ideas (compare 1 Kings 16:32). This would explain why he was seen as wicked above all who were before him.
4). That he wanted a city more open to the trade routes with Tyre and Sidon.
5). That he wanted a city around which all Israel could rally without it reminding them of the past. They would see it as ‘Omri’s city’.
Archaeology confirms that the Samaria built at the time of Omri was on a virgin site, and that it partly succeeded in its purpose comes out in that he was the first king of Israel to establish a dynasty that actually continued.
Note on The Greatness Of Omri.
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.
End of note.
1 Kings 16:25-26
‘And Omri did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and dealt wickedly above all who were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sins by which he made Israel to sin, to provoke YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger with their vanities.’
This was what was important to the prophetic author, that Omri added to the antagonism towards true Yahwism, and that in this regard he was worse than ‘all who were before him’ including Jeroboam. This might confirm that he was half-Canaanite, for Samaria lacked any pointer to the worship of YHWH, while his son Ahab would build a Temple of Baal there (1 Kings 16:32), and would be married to a princess of the Sidonians who would seek to encourage Baalism (1 Kings 16:31). In other words just as Jerusalem was the centre for the worship of YHWH, so Samaria became the centre for the worship of Baal. This would shortly lead to Yahwism’s lowest point in Israel, a position from which it would be partially rescued by Elijah and Elisha.
1 Kings 16:27
‘Now the rest of the acts of Omri which he did, and his might that he showed, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’
As for the remainder of his acts, they were of no interest to the prophetic author, for they were merely concerned with secular affairs and therefore not important. Anyone interested could consult the official annals of the kings of Israel.
1 Kings 16:28
‘So Omri slept with his fathers, and was buried in Samaria, and Ahab his son reigned instead of him.’
And having lived his evil life Omri died peacefully and was buried in Samaria, having added his contribution towards the downward path of Israel, and Ahab his son reigned instead of him.
An Initial Summary Of The Reign Of Ahab (1 Kings 16:29-34).
The account of Ahab’s reign commences with an initial summary of his reign indicating its corruption in the eyes of YHWH. We can compare the initial summary that opened Solomon’s reign in 1 Kings 3:1-4. In this summary it is made clear that Ahab ‘did what was evil in the eyes of YHWH above all who were before him’, and this is expanded by reference not only to following in the sins of Jeroboam with his syncretistic Yahwism, but also to his willingness on behalf of his wife Jezebel to encourage the distinctive worship of Baal.
a And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years (1 Kings 16:29).
b And Ahab the son of Omri did what was evil in the sight of YHWH above all who were before him (1 Kings 16:30).
c And it came about, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria (1 Kings 16:31-32).
b And Ahab made the Asherah, and Ahab did yet more to provoke YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him (1 Kings 16:33).
a In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho. He laid its foundation 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 YHWH, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun (1 Kings 16:34).
Note that in ‘a’ Ahab reigned over Israel, and in the parallel the depths to which his reign fell was that child sacrifices were offered in Israel. In ‘b’ he did evil in the sight of YHWH above all who went before him, and in the parallel he provoked YHWH to anger more than all the kings who were before him. Centrally in ‘c’ he instituted full Baal worship in Samaria.
1 Kings 16:29
‘And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years.’
Ahab came to the throne in the thirty eighth year of Asa of Judah, and reigned over Israel in Samaria for twenty two years. The name Ahab means ‘brother-father’, or ‘Abba is my brother’. This may have been a throne name claiming close association with Baal, or with El (as father), chief of the Canaanite pantheon. The Assyrians called him ‘Ahab the Israelite’ (Ahabbu (mat) sir’ilaia).
1 Kings 16:30
‘And Ahab the son of Omri did what was evil in the sight of YHWH above all who were before him.’
Ahab sank to a depth that none other had before him. The previous kings had bastardised Yahwism by making it syncretistic. Ahab, heavily under the influence of his wife Jezebel, sought to introduce pure Baalism and thus oust Yahwism altogether.
1 Kings 16:31
‘And it came about, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.’
Ahab no longer followed the syncretism of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. He had married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal the king of the Sidonians (i.e. of Tyre), and under the influence of his wife sought to dispense with Yahwism altogether as far as the court were concerned, for he ‘went and served Baal and worshipped him’.
This was not just a contest about two different perceptions of the living God. It was a battle to decide whether men would look to the God of creation, who was concerned for men, and required them to walk righteously before Him, and called them to account when they fell short, or would look to the forces of nature, which they could manipulate and turn to their own advantage, while living as immorally as they liked. Baalism was a nature religion. Baal represented the source of storm and rain, and the crude openly sexual ‘worship’ was with a view to persuading him and his consort Asherah to make the land fruitful and supply plentiful rain. The people of Israel had cause to be aware of what the lack of rain did. Every hot summer everything around them would die, apart from what was artificially watered. But then the rains came and life sprang up everywhere. They saw in this the results of the activity of ‘the gods’. And their aim was to stimulate these gods (who they otherwise considered had little concern for them) into action by simulating their behaviour.
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.
Ethbaal is probably a transliteration of ‘Itto-baal’ (Baal is alive) based on the cry to Baal, ‘Baal the Mighty is alive, the Prince, Lord of the earth exists’, which occurred each year when Baal was seen as coming back to life as the crops began to grow and the trees became fruitful. Eth-baal was king of Tyre and its surrounding area, taking for himself the ancient title ‘king of the Sidonians’, as Hiram II would later, and ruling for thirty two years (c.887-856 BC).
Jezebel was probably in Canaanite ’i-zebul (‘where is the Prince?’) with ‘zebul’ altered by the author or his source to ‘zebel’ (dung). This too arose from the cry to Baal, ‘Where is Baal the Mighty, where is the Prince (’i-zebul), Lord of the earth?’ as the worshippers sought to stir him back into life by their own sexual antics with cult prostitutes.
1 Kings 16:32
‘And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria.’
Indeed Ahab raised up an altar to Baal in a temple which he built for Baal in Samaria. This may have been as a temple for his wife to worship in but it would seem to many as though Baalism was now launched as the official religion of the king, and all those who wanted to please him served Baal. Samaria had become the centre for Baal worship, just as Jerusalem was the centre for YHWH worship. Ahab, however, continued also to recognise YHWH as is apparent from the names of his sons. He found himself on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand was Yahwism, his ancestral religion (as distorted by Jeroboam), of which he was king-priest as Jeroboam had been, and on the other was the influence of his wife (again it was the curse of foreign princesses as it had been with Solomon). Unlike Jezebel Ahab appears to have been torn between the two. The kingdom of Israel can therefore be seen as being split into three groups, with Ahab hovering between them, those who worshipped God truly under the guidance of the prophets, those who worshipped God in a half-hearted and diluted way in the sanctuaries set up by Jeroboam, and those who were whole-hearted for Baal. In fact we learn later that his wife Jezebel recognised this, and instituted a persecution of the prophets of YHWH, seeking to have them all put to death (1 Kings 18:13). Things were getting very serious.
This did not, of course, mean that the whole nation necessarily worshipped only Baal. A whole nation could not be persuaded to drop its old, deep-rooted traditions at the whim of a king and queen. Those who engaged in the syncretistic worship of YHWH outside of Samaria would continue to do so, and Jeroboam’s centres and high places would carry on as usual. What Jezebel was concerned about, and was attacking, was pure Yahwism, with its rejection of all other gods. For she recognised the potential that it had to destroy Baalism. As Elijah did she recognised that you could not really worship YHWH and Baal.
1 Kings 16:33
‘And Ahab made the Asherah, and Ahab did yet more to provoke YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.’
Ahab also made the Asherah-images, which were symbols of the goddess Asherah/Ashterah who was a consort to Baal, and these were set up along with the pillars and images of Baal. Thus Ahab provoked YHWH to righteous anger more than any other king before him.
1 Kings 16:34
‘In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho. He laid its foundation 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 YHWH, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.’
The depths to which things had fallen in Israel came out in that a man who wanted to rebuild Jericho felt that he could reverse Joshua’s curse by sacrificing his two sons, presumably to Baal, knowing that no one would do anything about it. Things were at a very low ebb.
In Joshua 7:26 Joshua gave this charge after the destruction of Jericho - “cursed be the man before YHWH who rises up and builds this city Jericho. With the loss of his firstborn will he lay its foundation, and with the loss of his youngest son will he set up its gates.” It was on this basis that Hiel, probably stirred by religious fervour for Baal, behaved as he did. There are a number of theories about this. Some have argued that all it meant was that his sons died as a result of accidents during the building. But that is unlikely, simply because the curse was taken seriously, and no father would under those conditions have allowed his sons to be involved in the building of the city, and especially not after he lost the first. Besides the reason for mentioning the incident here was in order to bring out the depths to which Israel had sunk under Ahab.
It should be noted that Joshua’s purpose had not been to encourage such a situation (i.e. the sacrifice of two sons, which to him would have been an horrific thought). His aim had been to prevent the rebuilding of Jericho at all, and he had succeeded in that while the hill of Jericho had been at times inhabited, it had never again become a walled city.
The Rise And Credentials Of Elijah The Tishbite, The Prophet Of YHWH (1 Kings 17:1 to 1 Kings 18:2 a).
Having surveyed the lives of eight kings after Jeroboam and Rehoboam (two in Judah, and six in Israel including Ahab) it is almost incredible to stop and consider that only one hundred years have passed since the death of David, when the kingdom of Israel/Judah was at the height of its power, and YHWH reigned supreme in the land, and only seventy six years since the completion of the Temple and Solomon’s palace complex. And now, while the southern kingdom of Judah had prospered in its worship of YHWH under Asa, in the northern kingdom the true followers of YHWH were being hunted to their deaths, and there remained only ‘seven thousand men’ who had not bowed the knee to Baal (many, of course having fled to the south). This was not so much the action of Ahab, who appears to have hovered between Baalism and Yahwism, as of a rampant Jezebel.
It was at this crisis point that God raised up a man of God who would to some extent turn the tide, and whose successor would even be consulted by kings. His name was Elijah, and he came from Transjordan where he had taken refuge with may worshippers of YHWH in Gilead (‘the sojourners of Gilead’).
Suddenly and unexpectedly he strode into the presence of the mighty Ahab, recognisable as a prophet by his garb, and declared to him without fear or favour that no rain would henceforth fall in Israel until he gave the word. This was a startling and most significant statement. Rain was seen by Baalism as the prerogative of Baal, god of rain and storm. Who then was this man who claimed that he could override Baal and prevent his activity? It was a challenge on a huge scale. Let Elijah be proved wrong, and Yahwism would be discredited.
But Elijah was not proved wrong, for Israel entered into a period of famine the like of which had not been seen for many a long day. The result was that Israel enjoyed neither Summer dew nor Autumn and Spring rains. Inevitably, having made such an announcement, Elijah had to go into hiding. Until his word proved true it could only sound like treason and blasphemy. And the punishment for such attitudes was death.
One outstanding emphasis in the passage is that of ‘the word of YHWH’ and its equivalent (seven times in the passage 1 Kings 17:2; 1 Kings 17:5; 1 Kings 17:8; 1 Kings 17:14; 1 Kings 17:16; 1 Kings 17:24; 1 Kings 18:1, and forty six times in the whole of Kings). Here especially, and throughout the book, YHWH is seen as acting in power through His word. The Creator, Who created by His word, stands in stark contrast to the feeble Baal who cannot resist His word.
Chapter 1 Kings 17:1 to 1 Kings 18:2 a form a united narrative within an inclusio (1 Kings 17:1 and 1 Kings 18:1-2 a), consisting of three vignettes, the first two illustrating how Elijah was sustained through the famine, and the third revealing his power to raise the dead. Such miracles as this occur only at times of great stress and unusual difficulty. Scripture does not see miracles like this as the norm. They occurred during the deliverance from Egypt. They will occur here while the faith of Israel is being dragged back from the brink. And they would occur again when God’s Son came into the world and his followers went out to win the world for Christ. Otherwise miracles are rare.
a And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the sojourners of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As YHWH, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there will not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1).
b Elijah is fed by the ravens at the Brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:2-7).
c Elijah is sustained by a jar of meal and a cruse of oil which did not fail (1 Kings 17:8-16).
b Elijah raises the widow’s son to life (1 Kings 17:17-24).
a And it came about after many days, that the word of YHWH came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth. And Elijah went to show himself to Ahab” (1 Kings 18:1-2 a).
Note that in ‘a’ rain in Israel will be dependent on the word of Elijah as the representative of the living God of Israel, and in the parallel YHWH sends Elijah to declare to Ahab that the rains will come again. In ‘b’ Elijah’s life is restored daily by ravens, and in the parallel the life of the widow’s son is restored by Elijah. Centrally in ‘c’ Elijah, and the household with whom he was living, are sustained by God’s miraculous provision.
What then was the significance of these miracles, and why should the prophetic author have include them here?
The first miracle demonstrated YHWH’s total control of nature in that He could even use scavenger birds in order to feed His servant. It demonstrated that all creation was under His control and did His bidding. By this it was made clear that He is the Lord of creation and Controller of all things to such an extent that while Baal could do nothing for his worshippers, the servant of YHWH was fully provided for by nature.
The second miracle demonstrated that even in the midst of famine, when Baal worshippers found their gods powerless to help them in their need, YHWH ‘the God of Israel’ (emphasised) was able satisfactorily to give a full supply to His servant. He was not dependent on rain. He could produce grain and oil by a word.
The third miracle demonstrated that he was the Lord of life and death. While all was dying around Elijah, he was able to impart life to the widow’s son, simply because he served the Lord of life.
Thus these miracles were a testimony to Baal’s helplessness and YHWH’s total sovereignty over event. But they only accomplished that because they happened.
1 Kings 17:1
‘And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the sojourners of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As YHWH, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there will not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.’
As so often with the prophets of YHWH in Kings, Elijah (‘my God is YHWH’) suddenly strides unexpectedly onto the scene (compare 1 Kings 13:1), and by his appearance and declaration Baalism, with its emphasis on Baal the god of rain and storm, is blatantly revealed as powerless to stand against YHWH, the living God of Israel, and against His word through His representative Elijah. Elijah’s promise was that from this moment on, whatever Baal may do, there would be no dew or rain in Israel except at Elijah’s word. It was a direct challenge to Baal (which will be even more vividly portrayed in chapter 18) to demonstrate that he could counter YHWH’s ban, if indeed he could. The famine may well have already been in progress when Elijah appeared, with Elijah appearing in order to emphasise what the source of the famine was. It would continue on into ‘the third year’ (1 Kings 18:1).
While clearly aimed at the royal court, (also as a direct challenge), we must not see this judgment of famine as limited to them, for the people of Israel as a whole were mainly involved in seeking to ensure rain from Baal/YHWH by perverted sexual behaviour. They were all involved in sin against YHWH and were all therefore about to learn the folly of what they were doing. The withholding of rain is regularly depicted as pointing to the sin of those who suffer from it (1 Kings 8:35; Leviticus 26:4; Leviticus 26:19-20; Deuteronomy 11:17; Deuteronomy 28:23-24; Amos 4:7-8).
Note the emphasis of Elijah on the fact that this would be evidence that YHWH, the God of Israel, was a living God Who could act in situations as He wanted, and that he himself was the personal emissary and chosen servant of YHWH (‘before Whom I stand’). Note also that the dew here was almost as important as the regular rains. The dew in the hot summers formed a valuable source of moisture on the mountains. (Interestingly the dew is not mentioned in the warnings either of Leviticus or of Deuteronomy, although its contribution to the fruitfulness of the earth is described in Genesis 27:28; Genesis 27:39. Compare also Deuteronomy 32:2; Deuteronomy 33:28; 2 Samuel 1:21).
Such a famine as is predicted here (had it been usual it would have demonstrated nothing) was a rare occurrence in Palestine. An even worse one had occurred while Joseph was Prime Minister of Egypt centuries before, which had caused Israel to seek refuge in Egypt, and a similar one had stirred up the conscience of Israel about the behaviour of Saul’s house towards the Gibeonites (that had been ‘three years, year after year’ - 2 Samuel 21:1). But this one was to be severe enough for it to be seen as warranting Elijah’s death, for we learn later that Ahab constantly had his spies out making a thorough search for Elijah so that he could put him to death (1 Kings 18:10). This was why God made provision for his safety in unusual ways.
Of course the famine’s worst effects would only be introduced slowly. Once the rains failed to come the seed that had been stored ready for planting would be carefully preserved, and would be used as it became necessary. While this would limit the stocks of grain available when the rains actually came (which themselves would be used when things became desperate) it would mean that people could survive, even though at a low level. Furthermore people who lived in such circumstances would know the water sources that were available and where water could be found in limited amounts once the need got to great, and they would be carefully preserving the water in their cysterns. They were experts at conserving water, and the animals would be allowed to die first. Thus it would only be as the famine entered its third year that things began to get really desperate. But recovery from such extensive famines could occur very speedily once the rains came.
Menander also records a severe famine around this time which he claimed lasted a year and affected Phoenicia under Ittobal of Tyre, but he may well have underestimated the famine (when after all does a famine start?), and the mountain ranges of Lebanon may also have ensured a shorter famine in that area.
Elijah would appear to have come from Tishbe in Gilead (Transjordan) and the description of him as a ‘sojourner in Gilead’ may suggest that he was there as a refugee from the persecution rampant west of the Jordan (compare Judges 17:7).
The Reign Of Ahab King Of Israel c. 872-851 BC (1 Kings 16:29 to 1 Kings 22:40).
The reigns of the previous seven kings of Judah and Israel have been covered in a short space (1 Kings 15:1 to 1 Kings 16:28). The reign of Ahab will now take up almost the whole of the remainder of 1 Kings (from 1 Kings 16:29 to 1 Kings 22:40). This, however, was not due to the importance of Ahab politically, but occurs because he was in continual conflict with the prophets of YHWH. It was these conflicts which were considered important by the prophetic writer. His initial prolonged encounter was with Elijah the prophet (chapters 17-19, 21), he had dealings with an unnamed prophet (chapter 20) and he had dealings with Jehoshaphat, a righteous king of Judah, who caused him to have dealings with Micaiah, a third prophet. He was thus of note because of YHWH’s dealings with him, and especially because his wife Jezebel, sought to establish Baalism in the face of the efforts of Elijah and the other prophets to maintain the truth of pure Yahwism. It is describing a conflict for the soul of Israel.
The whole section can be summarised as follows:
a 1). Initial summary of the reign of Ahab (1 Kings 16:29-34).
b 2). WARNING OF FAMINE. Elijah Warns Of The Coming Famine Which Duly Occurs. The First Flight Of Elijah (1 Kings 17:1 to 1 Kings 18:2 a).
A. Elijah flees and is fed by ravens indicating YHWH’s control of the living creation in the midst of famine (1 Kings 17:2-7).
B. Elijah is sustained by the miraculous provision of meal and oil indicating YHWH’s control over the inanimate creation in the midst of famine (1 Kings 17:8-16). |
C. Elijah raises the dead son of the widow to life indicating YHWH’s control over life and death in the midst of famine and death (1 Kings 17:17-24).
c 3). AHAB’S FIRST REPENTANCE. The Contest on Mount Carmel between the prophets of Baal and Elijah indicating YHWH’s power over storm and lightning (purportedly Baal’s forte) (1 Kings 18:2-40). This leads to Ahab’s first change of heart (although not repentance).
d 4). Elijah flees from Jezebel and meets God at Horeb leading on to the command to anoint of Hazael, Jehu and Elisha as symbols of YHWH’s judgment and mercy on Israel through war, assassination and ministry (1 Kings 19:1-21).
d 5). Two wars with Benhadad of Aram (Syria) before each of which a prophet of YHWH promises that YHWH will give him victory, and which results in YHWH’s final declaration of judgment on Ahab through a third prophet for failing to execute the captured king who had been ‘devoted to YHWH’ (1 Kings 20:1-43).
c 6). AHAB’S SECOND REPENTANCE Naboth is falsely accused and murdered in order that Ahab might take possession of his vineyard, an incident that brings home how YHWH’s covenant is being torn to shreds and results in Elijah’s sentence of judgment on Ahab’s house, which is delayed (but only delayed) because of his repentance (1 Kings 21:1-28).
b 7). WARNING OF DEATH. Micaiah warns Ahab of his coming death. War over Ramoth-gilead results in Ahab’s death as warned by Micaiah the prophet of YHWH and the humiliation of his blood by contact with scavenger dogs and common prostitutes (1 Kings 22:1-38).
a 8). Ahab’s Obituary (1 Kings 22:39-40).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 16". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week of Lent