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THE DYNASTIC TROUBLES OF ISRAEL
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 16:1. Word of the Lord came to Jehu—His father was a prophet (2 Chronicles 16:7). This is the only incident on record of Jehu.
1 Kings 16:2. Forasmuch as I exalted thee—Not that God sanctioned the method by which Baasha attained the throne, but Divine Providence allowed the attainment.
1 Kings 16:3. Behold I will take away—“By me kings reign.” Having reproduced the iniquities of Jeroboam, he should experience the same doom; the similitude of their fate extending to their “posterity.”
1 Kings 16:9. His servant Zimri—Josephus states that Zimri took advantage of the absence of the army and its chief to undertake the siege of Gibbethon. Doubtless this arrangement for debauching Elah in Asa’s house was a part of the plot of Zimri. He thought to consolidate his sovereignty by the massacre, not only of the relatives, but also of “the friends” of the royal house.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 16:1-14
THE DOOM OF THE USURPER
I. Is self-imposed.
1. Opportunity is afforded to reach a different destiny “I exalted thee out of the dust, and made thee prince over my people Israel” (1 Kings 16:2). Though the means by which Baasha seized the throne was foully wrong, yet when he had acquired the highest rank and the mightiest power in the realm, he had the opportunity of using his influence in favour of religious reform. He was raised from the lowest rank, and from a tribe hitherto undistinguished; and the “might” with which he ruled for twenty-four years, causing even Asa to call in the aid of the Syrian king, showed that he was not deficient in capacity. Had he striven to walk in the commandments of God, his sins would have been forgiven, and his dynasty firmly secured. But the opportunity passed unimproved. A great person is like a great hill, sometimes giving a beautiful prospect, at other times shrouded in darkness and shaking with storms.
2. A course of evil is deliberately and persistently followed. “Thou hast walked in the way of Jeroboam” (1 Kings 16:2). A man is not wicked all at once. Wickedness has its gradations. Bad thoughts come first, bad words follow, and bad deeds finish the progress. Wickedness is infectious. “Thou hast made my people Israel to sin.” A bad man is like bad water: both are poisons. The only disturber of men, of families, cities, kingdoms, worlds, is sin; there is no such troubler, no such traitor to any state, as the wilfully wicked man; no such enemy to the public as the enemy of God. Sin which is deliberately chosen and practised, and enforced on others, will bring its own doom.
II. Is not reached unwarned (1 Kings 16:1-4; 1 Kings 16:7). This is made clear by a double reference to the fact that the prophet Jebu was sent to remind Baasha of his sin, and to pronounce a judgment on him and his house, similar to that which fell on the house of Jeroboam. Though the destruction of Jeroboam had been foretold, and though Baasha may be rightly regarded as God’s instrument to punish Jeroboam’s sins, yet, as he received no command to execute God’s wrath on the offender, and was instigated solely by ambition and self-interest, his guilt was just as great as if no prophecy had been uttered. The proud usurper, blinded by success, and still more by a life of impenitent wickedness, is apt to be indifferent to the awful doom which is certainly descending on his head. But, in his mercy, God sends His faithful messengers to warn and prepare; and be that taketh warning shall deliver his soul (Ezekiel 33:4). The warnings of God are manifold and constant; and dull indeed must be the ear that cannot hear, and hard indeed the heart that cannot feel. The sinner’s can not is his will not, and his will not is his condemnation.
III. Will be terrible and complete (1 Kings 16:11-13). The doom so long and so plainly threatened fell at length with fearful and desolating severity. Zimri exterminated the race of Baasha; and the Jews say when such a matter is determined, they not only destroy the house of the person himself, but the five neighbouring houses, that the memory of such a person may perish from the earth. “The excesses of our youth are drafts upon our old age, payable with interest about thirty years after date.” Philo Judaeus says that the builders of Babel engraved everyone his name upon a brick, with a view of perpetuating their memory: yet this did not serve their purpose. It is just with God to bury those names in the dust which are raised by sin. The atrocities of the usurper will not go unpunished.
IV. Extends to his posterity (1 Kings 16:9-10). Elah inherited all the low, gross instincts of his father, without any of his courage and ability. When an oriental monarch indulges in intoxication he is expected at any rate to do it secretly. He is further precluded by etiquette from accepting the hospitality of his subjects. Elah appears to have set at defiance this restraint, and, like the Egyptian Amasis, to have continually reminded men of his low origin by conduct unworthy of royalty. It is sometimes the curse of a bad man that his sins descend to his children, and their punishment too. When a man lays the foundation of his own ruin, others will be too apt to build upon it. As the winds of winter chase the withered leaves hither and thither, so are the wicked chased. They flee at their own shadow, and death opens to them all the errors of a misspent life. When too late they shut their eyes in despair—undone! undone!
1. A possession unlawfully acquired is a fruitful source of evil.
2. God warns before he strikes.
3. To harden the heart in iniquity is to bring ruin on one’s own head.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 16:1-14. Of the two kings, Elah and Zimri, we learn nothing besides that they held to the sin of Jeroboam, except how they died. This was, however, sufficient to characterise them. We see that Elah did not even inherit energy and courage from his father Baasha, but was a coward and a low souled glutton, because when the whole army was engaged in combat with the Philistines before Gibbethon, he not only remained at home, but drank and caroused. Zimri was still worse; ambition led him to unfaithfulness and treason; he not only murdered his king and master, but the king’s whole house. How little esteemed and respected he was, appears from the fact that the whole army, as soon as they heard of his having ascended the throne, immediately made another king, and marched against Zimri. Then when shut in and surrounded, he set fire to the citadel over his head, and gave himself to the flames—his act was one of despair rather than of heroism (1 Kings 16:17-18).—Lange.
1 Kings 16:1-4. The general law is repeated with the same stern simplicity to one man as to another. “Whether you came in by right means or foul; whether you are a legitimate heir or a conspirator, God has made you a prince; your crime is your own. Your power is His. Trying to be something in yourself, you pronounce your own sentence. When you think to make gods, God unmakes you.” The principle is again affirmed, that a regular succession, a sure house, is a blessing to a land: that a man who desires to found such a one, desires a good gift; but that it is a gift; that as a witness of God’s permanence and presence it is good; that succession, apart from Him, is a mere transmission of curses. The particular phrase, “provoke me to anger,” is used here as it is everywhere else in the Bible. God is contemplated as jealous over His people, feeling like a husband or father to a rebellious wife or child. It is presented with all boldness to men who had the lowest, most grovelling conceptions of the divine nature, not to flatter them, but to counteract them, to destroy the fiction that God is indifferent to His creatures or hates them, which is the foundation of all idolatry, to prepare the way for the full revelation of that truth which interprets His jealousy, and is the ground of all right faith in man—“God is Love.”—Maurice.
1 Kings 16:2-4. The sins of the common people which they have learned from their princes, as well also as those which these do not restrain when they can, are charged to them. Those who are lifted up out of the dust are often the proudest and most arrogant, because they think they must thank only themselves for their exalted position, and they forget what is written in 1 Samuel 2:7. For Baasha, also, the hour struck when it was said, Behold, oh! most proud, &c. (Jeremiah 50:31). The throne that has been obtained by lying, deceit, falsehood, and bloodshed, has no stability. The judgment of God, though delayed for a time, will not always tarry (Psalms 5:6-7). Robbers and murderers are not always in caves and the hidden recesses of forests; sometimes they are seated upon thrones: but the Lord will sweep them away, and their end will be with horror. Before His tribunal, no people, no crown is a protection.—Osiander.
1 Kings 16:2. The responsibilities of rank. I. Afford exceptional opportunities for doing great good, or great mischief. II. Are rarely used for the noblest purposes when unrighteously acquired. III. Merit corresponding punishment when abused.
1 Kings 16:6. The little that is told of Baasha is sufficient to show that he was an ambitious, rough, and violent—indeed, even a blood-thirsty—man. He did not conspire against his lord and king, and usurp the throne in order to bring the fundamental law of Israel into force again, and to make an end of the sin of Jeroboam, for he himself adhered firmly to it all his life, in spite of all the warnings and threatenings of the prophets. He only cared for dominion, and for this he esteemed the sin of Jeroboam as necessary as the latter had done. In short, he seems to have been a rough soldier who cared little or nothing about religion. He was the first king-murderer in Israel, and led the way, as it were, to this crime, which was afterwards so often imitated.—Lange.
1 Kings 16:8-10. King Elah. I. He riots and carouses whilst his people are pouring out their blood in war. It is a sign of great barbarousness and rudeness amid exterior refinement, when the great and rich lead a frivolous and luxurious life, whilst the masses eat their bread in the sweat of their brow, and are famishing. A riotous court life is the usual precursor of the storm which shakes or destroys the throne. II. Death suddenly overtakes him in drunkenness. To go suddenly and unprepared from time into eternity is a heavy fate: but it is still more fearful to leave the world in drunkenness. The nearer chastisement comes to the ungodly, the more secure are they. It is fearful when one can say nothing more of a man than “He has despised God and His word, served his belly, and ended his life with a revel.” Better to famish and be miserable with Lazarus, and then be borne by angels into Abraham’s bosom, than with the rich man to live in splendour and revelry, and afterwards to suffer the pains of Hell.—Wurt. Summ.
1 Kings 16:8. The crime of murder. I. Is heinous in the sight of God and man. II. Is ever a ready weapon in the hand of an unscrupulous usurper. III. Never goes unavenged. IV. Is a stain of infamy on succeeding generations.
1 Kings 16:9. Drunkenness.
1. Is an evidence of great moral degradation.
2. Forfeits the respect of others.
3. Renders a man an easy victim to his enemies.
4. Is closely associated with violence and crime.
5. Incapacitates for the most obvious duties.
6. Inevitably issues in a miserable death.
—Drunken revels are an abomination to the Lord, and only occur where the fear of God is absent. The drunkards rank with those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10); and the Lord Christ warns—Take heed to yourselves, &c. (Luke 21:34).
1 Kings 16:13. The emptiness of idolatry. I. It is a “vanity”—“vapour,” “nothingness.” II. As a creation of man it is inferior to himself. III. It is unsatisfying to man. IV. It provokes the anger of God.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 16:15. Did Zimri reign seven days—A brief possession of a throne won by such criminal deeds! The Israelites repudiated the villainous usurper.
1 Kings 16:18. Into the palace of the king’s house—אֲרְמוֹן means the highest place in the king’s house; “the fortress of the palace, the securest and inmost place; for the royal palace contained a great number of buildings” (Gesenius). Burnt the king’s house over him—The Syriac says, the besiegers fired the royal house over his head.
1 Kings 16:19. For his sins … and in walking in the way of Jeroboam—As he only reigned “seven days,” this must refer to his previous career, although “the sins which he sinned” well describe his sanguinary deeds in seizing the throne.
1 Kings 16:22. So Tibni died, and Omri reigned—According to Josephus (Antiq. viii. 12, 5), Tibni was slain; which seems the necessary termination of the struggle. The phrase, “So he died,” does not allow of the thought of a natural death, whereby Tibni conveniently left the position unchallenged to Omri; but a forced conclusion of the rivalry by the death of Tibni. However, וַיָּמָת does not definitely indicate a violent death.
1 Kings 16:24. Bought the hill Samaria of Shemer—The “two talents of silver” purchase price equal less than £700. Thus this hill became the site of the royal residences of the kings of Israel, and Samaria the capital of the kingdom of Israel, until Israel was dispersed and the kingdom ceased. Stanley says of this site: In the centre of a wide amphitheatre of mountains, about six miles from Shechem, rises an oblong hill, with steep yet accessible sides, and a long flat top extending east and west, and rising 500 or 600 feet above the valley. Knobel says: It was a beautiful round mountain, covered with splendid trees, commanding a lorious prospect of the fruitful valley and the heights and villages surrounding it. Layard tells us a tablet was dug from the ruins of Nineveh relating to Samaria, thereon called Beth-Khumri, the house of Omri.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 16:15-28
SIN THE PROLIFIC SOURCE OF NATIONAL CALAMITIES
I. It degrades the throne and vitiates its authority (1 Kings 16:15-20). It places the crown at the disposal of ambitious adventurers. At this period in the history of Israel there is a remarkable resemblance to the events which led to the accession of the Flavian dynasty at Rome; and the character and career of the Roman Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian bear a curious similarity to the Israelitish Elah, Zimri, Tibni, and Omri. Whoever could best succeed in bribing the army was sure to gain the crown; and the monarch for the time being used his exalted position and power for purposes of personal indulgence and debauchery. “It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness; for the throne is established by righteousness” (Proverbs 16:12).
He’s a king,
A true, right king, that dare do aught save wrong;
Fears nothing mortal but to be unjust:
Who is not blown up with flattering puffs
Of spongy sycophants; who stands unmoved
Despite the jostling of opinion.
But where sin is triumphant, and justice and righteousness are disregarded, no throne can be stable. The very army which has elevated the monarch may be the instrument of his fall and ruin. Sin tarnishes the crown, breaks the sceptre of authority, and weakens the whole nation. The usurper is often the dupe of his own wickedness. You smile when you see a child trying to grasp its own shadow; but how many have been grasping shadows all their lives, and will continue to reach out and grasp as long as breath and eyesight last!
II. It divides the people, and introduces all the horrors of civil war (1 Kings 16:21-22). For four years the rival claimants of the crown carried on the fratricidal contest, and in all probability Tibni suffered a violent death. As soon as Zimri—Sardanapalus-like—came to such a suicidal end, it would appear that the authorities at Tirzah, disliking a military despotism, elected Tibni as king, and as the army had already elected Omri, the nation was plunged into all the miseries of civil war, which was terminated by Omri gaining the supremacy. Bitterly do the seceding tribes reap the fruits of evil sowing; for not only are they given up to idolatry, but are half swallowed up in anarchy. Both Tibni and Omri would have done well to refuse these proffered honours, considering what had befallen the kings that had gone before them. Macro, captain of the guard, and Laco, knight of the watch, Romans who had been active in ruining Sejanus, had great honours bestowed upon them by the Senate. But they refused them; and Dion attributed the reason of their refusal to the terrors of an example so fresh in their memories. “The nation from whose heart rectitude is gone, in whose soul vice runs riot, has its throne built on moral gunpowder.”
III. It encourages the ruling power to perpetrate acts of unexampled wickedness (1 Kings 16:25-26). Omri “did worse than all that were before him.” Worse than Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasha, and Elah. He was an idolater in principle and in practice. He led the people to idolatry by precept and example; and he went beyond all his predecessors in legalising and enforcing idolatry upon his subjects by statutes, for we read in Micah 6:16, of “the statutes of Omri, the keeping of which made Israel a desolation.” Taking this in connection with the character which the historian ascribes to him, we cannot doubt, remarks Kitto, that these “statutes of Omri,” which were but too well maintained by his successors and observed by the subjects of his kingdom, were measures adopted for more completely isolating the people of Israel from the services of the House of the Lord at Jerusalem, and for perpetuating, perhaps increasing, their idolatrous practices. Jeroboam made Israel to sin by temptation, example, and allurement; but Omri did it by compulsion. Thus when a people forsake God, they go from worse to worse, till destruction comes upon them to the uttermost.
1. The frequent end of ambitious projectors is to perish in the flames they have themselves kindled.
2. Envy and revenge, even in death, forsake not the wicked.
3. Of all inflictions on a nation, none are more terrible than civil wars.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 16:15-20. The vanity of an ill-gotten success. I. An ill-gotten success is evanescent in its character (1 Kings 16:15). II. Creates numerous enemies (1 Kings 16:16). III. Has to contend with violent opposition (1 Kings 16:17). IV. Drives to acts of desperation (1 Kings 16:18). V. Brings its own inevitable punishment (1 Kings 16:19). VI. Acquires an unenviable notoriety (1 Kings 16:20).
1 Kings 16:18. Despair. I. Often the result of baffled ambition. II. Is one of the sharpest stings of a guilty conscience. III. Is associated with the bitterest feelings of hatred and revenge. IV. Frequently ends in suicide.
—The doom of despair is the end of a life given over to sin, which has lost sight of the living God, and can never again find Him. Frequently what the world regards as heroism and contempt of death is simply cowardice and crime in the sight of God. The Lord has no pleasure, &c. (Ezekiel 18:23). It requires more courage and bravery to bear the merited punishment of one’s sins than to escape from it by suicide.
—Zimri’s desperate act has been repeated more than once in the world’s history. That the last king of Assyria, the Sardanapalus of the Greeks, thus destroyed himself, is almost the only fact which we know concerning him. Herodotus gives a similar account of a contemporary of his, a certain Boges, a Persian general left by Xerxes to defend Eïon when he retired from Europe after Salamis. He also relates that the Xanthians, when pressed by Harpagus, burnt their wives, their children, and their slaves in the Acropolis, and then threw themselves on the Persian swords.
1 Kings 16:21-22. Anarchy. I. The inevitable consequence of national irreligion. II. Is fomented and sustained by incompetent and unscrupulous rulers. III. Is not suppressed without much cruelty and suffering.
1 Kings 16:23-28. The power of a wicked life. I. Is the more dangerous when associated with material prosperity (1 Kings 16:24). II. Transforms a king into a tyrant (1 Kings 16:25-26). III. Is the less excusable in a man of valour and capacity (1 Kings 16:27). IV. Is transmitted to succeeding generations (1 Kings 16:28).
1 Kings 16:24-26. Omri built Samaria, making it the strong centre of the kingdom; but he walked in all the sins of Jeroboam, and did worse than all who went before him. It is not said in what respect he was worse, but it certainly implies that he maintained the anti-theocratic institutions of Jeroboam with great zeal and decision. It appears that he stood well as captain of the army, for it was in the camp that he was elected to the throne. Yet, however valiant he may have been as a warrior, in the chief thing—namely, in his relation to Jehovah and the theocratic fundamental law—he stood worse than any of his predecessors, and was furthest from being what was especially required of a theocratic king, that is, a servant of Jehovah. A man may be skilful and useful to himself and others in all material and worldly things, whilst in spiritual and divine things he works only mischief and destruction. What, without religion, is so-called civilization?—Lange.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 16:30. Ahab, the son of Omri—A name fraught with woe for Israel!
1 Kings 16:30. Took to wife Jezebel—Ethbaal, her royal father, murdered his own brother (king Philetos), was a priest also of Baal. Fit parent of this woman.
1 Kings 16:32. Reared up an altar for Baal—Fully handed over his kingdom to the Tyrian idolatry. הַבַּעַל is the Phœnician sun-god; the “altar,” מַצֵּבָה, was a pillar or image (comp. Notes on 1 Kings 14:23).
1 Kings 16:33. And Ahab made a grove—The Ashterah (see on 1 Kings 14:15). Thus Jehovah’s worship ceased by royal encouragement and example, if not by edict, and Jezebel saw the idolatry of her own people established in Israel.
1 Kings 16:34. Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho—More than 500 years intervened between the curse (Joshua 6:26) and its literal fulfilment. Ahab, having repudiated Jehovah as an object of personal and national worship, further showed his defiance of God in rearing this city, whose overthrow was a memorial of Israel’s salvation by Jehovah. Whether Hiel’s sons perished by violence during the erection of Jericho is unknown; the fact alone is here preserved that the curse was literally fulfilled.—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 16:29-34
THE REJECTION OF GOD THE ACME OF WICKEDNESS
THE beginning of Ahab’s reign commences a new epoch in the history of Israel; new, not so much in the flagrant forms of wickedness that manifest themselves, as in the relative importance of the kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Ahab, Ahaziah, and Jehoram. With the exception of Jeroboam, the reigns of Ahab’s predecessors are very briefly noticed, occupying but parts of two chapters; but the incidents of the three following reigns, embracing a period of about thirty-five years, extend from this passage to the tenth chapter of 2 Kings. During this period the kingdom of Judah receives comparatively little notice, and then only as an ally of the Northern kingdom, which stands out predominantly as the mightiest ruling power in the land. During the same period appeared those greatest, sternest, most mysterious of prophets, Elijah and Elisha, whose lives and acts, with strange romantic blendings, present on the one hand the fierce vindictiveness of the theocratic spirit towards sin, and, on the other, the tender and shrinking humanity which shows them up as men of like passions with ourselves. By means of Jezebel, the Sidonian princess, Phenician idolatry is introduced and sanctioned in the kingdom, and Baal’s prophets are multiplied by hundreds. A fierce persecution arises against the worshippers of Jehovah—faithfulness to the Lord God of Israel being by the court regarded as disaffection to the government and its measures. Wars, attended with varying fortunes, are carried on with several hostile kingdoms, while within the land the few pious weep in desolate sadness, and hide themselves in caves and dens of the earth. Israel seemed to reach the summit of its wickedness during the reign of Ahab. Observe
I. That a wicked son may exceed the iniquity of a wicked father. “And Ahab, the son of Omri, did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him” (1 Kings 16:30). The name of Ahab has attained an evil eminence in the world’s history. Like Antiochus Epiphanes, and Nero, he had a love of art, and he was not destitute of generous impulses; but he stands forth an example of the lengths of wickedness to which a weak selfishness may be driven by the influence of a stronger will. The great sin of Ahab—that by which he differed from all his predecessors, and exceeded them in wickedness—was his introduction of the worship of Baal, consequent upon his marriage with Jezebel, a name even more infamous than his own; and his formal establishment of this gross and palpable idolatry as the religion of the state. He was but carrying out to its inevitable results the vile policy of his father. It is an unspeakable curse to be under the training of a wicked father; and it is no wonder if a son thus trained should outvie his father in vice and profanity.
II. That a wicked wife may exert a still more baneful influence over a wicked husband (1 Kings 16:31). “The marriage of Ahab with this princess,” writes Stanley, “was one of those turning points in the history of families where a new influence runs like poison through all its branches, and transforms it into another being. Jezebel was a woman in whom, with the reckless and licentious habits of an Oriental queen, were united the fiercest and sternest qualities inherent in the old Semitic race. Her husband, in whom generous and gentle feelings were not wanting, was yet of a weak and yielding character, which soon made him a tool in her hands. Even after his death, through the reigns of his sons, her presiding spirit was the evil genius of the dynasty.” This is the first recorded instance of an Israelitish king choosing his chief wife from among the cursed Canaanitish race, and both king and people had good reason for bitterly repenting the choice. The character of Jezebel, as portrayed in the following chapters, is an embodiment of all that is most awful and terrible in the Clytemnestra of the Greek tragedians, and in the Lady Macbeth of Shakespeare. Woe to the man who is under the thumb of a clever, designing, enterprising, but radically wicked wife!
III. That the public sanction and practice of idolatry amounts to a total rejection of God (1 Kings 16:32). Hitherto the Israelites had not cast off their allegiance to Jehovah, nor ceased to worship Him, though their worship was damaged by the presence of unworthy emblems, and degraded by maimed rites and an unlawful priesthood. But in the dark times of Ahab and Jezebel, while they did not in so many specific terms formally renounce Jehovah, they did what was practically the same by setting up other gods besides Him, and holding Him of no more account than them. Baal-worship became the fashionable and court religion; and the mass of the people, prepared by the idolatrous experiences of previous reigns, would readily adopt it. Baal was the chief male divinity among the Phenicians, as Ashtoreth was their female divinity. Jehovah can tolerate no rival; and a divided worship cannot be acceptable to Him. If idolatry is preferred, then Jehovah is rejected; and the result is misery and death.
IV. That the rejection of God is the very acme of wickedness (1 Kings 16:33). “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.” We can be guilty of no greater sin than to reject God and the salvation He has provided through His son. “This is the condemnation,” &c. (John 3:19 compared with John 3:36). It is not the enormity or number of our sins which causes our condemnation; but the unbelieving rejection of the Divine Redeemer. When we give up God, we give up everything—all help, all hope, all happiness, and, like a rudderless and sailless vessel, drift towards the gloomy rocks of destruction.
V. That in a time of abounding wickedness the most presumptuous acts are attempted (1 Kings 16:34). The attempt to rebuild Jericho is adduced as a proof of the general impiety of Ahab’s time. The curse of God against the man who should rebuild that city (Joshua 6:26) had hitherto been believed and respected, and several hundred years had passed with no one so impious as to despise that curse. The place had been inhabited, but no one had ventured to fortify it and set up the gates. But now faith in the old religion had so decayed that Joshua’s malediction, terrible as it was, no longer exercised a deterrent power. Hiel, a Bethelite—a native of that city which had so long been the scene of Israelitish calf-worship, and, perhaps, a despiser of Jehovah and His laws—undoubtedly a man of wealth and station, perhaps instigated by Ahab, undertook to restore the long ruined fortress, in spite of Joshua’s menace. But he suffered for his temerity. In exact accordance with the words of Joshua’s curse, he lost his firstborn son when he began to lay anew the foundations of the walls, and his youngest when he completed his work by setting up the gates, and, it is supposed, all-his other children between. Of all sins, presumptuous sins are most offensive to God, and never fail to meet with their due meed of punishment. But when man abandons God, there is no degree of wickedness of which he is not capable. Hiel paid dearly for his presumption. He sought for a name, but he left it for a curse (Isaiah 65:15). The man who defies the Almighty must bear the consequences.
1. It is a life-long plague for any man to be united to a wicked and abandoned woman.
2. If the idolater spares no expense or labour in serving his abominations, with what generosity and zeal ought the Christian to serve his God.
3. Idolatry has degrees of wickedness—the highest is reached when God is rejected.
AHAB AND BAAL
I. The worship of the calves which Jeroboam set up in Bethel and in Dan is carefully distinguished in Scripture from the worship of Baal which was introduced by Ahab into Samaria. Jeroboam wished to separate the ten tribes from those which followed the house of David, by giving them sacrifices and priests of their own. From the words which he is said to have used—“These are thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt”—it is probable that he affected to restore the idolatry which Aaron had sanctioned in the wilderness. He or his priests would suggest the thought to the people, or their own hearts would suggest it to them, that what the high priest approved could not be very wrong, that Moses had no right to break the calf in pieces, that the people in Jerusalem who followed the law of Moses were really departing from a good old example, that they were returning to a national service. The step from this ultra local worship to a foreign Phœnician worship seems a very long one, yet it was natural and easy. We cannot tell exactly what the calf signified to the Egyptian, still less what it signified to the Hebrew slave in the desert, or to the revolted tribes. It may have been merely adopted as a traditional symbol, no special force being attached to it. But a people trained in the law of Moses must have associated some recollection of an unseen Being even with the most worthless image. How strong such associations may be in any mind, how long they may continue, we have happily no means of determining. We only know that the conscience of the idolater becomes at once stupefied and sensitive; more and more incapable of appreciating moral distinctions; more and more alive to terrors. The thought of a righteous being is appalling; from an object of trust he passes into an object of horror. How to appease Him is the question. The old forms may not be the right. Other nations which seem happier and more prosperous, have other gods and sacrifices. It might be well to try them. The most powerful neighbour must be most worthy of imitation.
II. A king like Ahab meets the demand of a people in this state. The Scripture which speaks of the cities which he built, and his ivory house, and his might, and the wars which he warred, leaves the impression upon us that he was intellectually superior to his predecessors, of a higher ambition, less narrow in his notions. He had not the dread which Jeroboam felt of intercourse with Jerusalem, he cultivated the friendship of Jehoshaphat. At the same time he took to wife Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians, and with her he naturalized a worship certainly more imposing and august than that which had been practised by the kings that were before him. There may, or may not, have been animal forms connected with the service of this God of Ekron. The name would seem only to impart a comprehensive notion of lordship, a notion which might express itself in a number of different symbols, which certainly would not be as limited to the one of the calf, or be likely to adopt that as its favourite. Baal would become Baalim, the general lord or ruler would soon be multiplied and divided into a number of lords and rulers; but there would be attached to them all a much grander feeling of dominion than could ever have entered into the mind of one who was bowing to the likeness of a calf which eateth hay.
III. Ahab would therefore seem to himself, as well as to a great many of his people, an improver and expander of the popular faith. Foreign priests with much more knowledge, probably, than those lowest of the people whom Jeroboam had consecrated, would come into the land. A number of the native priests would be quite ready to adopt the worships which the king and queen favoured. Though they might have some new rites to learn, though they might not like the strangers, or might be despised by them, yet they would not be conscious of any great change in themselves or their devotions. In their groves, on their hill altars, they had been seeking to propitiate some unknown fearful divinity. For that divinity they had now found a name. The Egyptian idol might suggest thoughts sometimes of the dark power, sometimes of Him who had made a covenant with their fathers; the Phœnician taught them to understand the distinction, to feel and know that they were invoking another than the Lord God whose presence Solomon had prayed might fill His temple.
IV. You see, then, why Ahab is said to have provoked the Lord God of Israel more than all that were before him. The Baal worship was essentially the worship of mere power. I do not say that abstractedly or originally it was the worship of an evil power; but it was the worship of power; therefore, of that which man sees without him in nature, not of that which he feels within speaking to himself. When we think that the things themselves exercise the power, and do not receive it from One in whom dwells eternal justice and rectitude, forms which denote the most violent and inexplicable outbursts of fury, the fire and the tempest, are speedily thought to represent the nature of the Baal or Baalim of the lord or lords of the universe. At all events, these are what man must address himself to. Some joyous feasts may be celebrated with wild and reckless licence to the gentler and humaner power which manifest themselves in the propitious breeze, the quiet evening, the sun that ripens the autumn fruits; but the most serious services, the sacrifices which those very enjoyments have made necessary, the libations of blood, must be presented to some malevolent nature which would destroy unless it were soothed. Thus the worship of power becomes literally the worship of evil. By a regular and awful process, Baal or Baal-zebud became in the minds of his devout servants what his name imported to Jews of later time—the Prince of the Devils.—Maurice.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 16:29-34. The king Ahab. I. His union with Jezebel—a marriage contracted not in obedience to God’s holy will, but merely upon worldly grounds and political considerations, and was, therefore, the source of great mischief to himself and to his people. II. The uplifting of idolatry over the religion of the country. The calf-worship was merged in the Baal-worship. The greatest tyranny is the tyranny over conscience, which pretends to rule also over belief. The worst rule is that which, instead of demanding recognition of the truth, substitutes lies and errors, and exercises its power in aid of unbelief and of superstition. III. The rebuilding of Jericho. By means of “faith” the walls of Jericho fell (Hebrews 11:30). Idolatry will build them up again; but the curse rests upon them. He who builds up what the Lord has destroyed, falls under His judgment. Julian, who rebuilt the heathen temple, and the Jews, who rebuilt the temple of Jerusalem, were confounded and brought to shame.—Lange.
1 Kings 16:30. And what manner of man was he—this Ahab, son of Omri—who gave his royal countenance and sanction to all these doings? Excuse is sometimes made for him as not an essentially wicked, but only a weak man, overborne by the powerful will of a resolute woman. But “all wickedness is weakness,” and it is also true, that all weakness is wickedness, and most of all in a king. He to whose care the welfare of a nation has been entrusted, has no right to be weak. The weakness ascribed to Ahab seems to us merely indolence of character, a love of ease, an indisposition to exertion, unless when thoroughly roused by some awakening stimulus. He was such a man as would rather allow what he feels to be wrong, for the sake of a quiet life, than take the trouble of asserting what he knows to be right. To shake off, to battle against this sloth of temper, which made him the tool of others, and rendered him impotent for all good, was his duty as a man, and tenfold more his duty as a king; and to neglect that duty was wickedness, was ruin. And it ended, as all such neglect does, in bringing down upon him tenfold the trouble and disturbance of ease which he had striven to avoid. “Anything for an easy life,” seems to have been Ahab’s rule of conduct. But a king has no right to an easy life. It is hard work to be a king. Especially is it hard work in an Eastern country, where, on the person of the sovereign, are devolved many duties of decision, of judgment, and of action which, in Western countries, he assigns to his advisers and ministers.—Kitto.
—The progress of wickedness. I. Rapid. II. Encouraged by notorious examples. III. Begets an emulation to outstrip all predecessors. IV. Sinks a nation into moral degradation and ruin.
—Moral corruption the cause of decay. I. That the judgments of God upon the wicked are not arbitrary, but are regulated by law. Nothing whimsical or arbitrary may be ascribed to Him who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and who sees the end from the beginning. The idea that God is variable in His doings has, like all false things, created a reaction which threatens to be serious. The changing notions of theology have stirred the thoughts of men outside the theological circle, and led to the earnest study of these positive sciences which reveal the order and regularity of all God’s works. From this source has sprung a doctrine of God which represents Him as so fixed and changeless that it is painful from its very immutability. Even from this teaching of the Positivists we may learn that which may help our faith and clear our conceptions of God. In the physical world, God rules by law—law fixed and changeless—since the perfection of His wisdom forbids the necessity of change. May we not learn thence, that in the moral and spiritual world the same order will be observed, the same plan of government carried on? This thought is strengthened when we remember that the two worlds are ultimately one; the physical is only the type of the spiritual. The one plan of government pervades the whole. Effects follow causes in the sphere that belongs to the soul, as punctually as in the world of matter. If you break loose from the Divine plan of spiritual life, or refuse to be loyal to the spiritual laws of the kingdom, it is at your peril. II. The illustrations of this law which the history of the world presents. History, when written and read rightly, corroborates the declarations of the Word of God. Think of the time when the young world was filled with wickedness: the eternal laws of right and goodness were trampled under foot; God was forgotten, and human nature exasperated by its own rebellion. The punishment did not tarry long after the sin. So was it in like manner with the cities of the plain. So was it with the Jews. The cup of their iniquity was full. Through the ages their rebellion had been great. They obtained times for repentance without number, but always fell back to their old sin. With the Jews all life of the highest kind was gone; every inspiration to nobleness was eaten up. Only the carcase of a dead people was left, and where that is, “there will the eagles be gathered together.” What is to be said of all those empires, kingdoms, and people which made such progress for a season, and whose glory filled the habitable globe? Where are Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage? In proportion as the conscience of a people is true to its own ideas of right and wrong will the energy of the people increase and their existence be prolonged; when it is otherwise, decay and death are certain. Let us not tempt God as did the Jews. O! do not continue in sin; do not play with the poison, lest it eat out the life, deaden your sensibility to God and right, leave you with your virtue utterly ruined, your God offended, your destiny lost.—J. Coyle.
1 Kings 16:31. Jezebel was just the woman to manage such a man; and she soon found how to manage Ahab as she pleased, and to become, in fact, through him, the regnant sovereign of Israel, while on him devolved the public responsibility of her acts. It was not by imperious temper, though she was imperious, nor by palpable domineering, that she managed this. No. She made herself necessary to him—necessary to his ease, his comfort, his pleasures. She worked for him, she planned for him, she decided for him. She saved him a world of trouble. She taught him to consider the strength of her will necessary to supply the weakness of his own—necessary to save him the labour of exertion and thought. Prompt in decision, ready in resource, quick in invention, ruthless in action—she saw her way at once to the point at which she aimed, and would cut with a sharp stroke through knotty matters which the king shrunk from the labour of untying. She was thus often enabled to secure for her husband the object of his desires which he himself hesitated to pursue, or despaired to obtain; and in accepting it from her hands, he cared not too nicely to enquire whether it were not stained with blood, or whether it heaped not upon his head coals of fire which would one day consume him.—Kitto.
—A native of Zidon and the daughter of its king, from the very first hour Jezebel set foot in Israel she became its poison and curse; and, indeed, among all who have disgraced the name of woman, she must ever hold a loftily inglorious rank. We place her on the same platform with Lucretia Borgia, who shrank from no crime; with Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII., who sent Cramner, Latimer, Hooper, and Ridley to the stake; with Catherine de Medici, the real author of Black Bartholomew, when, in one single night, 70,000 Huguenots perished; with Lady Macbeth, the original of whom, it is believed by many, our national dramatist found in Jezebel. There is something in the very sound of that name that makes one scared and cold. What mother would call her daughter Jezebel? What epithet of more utter scorn, of more withering contempt, could be applied to any woman, the worst and most wicked? Even in her own day the character of Jezebel became a national byeword and proverb, and to the end of time her memory will rot as rotted her body when, trampled by horse and licked by dogs, they buried what remained, unwept, in a dishonoured grave.—H. T. Howat.
—An unholy alliance. I. Would never be entered into if the soul were not first demoralized. II. Yields the ascendency to the strongest will. III. Is a terrible weapon of mischief where a bad woman is the ruling genius.
—Mixed marriages eminently inexpedient and dangerous. Whether Scripture speaks or is silent, the facts of life cannot be denied. They abundantly testify that a want of mutual religious convictions between husband and wife injuriously affects their sacred relationship. True marriage rests on common admiration and sympathy, it is the union of hearts in the bonds of holiest love. If, however, religion, which concerns the deepest emotions and noblest thoughts, is excluded, the union of the two natures is disastrously incomplete, the real foundation of married life becomes fearfully inseeure. A husband may love his wife because of her beautiful face or figure, her gentle manners, her intellectual gifts, her housewifely skill; but that love is meagre, partial, unsatisfactory; the richest chords of the soul remain untouched. If he be a devout man, serving Christ, that which he esteems the best thing in life she does not possess. The same is true on the other side. A Christian woman may feel that her husband is a noble man, but if he be not religious, he is not everything to her; she is perpetually craving sympathy which he cannot give. There is no union of soul. Then the hindrances and sorrows that spring from this spiritual isolation are incalculable. Man and wife do not understand each other, they look at numberless experiences from opposite standpoints, words of strife often follow, motives are imputed, sometimes sneers at saintliness are given on the one side and denunciations of godlessness on the other, which leave wounds behind them not soon healed. It is no secret, but a well-known fact, that multitudes of family quarrels arise because of this want of spiritual union, and the highest aspirations of the godly soul are perpetually thwarted by it. Then how perplexing is the education of the children. The parents are not at one, and while the example of one would lead them to an early consecration, the conduct of the other nullifies the intended result. If children, with their keen eyes and sure instincts, see one parent indifferent to religion, they will naturally conclude that they may neglect it too. To marry an unbelieving husband or wife may involve the future destiny of the offspring! if the children of such a union grow up in the fear of God it will be in spite of the bad example of one parent at home.—W. Braden.
1 Kings 16:32-33. A false worship. I. Is expensive. II. Is strengthened by organization. III. Becomes more pernicious the longer it is tolerated. IV. Gradually supplants and then persecutes the true worship. V. Is specially offensive to God.
1 Kings 16:34. The audacity of unbelief. I. An inevitable result when idolatry is in the ascendant. II. Not intimidated by the most awful imprecation. III. Meets with the punishment it defies.
—The victims of sin a warning to others. I. A warning against the commission of sin. II. A warning against associations with sinners. III. A warning against tempting others.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Kings 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20