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1 Kings 16:8-10
Elah . . . Zimri . . . Arza.
Elah, Zimri, and Arza
There was once a king in Israel called Elah. He reigned over Israel in Tirzah two years. He had a servant called Zimri who was a captain of his chariots. Zimri was a born traitor. Treachery was in his very blood. In the case of Elah, Zimri had a marked advantage; for Elah was a drunken fool. He was in the habit of visiting the house of another of his servants, a steward called Arza, and there he had what drink he asked for; and he asked for a good deal, so much so that he was often drunk in his servant’s house, and on one of these occasions, Zimri went in and killed him, and reigned in his stead. These are the facts which we have to deal with. Are they very ancient, or are they happening round about us every day?
1. Elah lives in every man who has great chances or opportunities in life, but allows them to slip away through one leak in the character. Elah was a king, and the son of a king, so his openings in life were wide and splendid; but he loved strong drink, and through that leak in his character all that might have made him a man oozed away, and left him a king in nothing but the barren name. Strong drink will ruin any man. What is true of this leak in a man’s character is true of every other. Take indecision for example, or idleness, or love of company, or devotion to pleasure. A great merchant once said to me of a certain man in his employment, “I would to-morrow give that man a thousand a year to begin with, if he could do one thing, and that is, hold his tongue; but he would no sooner get the appointment than he would go into an ale-house, and tell the whole company everything I am doing.” There is the leak in the character, and it means ruin! It is astounding what one leak will do.
2. Zimri still lives in all persons who take advantage of the weaknesses of others. Zimri knew that Elah was a drunkard, and he further knew that through his habit of drunkenness alone he could reach the king. On every other side of his character Elah may have been a strong man: acute, shrewd, far-sighted; but when in drink, weak and foolish. And Zimri played his game accordingly. Some people trade on the weaknesses of others. They study them. Thy adapt themselves to them. They watch for striking time, and seldom miss the mark. How else could the net be always ready for the bird? How else the pit be always prepared for the unexpected and bewildered traveller? There is an infernal science in these things--a devil’s black art!
3. And does not Arza still live in those who find the means whereby men may conceal their evil habits and indulge their unholy desires? They seem to say, “In my house you may do what you please. I shall not look at you. Come when you please; go when you like; I am nobody, if you like to call me so.” My wonder is that any young man can keep his morals uncorrupted in a strange city. Houses of destruction are open in every street. How foolish, too, are the wicked! If they would devote their talents to some virtuous end they would attain honourable success, sweetened with a sense of honesty. They often have great talents, fine powers, large capacities, and if they gave themselves with ardour and energy to the pursuit of good ends they would outrun many, and gain a prize worthy and lasting. (J. Parker, D. D.)
1 Kings 16:22
So Tibni died, and Omri reigned.
Tibni and Omri
We have often been struck by the difference in the lot of men upon the earth; for example, as between the rich man and Lazarus, and between the great king and the poor wise man. The text brings these differences before us sharply--“Tibni died, and Omri reigned.” A short explanatory story is needed here. When Zimri killed Elah, the people proclaimed Omri as king; but the proclamation was not unanimous; half of the people wanted Tibni, and half wanted Omri: the half that wanted Omri prevailed; so Tibni died, and Omri reigned. Our purpose is to show that both Tibni and Omri are still living, and that we may learn a good deal from their different lots in life.
1. Tibni and Omri are both living in the persons of those who divide public opinion respecting themselves. Is there any man living with whom everybody is satisfied? Take a Christian minister--any minister in this great London, and see how public opinion is divided about him. To one set of men he is the supreme human teacher; to another set of men he is almost unfit to be in the pulpit at all. Take a statesman; to one class he is the salvation of the kingdom, to another he is an empiric, a traitor, or in some degree a political rascal. Take any friend in social life; to one man he is an idol, to another he is bore. There are great moral lessons coming out of these simple facts. Society will always be divided about its leading men; but let us insist that there may be difference without bitterness, and that you may make one man king without taking away the character and perhaps the life of his rival. Let us pray God to show us the best points in every man s character.
2. Tibni still lives in the man who comes very near being a king but just misses the throne. Half the people in the camp were in his favour. In some of the popular shouts you could hardly tell whether Tibni or Omri was the uppermost name. Now the one seemed to fill the whole wind and now the other. The men themselves did not know for certain which of them was to have the crown. Let us see if there be not a good deal of our own life in this apparently remote and uninteresting fact. Whatever you strive for most anxiously in life is the crown to you, because it is the thing you want beyond all others. Sometimes it is so near! You feel as if you could put out your hand and take it! And yet though so near, it is so far, like a star trembling in a pool. Here we come upon the very first lines of Providence, and the finer the lines the subtler the temptation. We are tempted to step over some lines; it seems right that we should do so; we say we ought to take advantage of our good fortune, and if God has come so near He means us to take the one last step. It is just there that many a man suffers the supreme trial of his faith and the supreme agony of his sensibilities. We have referred to the supreme trial of a man’s sensibilities; let us explain our meaning. We often say of this man or that, How narrowly he escapes being a great man! There is only one thing wanting, one element, one force, one virtue--one thing thou lackest, one thing is needful! And the man himself is tormented by a sense of greatness which is always nearing the point of royalty but never absolutely reaching it. He feels that the great poem which would give him literary immortality is breathing within him and around him, but the moment he puts pen to paper the inspiration ceases and will not harden into words. He has m him strange wild dreamings of power; he can write a book, he can found a new school of philosophy, he can illumine the whole horizon of theology, he can save the State; innumerable things he attempts and completes in his dreams, but the day of execution never dawns! It is in such men that Tibni still lives; in disappointed hearts, in blighted hopes, in brilliant prospects overcast, in kingdoms made of cloud, in castles built in air.
3. Omri still lives in those who turn great powers and great openings to dishonourable and unholy uses. Omri got the throne. For twelve years he reigned in Israel, six of them in Tirzah. His rival died, and he was left in undisputed sovereignty. But his way was not honourable before the Lord. “Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him.” Some providences seem to be altogether thrown away, and we stand aghast at the destruction, saying, “Why was this waste made?” Great talents are made to serve the devil; great voices of song are never heard in the sanctuary; noble powers of speech are dumb when the righteous cause has to be pleaded. Application:
(1) If we cannot be great we can be good;
(2) There is one throne which we need not miss. (J. Parker, D. D.)
1 Kings 16:28
Omri slept with his fathers . . . Ahab his son reigned in his stead.
Omri and Ahab
A careful study of the two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, compels one to feel that communities do the best when they most honour God, and that forgetfulness of Him, and especially revolt from Him, brings disturbance and destruction. It is true these events transpired more than two thousand five hundred years ago, but they “are written for our learning.” Why should they be if there is nothing that we need to learn from them?
1. We need not trouble ourselves with the settling of the periods making up the dozen years of Omri’s reign, which had its opening portion in Tirzah, the royal seat (1 Kings 16:17). Omri had ability of a certain sort, and hence, probably, was able to secure the adhesion of so many of the people and the conquest of his two rivals. He showed it in the selection of a new capital. Shemer owned a tract of land with a hill of great strategic value. With an opening out into the wider distant plain through the level grounds which divided it elsewhere, all around, from the mountains, it had on one side a gentle slope, and on all the others it was easily made strong against an enemy, when bows and arrows and spears constituted the common weapons of assault. The town got its name from him who owned the hill, and most fitly, for it was the synonym of “watch-tower,” the very thing at which Omri aimed, having in mind through the slaughter of how many enemies he had to wade to the throne, and how necessary it was to be strong against any future assaults. They who part with Jehovah as Guide and Protector, and trust to human resources, need to multiply these to the utmost. Jeroboam had not flung off God formally. He had only modified the way of serving Him. He had set up the calves. This was politic, expedient, necessary. It was in harmony too with the ways of the nations. This was “the Way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (1 Kings 16:26). It was not the way of loyalty to Jehovah; it was not the way of truth. It was the way of disobedience under the inspiration of policy. Between this sin and the others that followed it was only a question of degree, not of kind. Set up taste, usage, popular craving, fashion, artistic completeness, or anything else as changing, modifying the method of Divine appointment, and you enter on the inclined plane. How far down and how fast you will go is determined by circumstances. So Omri’s working “evil in the eyes of the Lord,” and doing “worse than all that were before him” (1 Kings 16:25), is only walking in all “the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat,” and in his corrupting and contaminating sin. So it is ever. Given the supremacy of Peter, then his control of all things, secular and sacred; then his infallibility! What was the effect of all these modifications? Toward man, to keep Israel together and from union with Judah. But in the other and higher direction--toward God--the effect was “to provoke (1 Kings 16:26) the Lord God of Israel to anger with their vanities.” (See, for the “statutes of Omri,” Micah 6:16.) When Omri died, the chronicles of the kings of Israel (1 Kings 16:27) containing the record of his deeds, they buried him in his capital, Samaria, and the throne fell to his son Ahab in the thirty-eighth year of Asa of Judah (1 Kings 16:29), and about nine hundred and eighteen years before the coming of our Lord. His career is as full of darkness and weakness as a king’s life could well be. His reign of twenty-two years was a continued curse to the people. He held on the way of his father, but, according to the common rule in such cases, descending lower and lower. Moral rottenness, like material putrefaction, must increase. “Evil men and seducers wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” He married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, King of the Zidonians. We are not surprised at the character of the daughter when we know the career of her father as it is learned from outside history. Among the innovations of Ahab our version mentions a “grove,” a misleading word into which the translators were led from its being really an idolatrous image or group of images, including the “sacred symbolic tree” so frequently seen in Assyrian monuments. That it could not be a grove, a wood, is clear from 2 Kings 22:4, where Josiah brought out “the grove”--asherah in Hebrew--from the house of the Lord. It was doubtless a new and imposing idol, in keeping with the luxurious life now being lived by the Israelites as wealth grew through commerce.
(1) There is a real connection between the moral and religious condition of a nation and its temporal affairs. If we as a people defy God or disregard His, laws, He in His government of the world may be expected to show that He is “contrary to us.”
(2) The temptation is always great to God’s people to be like their neighbours; and if these neighbours be cultivated, be deemed standards of excellence in arts, in manners, or in arms; if they be wealthy; if their trade is of importance to us; if they be powerful and it is our interest to stand well with them--the inducements to conformity are all the greater. The distinctive elements of our religion are set aside. Why thrust our Bibles, our family worship, our Sabbaths, on them? True, God says of us that we are to be “holding forth the Word of life.” Ah, yes, but that was in other circumstances.
(3) The next step is to take up the ways of our friends. Much in their methods can be described as nice, impressive, beautiful--especially if we have taken their standard of “loveliness”; and, having done this, there is a stage of attempted combination. But it is awkward, difficult--in the end possible. One or other must go. And when man is choosing between his own products and God’s orders, he prefers his own. So the light is superseded by the darkness; spiritual religion gives place to “impressive” forms, which put no check on tastes or lusts or passions, and make no conscience uncomfortable, while sin is swallowed as a sweet morsel. (J. Hall, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Kings 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12