The House of Omri and the Sight of the LORD

Sermon preached on 1 Kings 16:15-34 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 01/05/2020 in Novato, CA.

** Due to technical difficulties, the audio for this sermon is unavailable.

Sermon manuscript

With the Star Wars episode 9 movie recently being released, I’ve again been reflecting on the theme of “perspective” or “point of view”. The Star Wars franchise at several points have argued that how we understand truth depends greatly on our point of view. At points they’ve even given some insight into the point of view of the evil forces in the movies. Yet, clearly the movies show that not all points of view are equally commendable. While the movies at points show the evil Sith Emperors’ point of view and philosophy, the audience is clearly supposed to conclude that such a point of view is not the right point of view to have. What’s my point? I want to begin by affirming that how we understand truth is in fact greatly affected by our point of view. But not all points of view are equally accurate or morally justifiable. What we need to have is God’s point of view to understand things properly. We want to think about things from God’s perspective. This passage is a good example of this. It describes the rise of a new dynasty in Israel – the House of Omri. This passage will help us to think about the difference of God’s point of view from the world’s when it come to this new House of Omri.

Let’s begin then in our first point and recognize the context for the rise of the House of Omri. It was tumultuous times for Israel. Omri became king at a time of great internal turmoil in Israel. This is internal turmoil that really had been going on for a while now with one conspiracy and coup after another. Of course, the start of this nation of Israel itself began with revolt from the established leadership. Jeroboam established the ten-tribe nation of Israel in revolution against the Davidic King Rehoboam. God’s lex talionis principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth finds fitting expression in the first two houses that led Israel. For as Jeroboam begins the kingdom in conspiracy against David’s house, that and more so will end his house’s reign. Conspiracy becomes a common thread in Israel in the first several house of kings. Such conspiracy reflects the period of internal turmoil that existed in the northern kingdom of Israel at its start.

So then, we remember the passage we read last week. There we saw the house of Jeroboam end when Baasha conspired against Jeroboam’s son Nadab. In a violent overthrow, 1 Kings 16:28-29 records Baasha not only killing King Nadab in conspiracy, but then wiping out all the other heirs to the throne in Jeroboam’s house. But what goes around comes around, because we then saw last week that Baasha’s own house suffered the same fate. Baasha’ son and successor King Elah was conspired against by one of his military commanders named Zimri. Zimri murdered King Elah and all of Baasha’s other male descendants. Again, much internal turmoil in Israel. You might also recall that while God ordained the use of these evil men to afflict other evil men, that didn’t excuse their treasonous and murderous evils. So, God judged them too for such evils.

Well, we find that continuing on in today’s passage. We pick up the story in the aftermath of Zimri wiping out Baasha’s house. But in this case, God will not allow what he allowed for the house of Jeroboam and the house of Baasha. Conspirator Zimri would not be allowed to reign for any more than seven days. We might note that in addition to Zimri being guilty for his conspiracy and murder, he was also guilty of the same poor religious leadership as the kings before him. We find that in verse 19. There it reports that Zimri’s sin includes walking in the way of King Jeroboam in which he made Israel to sin. Surely that refers to the perversions of worship that Jeroboam enacted such as the golden calves. In other words, King Zimri during his reign never turned the people away from such evils. He never instituted any religious reforms to bring the nation back to a proper worship of God. Now you might say, but he only reigned for 7 days! Yet, evidently to God that was 7 days that he should have begun to turn from the evils of Jeroboam if he wanted to endure in serving as king. As an analogy, remember what we often hear from presidential candidates as we enter into this upcoming election cycle. It’s common for them to tell us what they promise to do on their first day in office. Typically, the candidates’ promises are far too lofty to accomplish in one day, but at least they are hopefully setting an agenda from the start to make what are hopefully improvements to the nation. Well, Zimri’s day one agenda did not include religious reforms. Surely there is application for us to make the most of every opportunity to serve the Lord whether it be for 7 days or 7 years or longer.

And so, Zimri’s reign comes to an end when the Israelite army encamped at Gibbethon hears of his coup. They make their military commander Omri king who leads them up against the capital Tirzah and quickly takes the city. Zimri sees his fate and commits suicide by burning the palace down with himself inside it. Again, more internal Israelite turmoil. In the aftermath of Israel putting down this coup by Zimri, there then begins yet another internal power struggle. Evidently the Israelite army’s initial appointment of Omri as king wasn’t received universally by the nation. It begins a period of internal conflict over who would be the next king after Zimri’s short-lived 7-day reign. There were many that wanted Omri, but there were others who want someone named Tibni to be king (verse 21). It would be easy to miss the fact that this uncertainty over the next king lasted about four years. We see that when we do some math. Verse 15 tells us that Zimri is killed in the 27th year of Asa king of Judah. But verse 23 tells us it’s not until the 31st year of King Asa that Tibni dies and Omri begins to actually reign over Israel. So, again there is inner turmoil through all this for what is still a relatively young new nation of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Let me give one more example of the effects of this internal turmoil in Israel. We read here in verse 15 that when Zimri did his coup that Israel was encamped at Gibbethon against the Philistines. We had read that Israel was doing the same thing some 24 years prior when King Nadab was killed by Baasha. In other words, Israel had been battling the Philistines to try to retake Gibbethon – territory God had allocated for the tribe of Dan. They had been fighting for Gibbethon in some form or another for over 24 years. But here, in order to stop Zimri’s coup the Israelite army has to abandon their siege of Gibbethon. That’s the last we hear in Scripture of Israel trying to take back Gibbethon. Seems like this internal turmoil voided over 24 years of military effort to retake the city.

Why did Israel have all this internal turmoil? It was become of their sin – both of their leaders and the people. Well, it’s at this point, in God’s common grace, that a new dynasty and era begins for the nation of Israel. Here, the house of Omri begins to rule the country and that provides a period of relative stability compared to these initial early years in Israel. We can recognize that right away with how Omri takes the throne. Yes, there was that period of uncertainty between him and Tibni. But when Omri defeats the rebel Zimri at Tirzah, that actually breaks the cycle of conspiracy that plagued the first two houses of Israel. The Israelite army actions to stop Zimri, led by their appointed leader Omri, can be seen more as the actions of the surviving government putting down the coup of Zimri than as any sort of new conspiracy. Thus, the cycle of conspiracies ends for at least for the next 4 kings of Israel who all come from this house of Omri. Omri himself would reign for a reasonably long period of time of 12 years. And we see his son Ahab here would reign for 22 years. We’ll later see that his house even makes inroads into Judah’s Davidic dynasty. Omri’s granddaughter Athaliah would later marry the Davidic king, King Jehoram. But I digress. The point is that Omri’s dynasty brings an extended period of relative stability for Israel.

So then, we read here how King Omri begins this new house. After going from beloved military commander to King, his accomplishments according to Scripture include that he moved the capital city from Tirzah to Samaria, verse 24. That becomes the new and permanent capital for Israel. We can appreciate why such a move would be needed. I could imagine that after Omri had sacked the old capital of Tirzah in order to put down Zimri, that Tirzah might have needed some significant rebuilding anyways. Not to mention that Zimri had burnt down the palace. So, it seems Omri began his reign in Tirzah but probably quickly began work to build up this new permanent capital in Samaria. And Samaria was also a good spot for several reasons. It was situated on a 300-foot hill that would have made it very defendable. It also overlooked very key trade routes. So, for various reasons this seems to have been a good move by Omri.

Omri’s house also included much international recognition. For example, Omri’s son King Ahab would be married to Jezebel who was a princess from Sidon. That would have reflected positive diplomatic relations for Israel with the Phoenician peoples in Tyre and Sidon. Likely, Omri himself was key in arranging the marriage between Ahab and Jezebel. An alliance between Israel and the Phoenicians would have given great leverage against their mutual nearby enemy of the Syrians in Damascus.

Furthermore, there have been two major archeological finds that bear testimony to the international recognition of Omri’s house. The first is known today as the Mesha Stele or sometimes as the Moabite Stone. It was written by the Moabites and speaks of the oppression that the powerful House of Omri had afflicted on them. It describes the events recorded in 2 Kings 3, but from a pagan Moabite perspective. That was during King Jehoram’s reign, son of King Ahab. Similarly, the other archeological find I mentioned is known as the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. This was an Assyrian artifact that recorded the various nations that had paid tribute to Assyria under King Shlamaneser III. The list included Israel and it refers to Israel’s King as being of the House of Omri. The point for both of these two archeological finds shows that the international community clearly recognized Israel as under the House of Omri, even generations after King Omri had died. It shows a well-established, even internationally recognized, dynasty and kingdom.

Well, in this second point, I wanted to emphasize the relative outward stability of this new dynasty and era so I could now critique that in my third and final point for today. Yes, the House of Omri in a certain sense seemed to be doing much better than the previous kings in Israel. Yes, archeology even shows the nations recognized this house. But in contrast, I want us to note what God recognized. God’s commentary is not positive in the least. It’s interesting that Scripture records so few words about this patriarch of the House of Omri. Omri’s reign is dealt with in just the few verses of this chapter. If you think about it, besides the move of the capital to Samaria, very little is told to us uniquely about Ormi’s reign here in Holy Scripture. But look what it does tell us that stood out. Verse 25. Omri not only did evil in the sight of the LORD. He did more evil than all who were before him. Worse than King Jeroboam who instituted all those perversions of worship including the golden calves. Worse than King Nadab who did not turn from those perversions. Worse than King Baasha who also did not turn from such but even ruthlessly slaughtered the whole house of Jeroboam. Worse than the drunkard of a king, King Elah. Worse than the short-lived 7-day reign of the treasonous King Zimri who also did nothing to turn Israel back to the LORD. Omri did more evil than all these Israelite kings before him. What an infamous legacy. But this is God’s assessment of King Omri. That’s God’s “point of view”.

Now what is interesting, is we are not told specifics of this. Clearly, Omri at a minimum continued in all the previously instituted perversions of worship. But this text tells us he did more evil than that. We aren’t told the specifics, but surely there were specifics. Surely, verse 25 has in mind various specific, notable evils that Omri brought into the nation that no king before him had done. I’m sure of that, not only because it says so, but because of what is then said of his son Ahab’s reign. In verse 30, we have God’s assessment of Ahab. He too not only did evil in God’s sight, but he too did worse than all the kings who were before him. In other words, as bad as Omri was, his son Ahab was even worse, if you can imagine that! But here’s the point about the specifics. Verses 31-33 then give a list of specific evils that Ahab did that no Israelite king before him did. In other words, it explains in what ways was he more evil than anyone else. And so, if Ahab was more evil than any before him and there were specifics that could be pointed to, then surely the same would have been the case with Omri too.

Ahab’s specific evils that advanced the cause of evil included bringing Baal worship into the land. The text relates that to Ahab’s marriage with the pagan princess Jezebel who clearly was a promoter of Baal worship. Whereas King Solomon had previously established a house and an altar to the God of Israel in the capital of Jerusalem, King Ahab establishes a house and an altar to Baal in the capital of Samaria. Verse 33 tells us also the specific that he built an Asherah pole. So, the notable increase of evil by Ahab was specifically about his advance of the worship of false gods in Israel. In comparison, Jeroboam’s sins were focused about perversions to the worship of the one true God, Ahab advances the worship of other gods in Israel.

This whole effort by Ahab might be further illustrated by what’s recorded in verse 34. There it mentions the rebuilding and refortifying of the city of Jericho. That was the first town Israel had conquered of the Canaanites in the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership, so long before. God had Israel under Joshua bring judgment upon the Canaanites for all their evil, including their worship of false gods. Joshua had put a curse in the name of the LORD against any who would rebuild Jericho. Here, so many generations later, Jericho is rebuilt and refortified, and the curse comes true. Surely this Hiel of Bethel wouldn’t have rebuilt this without Ahab’s approval. Jericho’s rebuilding is similar to Ahab’s introduction of Baal and Asherah worship. It’s like the whole place is becoming Canaanite again. A key Canaanite town is rebuilt as the worship of the Canaanite gods are being reinstituted in the land.

Israel might have thought things got better for them under the House of Omri. The international community might have even grown in respect for Israel under Omri’s house. That would be their point of view. But God’s point of view saw a continued downward spiral. Things didn’t ultimately get better after Jeroboam’s house and Baasha’s house. Omri’s house may have been more outwardly stable. But it was a continued downward spiral religiously. They increased more and more their evil and their wickedness. They were heaping more and more guilt upon themselves and all Israel. It’s hard to imagine how things could continue to get even more worse with each passing generation like this, but that’s what God’s Word tells us here. It’s summarized so well there in verse 33. By the time you get to Ahab, we see that he did more to provoke God to anger than all the kings together who were before him. This is God’s point of view and it’s the right way to think about all of this. Not all points of view are equally accurate or morally justifiable. We want to grow to have God’s perspective on such things and to think about things the way he thinks about things.

I think again of the inscrutable providence of God in all this. When Jeroboam and Baasha did their evil, God cut their houses off swiftly in the very next generation. Yet, here God allows this Omri house to continue on much longer, even though their evils were increasing worse than either Jeroboam or Baasha. But make no mistake: God was still in control and still moving forward his redemptive plans and purposes. And so here we see God’s response to the house of Omri. Yes, its different than how he responded to Jeroboam’s and Baasha’s houses. But God’s response to the house of Omri is actually recorded in the very next few words after our passage for today. Chapter 17, verse 1, “Now Elijah the Tishbite.”

God’s response to the House of Omri would be to raise up the powerful ministry of the prophet Elijah. Elijah would be such an instrumental and famous prophet to confront such an infamously wicked king. Elijah was the greatest candidate for a prophet like Moses since Moses predicted the coming of such in Deuteronomy 18:15. Elijah’s fame would be seen in how after Elijah, God would raise up Elisha in the spirit of Elijah. His fame would also be seen in the prophecy that the Messiah King wouldn’t even come until Elijah first returned (Mal 4:5). Elijah as covenant lawyer would work in power doing signs and wonders in his battle against Ahab, Jezebel, and the rise of Baal worship in Israel.

And yet while Elijah was used by God to confront the rise of paganism in God’s people, only a faithful remnant kept in the faith during his time. The downward spiral continued for Israel until ultimately Elijah did return in the ministry of John the Baptist (according to Jesus). Then, paving the way for the Messiah, John identified Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah King who came as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world.

Today we continue to put our faith as Christians in King Jesus. If Jesus is our king, he is at work to stop the downward spiral of sin in our own hearts. We are humbled by this because we know on our own, we have this natural propensity to grow in sin and idolatry. But the Spirit has drawn us back to God in Christ Jesus. We are humbled by his mercy to draw us to himself and save us and bring us into his glorious kingdom.

Yet as we look at the unbelieving world around us, in many ways, we see sin and wickedness continue to increase today in society. But we know from the point of view of God, the enemies of Jesus have ultimately been defeated by the cross of Christ. Let us be renewed in God’s perspective of things today. Let’s have his perspective as we seek as a church to speak prophetically to declare law and gospel to a world so foolishly sure of itself. Let us advance the upward increase of Christ’s kingdom and government which will have no end, even as we look to add to its number of those who herald Christ as king. Amen.

Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.