Another New King But the Same Old Story

15 In the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, Zimri reigned seven days in Tirzah. Now the troops were encamped against Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines, 16 and the troops who were encamped heard it said, “Zimri has conspired, and he has killed the king.” Therefore all Israel made Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel that day in the camp. 17 So Omri went up from Gibbethon, and all Israel with him, and they besieged Tirzah. 18 And when Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the king’s house and burned the king’s house over him with fire and died, 19 because of his sins that he committed, doing evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for his sin which he committed, making Israel to sin. 20 Now the rest of the acts of Zimri, and the conspiracy that he made, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?

21 Then the people of Israel were divided into two parts. Half of the people followed Tibni the son of Ginath, to make him king, and half followed Omri. 22 But the people who followed Omri overcame the people who followed Tibni the son of Ginath. So Tibni died, and Omri became king. 23 In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri began to reign over Israel, and he reigned for twelve years; six years he reigned in Tirzah. 24 He bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver, and he fortified the hill and called the name of the city that he built Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill.

25 Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols. 27 Now the rest of the acts of Omri that he did, and the might that he showed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 28 And Omri slept with his fathers and was buried in Samaria, and Ahab his son reigned in his place. 1 Kings 16:15-28 ESV

Zimri’s time in the spotlight was short-lived. This former chariot commander in Israel’s army had murdered King Elah and declared himself the new sovereign over the ten tribes of the northern kingdom. But his reign would last only seven days. Word of his seemingly successful coup attempt reached his fellow soldiers, who were encamped against the Philistines at a place called Gibbethon. Upon hearing of King Elah’s death, the troops threw their support behind Omri, who was the commander of all Israel’s armies. They rejected Zimri’s claim to be king and, instead, nominated his superior officer as the obvious choice to replace Elah. Zimri may have caused the vacancy on the throne, but Omri would be the one to fill it.

Within days of seizing the throne from Elah, and having secured his victory by liquidating every member of the king’s household, Zimri was safely ensconced in Tirzah, the former king’s capital. But one day he woke up to find that the city was being besieged, not by Philistines or some other foreign power, but by Omri and the rest of the Israelite army. Just seven days into his reign, Zimri had managed to instigate a civil war for which he was completely outmanned and unprepared for the situation. Stealing the throne had been easy, but retaining it was going to be far harder than he could have imagined.

Recognizing the futility of the situation, Zimri chose to take his own life rather than surrender. He knew that Omri would order his execution for the murder of Elah, and it’s likely that he knew Omri had his own kingly aspirations. So, Zimri locked himself in the citadel of the king’s palace and burned the entire structure to the ground. In doing so, he controlled his own fate and managed to rob Omri of a palace from which to rule. If he couldn’t sit on the throne in Tirzah, neither would Omri.

But the author makes it clear that while Zimri had taken his own life, it had still been a case of divine judgment for his sins against God.

…he, too, had done what was evil in the Lord’s sight. He followed the example of Jeroboam in all the sins he had committed and led Israel to commit. – 1 Kings 16:19 NLT

When Zimri had entered Tirzah just days earlier, any thought of suicide would have been the last thing to enter his mind. He was focused on the future and dreaming of his newfound power and prestige. After all, he was the self-made king, the supreme ruler over all of Israel. And as he sat on his throne in Tirzah, his mind would have been filled with thoughts of success and not suicide. But had he read the proverbs collected by Israel’s former king, Solomon, he would have understood that his plans were irrelevant if they stood in opposition to the will of God.

You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 NLT

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

Zimri had plans for greatness, but he died in the smoldering rubble of the palace he had stolen through deceit and treachery. God had used this ambitious and self-consumed man to punish Elah for his wickedness, but He would not allow Zimri to benefit from his actions. His reign lasted exactly one week, then ended as quickly as it had begun.

But the sad state of affairs in Israel was far from over. While Omri had managed to seize the capital and secure the crown for himself, the nation was about to enter a time of division and disunity. Just as God had split Solomon’s kingdom in half, Omri would find himself ruling over a divided nation.

But now the people of Israel were split into two factions. Half the people tried to make Tibni son of Ginath their king, while the other half supported Omri. – 1 Kings 16:21 NLT

When Omri had received the news that Zimri had killed King Elah, he had been leading his troops against the Philistines, the dreaded enemies of Israel. But now, as the King of Israel, he found himself going to war against his own people. A civil war had broken out and Omni was forced to lead his troops in battle against the supporters of his rival, Tibni. The nation had become divided. And rather than throwing their collective allegiance behind God Almighty, they were choosing sides and putting their hopes in two extremely flawed and fallible men.

Omri eventually defeated Tibni and his forces, securing his place as the king of Israel. Half of the dozen years he ruled over Israel were spent in Tirzah, the former capital of King Elah. But Omri dreamed of establishing his own royal city from which to rule over the ten tribes of Israel. So, he found a favorable spot just west of Tirzah and purchased the land from a man named Shemer. In time, he built a fortified palace on the elevated portion of the land and named his new capital, Samaria.

While the author doesn’t seem to treat this change in the location of the capital city with much importance, his mention of it is meant to be a foreshadowing of things to come. Omri would end up establishing a dynasty that would rule over Israel for an extended period of time. And his newly established capital would become the focal point for Israel’s continuing spiritual decline and the epicenter of the nation’s eventual destruction.

The author chooses to summarize Omri’s 12-year reign in less-than-flattering terms.

Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. – 1 Kings 16:25 ESV

Israel had a new king and a brand new capital, but they continued to suffer from the same old problem. Omri, like Jeroboam and Nadab before him, failed to use his divinely ordained power as king to lead the people back to God. Instead, he fostered the spirit of spiritual adultery and apostasy. Under his leadership, “The people provoked the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, with their worthless idols” (1 Kings 16:21 NLT). 

On paper, Omri proved to be a highly accomplished and effective king. His 12 years on the throne of Israel were marked by military victories and peace negotiations with the enemies of Israel. He defeated the Moabites and brokered a treaty with Ethbaal, king of Tyre and Sidon. And this last act would prove to have long-lasting implications. As part of the treaty negotiations, Omri approved a marriage alliance between his son, Ahab, and Ethbaal’s daughter, Jezebel. And those two names will come up again.

While Omri appeared to be having success, he was actually operating outside the revealed will of God. His decisions were made without divine input and in direct violation of God’s commands. Hundreds of years earlier, Moses had warned the people of Israel about their interactions with the nations living in the land of Canaan.

When the LORD your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. – Deuteronomy 7:2-4 NLT

Like his predecessors, Omri was doing things according to his own plan. But as the proverbs warned, “You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail” (Proverbs 19:21 NLT). Omri’s ambitions to expand his kingdom at any cost would actually lead to the eventual fall of the nation. In his hopes of building Israel into a formidable force in the region, he was actually contributing to its downfall. His refusal to shepherd the people of God back to the fold of God would eventually result in their destruction at the hands of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson