Summary: A look at what the reign of King Omri teaches us about how God’s view of what constitutes success and failure differs from the world
By many of the parameters used to measure success Omri was the most successful king ever to reign over the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He took the country from a time of pollitical turmoil and near anarchy to a long period of internal peace and stability. His family formed the longest lasting of the dynasties of Israel, holding the throne for several generations. We know from archeaology and ancient inscriptions that he conquered the land of Moab, one of Israel’s main enemies and dominated them for many years. We also know that he succeded in controlling the threat from Assyria, the other power that was constantly seeking to conquer Israel, indeed he even managed to take control of some Assyrian territory. He was respected so much that for many years after the Assyrian name for Israel was ’the land of Omri’. He built Samaria, a brand new capital, in a much safer location than the previous Israelite captials of Shechem and Tirzah. This became one of the great cities of the day.
Under his reign Israel went from being a small, insignificant nation into a major power. It seemed that everything went right for him, his own name was famous, he was rich and his country was powerful. Surely the book of Kings, the divenly inspired history of God’s people of Judah and Israel, would be full of praise for such a wonderful and great king! But this is not the case at all. He only gets six verses, and, far from being full of praise for the best king in Israel’s history, they are scathing about him. Instead of saying that he was the best they refer to him as being one of the worst. How could the histories of other nations have such a positive view of him, while his own nation’s history has such a negative view? I believe that this is for a very simple reason. The book of Kings is ultimately written by God, although through human intermediaries, and therefore the parameters that it uses to measure success are those of God, not those of humans. It seems that great material and pollitical success is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing. Could it be that the way that God measures success is different to the way that humans measure it? Let’s look for reasons why he was regarded as such a failure by God, and then we will be able to see what it is that God uses to measure success or failure.
Verses 25 and 26 give us a clue. We are told that Omri ’wrought evil in the eyes of the LORD’, doing worse than all the kings that had come before him.’ We are told that he did this by doing the same things as King Jeroboam I. This leaves us with the question what it was that Jeroboam and Omri did that was so bad. The answer is found earlier in 1 Kings 12:26-31. Jeroboam was the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel, after it split from southern kingom of Judah. Almost his first act as king was to build two altars, one in the north of his country, one in the south, and each altar had a golden calf, in disobedience of the clear command of God not to worship idols. He set people up to be priests who were not called by God to be so, but who paid him for the privilege. This was to be the new way of worship in his kingdom. He set up his whole religious system for his own benefit, in order to stop the people going to Jersualem and worshipping there. He feared that if they did this they would try to make the king of Judah king of Israel as well. He worshipped God in the way that he chose, not in the way that God had chosen, and he organised everything for his own selfish reasons. He worshipped other gods, who had been invented by man in the image of man, rather than the soveriegn Lord who created man in the image of God. He saw religion as being a means of getting what he wanted and a way of making his own name famous, increasing his own wealth and glorifying himself, not of glorifying God. He placed his trust in himself, his own power and wisdom, and not in God.
Omri behaved in the same way as Jeroboam, only worse. We are told that for this reason he was rejected by God. That despite all his power and wealth, despite defeating the old enemies of his country and people, his reign was a failure.
What about a succesful King? We can read about one in 2 Kings chapters 22 + 23. His name was Josiah. He was king of the southern kingdom of Judah. During his reign the country was weak - indeed soon after his death it was conquered by Babylon. Surrounding nations did not fear him as they did Omri, Israel was no longer a major power. His wealth was small. He did not found a long reigning dynasty. But the judgement of scripture on his reign was one of praise, that he was a success. He was judged a success because throughout his reign he put God first. He worshipped God in the way that God had chosen. He worshipped in order to bring glory to God, not to benefit himself. He did not rely on his own goodness, power or cleverness, but instead on the grace, power and wisdom of God.