Summary: The history of the kings of Israel is a long line of failures interspersed occasionally be a fleeting success. Yet God never abandons his people because his plan is to send a King who will fulfill all that he desires for his people.
‘In breaking news this morning an assassination has taken place in the city of Tirzah, capital of Israel. Reports from the city say that King Elah was at the home of the palace steward, where he’d been drinking heavily, when the commander of the country’s northern cavalry, Zimri, came in and killed him in an unprovoked attack. Elah had been king for less than two years. Zimri is also reported to have murdered the entire royal family, ensuring that when he proclaims himself king, there will be no rivals.
‘In a further complication, the army has chosen to support their commander Omri as king rather than Zimri. We will bring you further reports when they come to hand.’
It’s a familiar story isn’t it? It comes from the pages of our text but it could equally well have come from CNN reporting on Nepal, or Burma or Fiji, or any one of several African States. A military coup kills or deposes the rightful ruler and the country is thrown into turmoil.
Not that Elah was that much of a loss. After all a king who gets drunk with the steward of the palace isn’t much of a leader, is he? What’s more he was the son of Baasha who had been cursed by God because of all the evil he’d done as king.
But still that doesn’t excuse Zimri does it? To plot against your king is a serious matter. Three times in the passage we’re told that Zimri conspired against the king. Does that mean he conspired with Arza, the steward to get him drunk? Maybe, but we’re not told. In fact it isn’t important. What’s important is what Zimri did. As one who sets himself up to be king he needs to meet the highest standard of behaviour. And he fails.
‘We interrupt this broadcast with a news flash. The city of Tirzah was surrounded today by troops loyal to Omri. Just 7 days after Zimri became king he is under attack from his own army. The king has locked himself in his palace and is refusing to come out. In fact we’ve just heard that the palace is on fire with the king inside. Eye witnesses report that he could not have survived the fire. The army is now celebrating their victory and preparing to crown Omri as king.’
Our text tells us that Zimri “died 19because of the sins that he committed, doing evil in the sight of the LORD, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for the sin that he committed, causing Israel to sin.”
But wait a minute. What could he have done that was walking in the way of Jeroboam? He was only king for a week. He didn’t have time to set up idols or temples. So what does it mean? Well, as I said, three times we’re told (vs 9,16,20) that he conspired to kill the king, in the same way as Jeroboam had conspired to become king instead of Rehoboam, taking the northern tribes with him.
Notice by the way that although Jehu the prophet had prophesied that all of Baasha’s descendants would die it doesn’t excuse Zimri for carrying out the execution. He had no authority from God to do it. He was just carrying out his own power play, following his own ambition.
But now he’s gone and Omri is there ready to be king. Except that life often isn’t as simple as we’d like it to be. Omri has no real claim on the kingship. All he has is the army who think he’s great. And there’s a second contender who has the following of at least half the population, Tibni son of Ginath. Maybe the “son of” gives us a hint that he’s a member of the upper class, a man of pedigree, but we really don’t know. All we know is that there’s sufficient rivalry between the two factions to stop Omri from wielding any real power until after Tibni dies. Which he does.
And so Omri is king outright. It’s taken 6 years but now he can rule as he sees fit. And we’re given 7 verses to record what he did in his twelve years of power. You know, John Howard was Prime Minister for 11 years, the second longest serving prime minister in our history. Imagine if our history books only gave him 7 sentences to sum up his time in power!
In fact Omri was a good leader of his people from a secular point of view. He was a strategist. He obviously knew how to gain loyalty from his troops and he was able to form significant alliances with surrounding nations, particularly the Phoenician Kings. He built Samaria on a 100m high hill that made it almost invulnerable to attack. He probably arranged for his son Ahab to marry the daughter of the king of Sidon, one of the major seagoing nations and he made Israel into a force to be reckoned with.