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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

1 Kings 16

Verses 1-28

A. The First Period of Antagonism 12:1-16:28

After the division of the kingdom, their respective kings were hostile to one another for 57 years.

7. Baasha’s evil reign in Israel 15:33-16:7

Baasha’s 24-year reign (909-886 B.C.), which was the third longest of any king of the Northern Kingdom, fell within that of Asa’s rule over Judah (911-870 B.C.). The Israelite king who rule the longest was Jeroboam II (41 years) and the second longest was Jehu (28 years).

Baasha had an outstanding opportunity to lead Israel back to true covenantal worship after he had killed Nadab and terminated Jeroboam’s dynasty. However, he chose not to do so. He evidently regarded his elevation from a lowly origin (1 Kings 15:2) to Israel’s throne as an opportunity to fulfill personal ambition rather than to glorify Yahweh. For Baasha’s failure, God announced that He would cut off his line as He had Jeroboam’s (1 Kings 15:3-4; cf. 1 Kings 14:11). God ended Baasha’s reign for two primary reasons: his continuation of Jeroboam’s cult, and the motive and manner with which he assassinated Nadab (1 Kings 15:7).

"Besides providing information on Baasha’s death, these verses [1 Kings 16:5-7] reemphasize the author’s theological approach to history. Three issues deserve mention. First, God’s word dictates history, a fact Jehu’s prophetic rebuke and prediction divulges. Second, Jeroboam and Baasha are judged unfavorably because they use their God-given political authority to preserve their own position rather than to glorify God among the people. Third, the text stresses cause and effect, not fatalistic determinism. God gives both Jeroboam and Baasha the opportunity to follow the covenant. Baasha eliminates Jeroboam’s family, as God said would happen, yet becomes like Jeroboam, which makes him a murderer, not a reformer." [Note: House, p. 200.]

Verses 8-14

8. Elah’s evil reign in Israel 16:8-14

The dynasties that Jeroboam and Baasha established were alike in several respects. Both were only two generations long. The first king in each dynasty reigned for a fairly long time: Jeroboam 22 years and Baasha 24. Assassins who were apparently confidants the kings trusted terminated both dynasties. Each assassin not only killed the king but also all his male descendants, as was customary. Perhaps the most significant difference is that Baasha, the first assassin, successfully established his own dynasty and ruled for many years. The second, Zimri, could not do so. He committed suicide seven days after he became king.

Elah reigned from 886-885 B.C. His assassin, Zimri, was one of his chariot commanders. As the prophet had foretold (1 Kings 16:3), Baasha’s dynasty ended with Elah’s death (1 Kings 16:11).

Verses 15-20

9. Zimri’s evil reign in Israel 16:15-20

Zimri’s seven-day reign in 885 B.C. was the shortest in the history of the Northern Kingdom.

Omri was commander-in-chief of Israel’s army. He outranked Zimri. When word of Zimri’s assassination of Elah reached the soldiers at Gibbethon (cf. 1 Kings 15:27), they immediately sided with their general and marched back to the capital to claim the throne for Omri. Zimri realized he could not oppose Omri successfully and chose suicide over execution. He also destroyed the palace in the process. It was because of his sins in following Jeroboam’s ways that God permitted Zimri to fail in his coup and to die (1 Kings 16:20).

"Out of the chaos portrayed in this section will come Omri, a man who will stabilize the Northern Kingdom, establish a new capital, and begin a new dynasty. His family will rule through 2 Kings 10. They will therefore occupy more of the story than any other northern dynasty. Omrides will also serve as active opponents of the prophets and as patrons of idolatry, especially of Baal worship." [Note: Ibid., p. 199.]

Verses 21-28

10. Omri’s evil reign in Israel 16:21-28

Controversy over who should succeed to Israel’s throne raged for six years (885-880 B.C.) in Israel and threatened to consume the nation. Civil war followed Zimri’s death (1 Kings 16:21-22). Omri finally overpowered Tibni and probably executed him (1 Kings 16:22). One writer argued that Tibni did not necessarily die but simply passed off the scene. [Note: J. Max Miller, "So Tibni Died," Vetus Testamentum 18 (1968):392-94.] The text seems to contradict this view.

For the last six years of his 12-year reign (880-874 B.C.), Omri reigned from Samaria. This was the new capital he built on a centrally located and easily defended hilltop 12 miles west of Tirzah.

Omri was probably the most capable king Israel had enjoyed since the division of the kingdom. Assyrian records refer to Israel as "the land of Omri." [Note: T. C. Mitchell, "Israel and Judah Until the Revolt of Jehu (931-841 B.C.)," in Cambridge Ancient History, 3:1:467.] His influence extended far. He defeated the Moabites, the record of which constitutes one of the inscriptions on the famous Moabite Stone. He also made a treaty with Ethbaal, king of Tyre and Sidon (887-856 B.C.), that involved the marriage of his son, Ahab, and Ethbaal’s daughter, Jezebel. A granddaughter of Ethbaal, Dido, founded Carthage. [Note: Wiseman, p. 163.] Still the writer of Kings did not mention these strengths, only the fact that he was the worst king Israel had had spiritually (1 Kings 16:25). He was very bad because he personally followed Jeroboam’s cult and caused the people to sin by allowing it to flourish in Israel.

". . . Omri, the builder of Samaria and a man of high international fame, is dismissed in eight verses (1 Kings 16:21-28). Why? Probably because he plays no particularly significant role in Israel’s decline. Again, characterization is based largely on its role in plot development, not on how it will or will not satisfy modern historians." [Note: House, p. 66.]

The first period of antagonism between Israel and Judah ended about 874 B.C. when Ahab made a treaty with King Jehoshaphat of Judah.

"Comparing the political histories of the two kingdoms [during this first period of antagonism], one is struck by the turmoil in Israel and the stability in Judah. There were three violent disruptions of government and a civil war in Israel. In Judah, by contrast, the succession was orderly and routine.

"The reasons for the differences are geographical, political, and theological. Judah was relatively isolated, cut off from the coastal plain by the Philistines and from Transjordan by the Dead Sea. Israel, on the other hand, was neighbor to Syria and Phoenicia, and the major thoroughfares of Palestine passed through its territory, linking Israel to the larger biblical world and making it vulnerable to political developments there. Ethnically and culturally Judah was comparatively homogeneous. Israel with its ten tribes and large Canaanite population (Judges 3:1-5) had a history of tribal rivalries (Judges 8:1-3; Judges 12:1-6) and had to contend with differing culture patterns. There were also basic differences in the understanding of kingship." [Note: Rice, pp. 130-31.]

Verses 29-34

Ahab’s wickedness 16:29-34

1 Kings 16:30; 1 Kings 16:33 bracket and set forth Ahab’s unusual wickedness with special emphasis. The writer had just written that Omri was the worst king so far (1 Kings 16:25), but now he said Ahab exceeded him in wickedness. For Ahab, the fact that Jeroboam’s cult deviated from the Mosaic Law was "trivial" (1 Kings 16:31).

The writer held Ahab responsible for marrying Jezebel. This was fair because even in arranged marriages in the ancient world the candidates, especially the son, in most cases had the right of refusal. Ahab and Jezebel became the most notorious husband and wife team in Scripture. Jezebel means dunghill. This must have been a name the Israelites gave her. Ahab’s greatest sin, however, was that he brought the worship of Baal-the worship of the native Canaanites whom God had commanded Israel to exterminate-under the official protection of his government. Jeroboam had already refashioned Yahweh worship departing from what Moses had prescribed. Ahab went one step further: he officially replaced the worship of Yahweh with idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 18:4). This was a first in Israel’s history.

"This represents a quantum leap in the history of apostasy." [Note: Rice, p. 138.]

The temple and altar to Baal that Ahab erected in Israel’s capital symbolized his official approval of this pagan religion. Remember the importance of David bringing the ark into Jerusalem, and Solomon building a temple for Yahweh, and what those acts symbolized.

1 Kings 16:34 may at first seem to have no connection with anything in the context. Perhaps the writer included it to show that as God had fulfilled His word about Jericho, so it would be in Ahab’s case. Ahab was establishing paganism that God had already said He would judge. Similarly Hiel had tried to set up a city that God had previously said the Israelites should not rebuild (cf. Joshua 6:26). The building of Jericho is also a tribute to Ahab’s apostasy since he must have ordered or permitted Hiel to rebuild the city in spite of Joshua’s long-standing curse.

"The foundation sacrifice, revealed by modern archaeology, is probably what was involved. The children named were probably infants, dead or alive, placed in jars and inserted into the masonry, propitiating the gods and warding off evil." [Note: DeVries, p. 205.]

Verses 29-40

1. Ahab’s evil reign in Israel 16:29-22:40

Ahab ruled Israel from Samaria for 22 years (874-853 B.C.). During the first of these years Asa ruled alone in Judah. Then for three years Asa and Jehoshaphat shared the throne. For the remainder of Ahab’s reign Jehoshaphat ruled alone.

Verses 29-53

B. The Period of Alliance 1 Kings 16:29-2 Kings 9:29

King Jehoshaphat of Judah made peace with King Ahab of Israel (1 Kings 22:44). He did so by contracting a marriage between his son, Jehoram, and Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah (2 Chronicles 18:1). This ended the first period of antagonism between the two kingdoms (931-874 B.C.) and began a 33-year period of alliance (874-841 B.C.).

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Kings 16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.