During the reign of King Asa in Judah, several kings came and went in the northern kingdom of Israel. We have already looked at the reigns of Nadab and Baasha (1 Kings 15:25–16:7), but more kings came to Israel’s throne before the death of Asa. Today we will consider the reigns of three of these kings—Elah, Zimri, and Omri—and begin our study of a fourth—Ahab.
First Kings 16:8–28 briefly recounts the tenures of Elah, Zimri, and Omri. Together, the reigns of these kings covered a total of about fourteen years, with twelve of them belonging to Omri. This shows the instability of the north. Elah ruled for two years before he was killed by Zimri, an officer in Israel’s army. Elah’s depiction is not flattering, for all that we read about him was that he liked to get drunk and that he continued the idolatry of his predecessors. When Zimri killed Elah, he also killed the rest of the house of Baasha, Elah’s father, fulfilling the prophecy of that house’s destruction (vv. 1–14).
Zimri took the throne, but he lacked popular support. His reign lasted only a week, making his the shortest reign of all the kings of ancient Israel. Instead, Israel chose another army official, Omri, to be the king. Zimri continued in Israel’s idolatry and chose to commit suicide rather than be captured by Omri (vv. 15–20).
After years of upheaval, Omri brought stability to the north, reigning twelve years. We do not know much about Omri from Scripture, as the Bible has very little to say about him. Interestingly, he may not have been of Israelite ancestry, for his name might be of Arabic or Amorite origin. Some have speculated that he was a mercenary soldier hired by Israel for the army. If so, then a foreigner took Israel’s throne in those days. More important, Omri is known from extrabiblical texts that praise him for his military conquests. From an earthly perspective, Omri was very successful. So associated was he with Israel that foreign documents called Israel the “land of Omri” more than a century after his death. But the Bible says nothing of this, focusing on his spiritual failures (vv. 21–28). The lesson to us is clear: it does not matter how successful you are in terms of earthly power and wealth; if you are an idolater, you are a failure.
Today’s passage concludes by noting the ascension of Ahab, Omri’s son, to the throne of Israel. Ahab, we will see, was notorious for his wickedness. He was worse than even Omri, who was worse than every other king before him (vv. 29–34).