1 Kings 15:25—16:14 (NIV)✞: Nadab King of Israel, Baasha King of Israel, Elah King of Israel
In this series of passages we’ll be looking at a succession of kings in the northern kingdom of Israel, and it’s going to get repetitive. (I’m pretty sure this is intentional on the part of the author(s) of 1&2 Kings.) The king of Israel does evil in the eyes of the LORD so the LORD sends another man to murder the king (often along with his entire line), then the new person becomes king but continues to do evil and so is deposed/murdered by the next man, and so on.
It starts with Nadab, Jeroboam’s son, who takes his father’s place. We’re not told much about Nadab at all, however, other than that he did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just like his father did. He is struck down by Baasha, who becomes the new king, and immediately “destroys” (15:29 (NIV)✞) the rest of Jeroboam’s line. This was all predicted by the prophet Ahijah in 14:1–20, and in my post for that passage I’d discussed how the death of Jeroboam’s son Adijah may have been the LORD'S way of sparing Adijah what is now happening in this passage.
As for his reign, Baasha is no better than the previous kings of Israel, spiritually speaking—in fact, the passage even refers to him as “following the ways of Jeroboam” (15:34 (NIV)✞)—which Baasha might not have liked, being described as following in the ways of the predecessor he vanquished—but he does reign longer, lasting twenty-four years.
The LORD delivers a prophecy, via a prophet named Jehu, regarding Baasha:
2 I lifted you up from the dust and appointed you ruler over my people Israel, but you followed the ways of Jeroboam and caused my people Israel to sin and to arouse my anger by their sins. 3 So I am about to wipe out Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat. 4 Dogs will eat those belonging to Baasha who die in the city, and birds will feed on those who die in the country.
And, as predicted, exactly what had happened to the line of Jeroboam now happens to the line of Baasha:
- Baasha’s son Elah succeeds him as king
- One of Elah’s military officials, Zimri, assassinates Elah and becomes king
- Zimri immediately wipes out the rest of Baasha’s line
So God uses Zimri as His tool for wiping out Baasha’s line, but that doesn’t mean the people are on board! When the Israelites hear what Zimri has done in murdering the king they decide to make a man named Omri king, instead; Omri is the commander of Israel’s army, so a good choice. Zimri retreats to the citadel of the royal palace while Omri and the rest of the Israelites are setting fire to the city, so Zimri dies.
I didn’t mention it every single time, but the author of 1&2 Kings does: in each one of these cases, we are told that the kings in question are punished for doing evil in the eyes of the LORD. It’s like a drumbeat throughout all of these kings’ reigns:
|“[Jeroboam’s whole line, including Nadab, was killed] because of the sins Jeroboam had committed and had caused Israel to commit, and because he aroused the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel.” (15:30)
|“Moreover, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Jehu son of Hanani to Baasha and his house, because of all the evil he had done in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger by the things he did, becoming like the house of Jeroboam—and also because he destroyed it.” (16:7)
|[The line of Baasha, including Elah, were wiped out,] “because of all the sins Baasha and his son Elah had committed and had caused Israel to commit, so that they aroused the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, by their worthless idols.” (16:13)
|“So he died, because of the sins he had committed, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD and following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit.” (16:18–19)
In the next section we’ll get deeper into the reign of Omri, who does even worse, spiritually speaking.
Will God be Punishing Every Evil King in Israel?
As mentioned, there’s a recurring drumbeat throughout these passages of kings doing evil, God sending someone to replace them, and then the replacements doing evil. Does that mean He is going to do that with every evil king? And why do some evil kings last a short time and others last a long time, ranging from decades down to just days?
In a sense, yes, I think we can say that God will be punishing every evil king in Israel (and Judah for that matter), but I don’t think we should be too simplistic in that view. We will definitely be on a fool’s errand if we try to correlate the length of a ruler’s reign with how evil that ruler was, because there are some bad ones that last a long time; pretty soon we’ll be encountering one of the worst, Ahab, who is going to reign twenty-two years, but that doesn’t mean he was more evil than Baasha who reigns for twenty-four, and it definitely doesn’t mean he was better than Zimri who only lasted seven days.
All I feel comfortable saying for sure is that God is in control and His plan is often larger than a simple equation of punishing a bad leader for being evil. There was a reason for Zimri reigning seven days and Baasha reigning twenty-four years that goes beyond each man’s level of evil or lack of righteousness.
Murdering a Former King’s Descendents
This has probably been stated before so I won’t spend too much time on it, but a new king wiping out the former king’s entire family line would have been common for the time; yes, in the context of 1&2 Kings it’s often stated in terms of punishment, but it was also a common practice to preemptively get rid of anyone from the former king’s line who might come looking for revenge and/or reclaiming the throne.
God is in Charge, Not the People
There was an interesting note when Zimri became king that the people were not involved in him usurping the throne—and, in fact, immediately appointed a different king, and killed Zimri. However, it also seems clear that Zimri’s actions in wiping out Baasha’s line are a judgement from God on Baasha. So who’s in charge – God, or Zimri? God, or the people of Israel, who immediately replace Zimri?
And as confusing as the Bible is on this point, it’s also clear at the same time: the answer is yes. Is God responsible for Zimri’s actions, or is Zimri? Yes. Is God responsible for deposing Zimri, or are the people? Yes.
It is very, very difficult for us to get our minds around this—in fact, I wrote this post just a couple of days after hearing a sermon on the exact same topic, which, itself, came a couple of days after a private conversation with someone else on the same topic—but the Bible consistently gives us situations in which God is in control, and sovereign, while humans are also in control of their own actions, with their own free will, and responsible for their own sins.
Zimri murdering Baasha’s family was both a judgement from God on Baasha and a sin that Zimri committed, for which he was later punished. Just like Joseph’s brothers sinned when they sold Joseph into slavery, while it was all happening under God’s plan to get Joseph to Egypt. Both were true, at the same time.
As a Christian, I need to remember two things:
- God is in control. This should give me comfort!
- I am responsible for my own actions – especially my own sins! I can’t blame God when I do something bad, even when that bad thing leads to something good later on.
If I wasn’t a Christian both of these points might frighten me, but because I am, I can trust in God’s plan (even—especially—when I don’t know what that plan is), while also trusting in Christ’s salvation, so that even when I make my own decisions to sin, I know that those sins are covered, and I can come to Him for His promised forgiveness