1 Kings 16:21–34 (NIV)✞: Omri king of Israel, Ahab Becomes King of Israel
In the last passage we looked at some kings of the northern kingdom of Israel, all of whom did evil in the eyes of the LORD. Unfortunately, things are only getting worse!
We continue looking at kings of Israel in this passage, starting with Omri. He was mentioned in the last passage, taking over from Zimri, but in verses 21-28 (NIV)✞ we get more context. It turns out Omri had a rival, a man named Tibni. The author(s) wrap up discussion of Tibni thusly:
22 But Omri’s followers proved stronger than those of Tibni son of Ginath. So Tibni died and Omri became king.
The “so Tibni died” part is a wonderful example of understatement; I’m sure Tibni was “helped” into death by Omri’s supporters.
Regardless, Omri becomes king and reigns for twelve years. One notable achievement is that he bought the city which became known as Samaria. His reign is summarized as follows, however:
25 But Omri did evil in the eyes of the LORD and sinned more than all those before him. 26 He followed completely the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat, committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit, so that they aroused the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, by their worthless idols.
After all of the evil kings we’ve seen for the last little while, it’s striking to see that Omri “sinned more than all those before him.” That’s really saying something!
Only to be outdone by his son, because after Omri comes Ahab.
30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.
If I recall correctly, the name “Ahab” is going to be a shorthand for “evil king” for the rest of the Old Testament; evil kings from this point on will be said to be “walking in the ways of Ahab.”
We’re not told much about his reign in this passage—we’ll be hearing about him for quite a while, so this is just an introduction—but we are told an interesting side note about the city of Jericho:
34 In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the LORD spoken by Joshua son of Nun.
This is a reference back to Joshua 6:26 (NIV)✞; I’ll let the ESV Study Bible notes give more context:
1 Kings 16:34 Hiel … built Jericho. … at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and … his youngest son Segub. Joshua had pronounced a curse on anyone who might rebuild Jericho (Josh. 6:26), and the authors of 1–2 Kings understand this curse as the prophetic word of the LORD. Although the text does not say specifically how the two sons of Hiel died, it is possible that he offered them in sacrifice, or that they died as a special judgment from God, in fulfillment of Joshua’s curse. Child sacrifice was a prominent feature among the polytheistic Canaanite religions of the day. Israel’s Scriptures, however, were steadfastly opposed to any such practice. Solomon’s altars for Chemosh and Molech (1 Kings 11:7) could have been the point of entry of this pagan abomination into Israel, and the Phoenician Jezebel would have encouraged it. If the sons of Hiel died by sacrifice, this would be evidence of the difference between Israel’s past under Joshua and its present under an apostate monarchy; Israelites no longer conquer the Canaanites at Jericho but rather embrace their religion there.
ESV Study Bible
Omri and Ahab are clearly evil kings, but what’s most interesting to me is the way Ahab’s wife Jezebel is called out:
31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.
In reading this, yes, Baal worship is a big part of it—Jezebel seems to be leading him into this—but my reading of the text indicates that his marrying Jezebel is worse than just that. There will definitely be passages coming up in which people are afraid of Ahab but petrified of Jezebel!