The reigns of Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab – all kings of Israel – are described. Baasha’s family is wiped out, Omri forces Zimri to commit suicide, and Ahab sins with ardor.
Jehu augurs doom: “Anyone belonging to Baasha who dies in the town shall be devoured by dogs, and anyone belonging to him who dies in the open country shall be devoured by the birds of the sky.” (v. 4)
III. Important Verses
1-4: The word of the LORD came to Jehu son of Hanani against Baasha: “Because I lifted you up from the dust and made you a ruler over My people Israel, but you followed the way of Jeroboam and caused My people Israel to sin, vexing Me with their sins — I am going to sweep away Baasha and his house. I will make your house like the House of Jeroboam son of Nebat. Anyone belonging to Baasha who dies in the town shall be devoured by dogs, and anyone belonging to him who dies in the open country shall be devoured by the birds of the sky.”
9-11: His officer Zimri, commander of half the chariotry, committed treason against him while he was at Tirzah drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was in charge of the palace at Tirzah. Zimri entered, struck him down, and killed him; he succeeded him as king in the twenty-seventh year of King Asa of Judah. No sooner had he become king and ascended the throne than he struck down all the House of Baasha; he did not leave a single male of his, nor any kinsman or friend.
17-18: Omri and all Israel then withdrew from Gibbethon and laid siege to Tirzah. When Zimri saw that the town was taken, he went into the citadel of the royal palace and burned down the royal palace over himself. And so he died.
30-33: Ahab son of Omri did what was displeasing to the LORD, more than all who preceded him. Not content to follow the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Phoenicians, and he went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar to Baal in the temple of Baal which he built in Samaria. Ahab also made a sacred post. Ahab did more to vex the LORD, the God of Israel, than all the kings of Israel who preceded him.
1-6. Baasha, king of Israel 1-4. Jehu’s augury 5-6. Summary statement 7-14. Elah, king of Israel 7. Jehu’s augury 8. Introductory statement 9-13. Zimri carries out Jehu’s augury 14. Summary statement 15-20. Zimri, king of Israel 15. Introductory statement 16. The Israelites follow Omri 17. Omri sieges Tirzah 18-19. Zimri commits suicide 20. Summary statement 21-22. Omri’s followers overpower Tibni’s followers 23-28. Omri, king of Israel 23. Introductory statement 24. Omri builds Samaria 25-26. Omri’s sins 27-28. Summary statement 29-34. Ahab, king of Israel 29. Introductory statement 30-33. Ahab’s sins 34. Hiel builds Jericho, loses two sons
Chapter 16 relates how power is transferred from one king to the next in the kingdom of Israel. Zimri, the man who had betrayed Elah, commits suicide in v. 18: “When Zimri saw that the town was taken, he went into the citadel of the royal palace and burned down the royal palace over himself. And so he died.”
Suicide occurs at least four other times in the Hebrew Bible. Judges 9:53-54 records Abimelech’s suicide: “But a woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and cracked his skull. He immediately cried out to his attendant, his arms-bearer, ‘Draw your dagger and finish me off, that they may not say of me, ‘A woman killed him!’ So his attendant stabbed him, and he died.” Saul and his arms-bearer also committ suicide: “Saul said to his arms-bearer, ‘Draw your sword and run me through, so that the uncircumcised may not run me through and make sport of me.’ But his arms-bearer, in his great awe, refused; whereupon Saul grasped the sword and fell upon it. When his arms-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him ended his life early.” (1 Sam 31:4-5) The final case is Ahitophel in 2 Samuel 17:23: “When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his ass and went home to his native town. He set his affairs in order, and then he hanged himself. He was buried in his ancestral tomb.” (Another possible case is Samson in Judges 16.)
Arthur Droge makes an important point about the tacit acceptance of suicide in the Hebrew Bible: “The important point is that none of these biblical figures receives censure; indeed, their suicides are scarcely commented on, leading one to conclude that in ancient Israel the act of suicide was regarded as something natural and perhaps heroic (Daube 1962: 83–87). The only instance in the Hebrew Bible where an individual considered death and perhaps wished to kill himself, but did not, is Job (7:15; 13:15).” (Arthur J. Droge, “Suicide” in the ABD)
VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
De Vries, Simon John. “1 Kings” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 12 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1985).
Longe, Burke O. “1 Kings with an Introduction to Historical Literature” Forms of Old Testament Literature vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1984).
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