Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The brief record continues of the troubled times of civil war and foreign danger in Israel, to which, perhaps, the tranquillity of Judah under Asa was partly due.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying,(1) Jehu the son of Hanani—probably of Hanani the seer of Judah in the reign of Asa (2Chronicles 15:7). Jehu must have been now young, for we find him rebuking Jehoshaphat after the death of Ahab, and writing the annals of Jehoshaphat’s reign (2Chronicles 19:2; 2Chronicles 20:34).
Forasmuch as I exalted thee out of the dust, and made thee prince over my people Israel; and thou hast walked in the way of Jeroboam, and hast made my people Israel to sin, to provoke me to anger with their sins;(2) Forasmuch as I exalted thee . . .—The prophecy—closely resembling that of Ahijah against Jeroboam—clearly shows that Baasha had a probation, which he neglected; and it seems to be implied in 1Kings 16:7 that his guilt was enhanced by perseverance in the very sins for which, by his hand, so terrible a vengeance had been inflicted.
And also by the hand of the prophet Jehu the son of Hanani came the word of the LORD against Baasha, and against his house, even for all the evil that he did in the sight of the LORD, in provoking him to anger with the work of his hands, in being like the house of Jeroboam; and because he killed him.(7) And also.—This second reference to the prophecy of Jehu seems to be a note of the historian—perhaps added chiefly for the sake of the last clause, which shows that Baasha’s act, though foretold, was not thereby justified.
And his servant Zimri, captain of half his chariots, conspired against him, as he was in Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza steward of his house in Tirzah.(9) Drinking himself drunk.—There seems an emphasis of half-contemptuous condemnation in the description of Elah’s debauchery, evidently public, and in the house of a mere officer of his household, while war was raging at Gibbethon. On the other hand, Zimri—noted emphatically as “his servant”—was apparently the high officer left in special charge of the palace and the king’s person, while the mass of the army was in the field. Hence his name passed into a proverb for unusual treachery. (See 2Kings 9:31.)
For all the sins of Baasha, and the sins of Elah his son, by which they sinned, and by which they made Israel to sin, in provoking the LORD God of Israel to anger with their vanities.(13) Vanities—that is, idols (as in Deuteronomy 32:21; 1Samuel 12:21; Psalm 31:6; Isaiah 41:29; Jer. viii 19; &c.): not only the idols of Dan and Bethel, but the worse abominations which grew up under cover of these. In the Old Testament generally the contempt for idolatry and false worship as a gross folly, wasting faith on unrealities, is at least as strong as the condemnation of them, as outraging God’s law, and connected with sensual or bloody rites. (See, for example, the utter scorn of Isaiah 44:9-20; Psalm 115:4-8.)
And the people that were encamped heard say, Zimri hath conspired, and hath also slain the king: wherefore all Israel made Omri, the captain of the host, king over Israel that day in the camp.(16) Made Omri . . . king.—This exaltation of Omri, as a matter of course, shows how entirely the kingdom of Israel had become the prize of the sword. By a curious coincidence (see 1Kings 15:27) the dynasty of Baasha had been founded in the camp before the same city of Gibbethon. Zimri’s conspiracy appears to have been hastily planned, with no provision of adequate means of support; for Tirzah is taken at once.
And it came to pass, when Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the palace of the king's house, and burnt the king's house over him with fire, and died,(18) The palace of the king’s house.—The same phrase is found in 2Kings 15:25. The word here rendered “palace” evidently means (as is clear from its derivation) “the high place,” or “citadel,” of the building. Some render it the “harem,” with which the curious rendering (ἄντρον) of the LXX.—signifying properly a cave or “lurking-place”—may perhaps, agree. But this is not suggested by the word itself. This desperate act of Zimri, which has many parallels in Eastern history, seems to indicate that there was held to be something especially treasonable, and therefore unpardonable, in his assassination of Elah. (See 1Kings 16:20, and 2Kings 9:31.)
For his sins which he sinned in doing evil in the sight of the LORD, in walking in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin which he did, to make Israel to sin.(19) In walking in the way of Jeroboam.—The use here of this constantly-recurring phrase probably indicates only the historian’s sense of the curse lying on the whole kingdom from its idolatry, which Zimri did not attempt to repudiate; unless, perhaps, his conspiracy had clothed itself under pretence of a righteous zeal for the fulfilment of the prophecy of Jehu (1Kings 16:3-4), and had thrown off the religious pretence after the deed was done. For except in this way, he had no time for “walking in the way of Jeroboam.”
Then were the people of Israel divided into two parts: half of the people followed Tibni the son of Ginath, to make him king; and half followed Omri.(21) Tibni.—Of him we know nothing. No doubt he also was a military chief—possibly Zimri’s colleague, under the supreme command of Omri—and the LXX. speaks of a brother, Joram, who fought and fell with him. There is an ominous significance in the terse description of the alternatives of fortune in this internecine struggle, “so Tibni died, and Omri reigned.” By comparison of 1Kings 16:23 with 1Kings 16:15, it appears that the struggle had lasted four years.
In the thirty and first year of Asa king of Judah began Omri to reign over Israel, twelve years: six years reigned he in Tirzah.(23) Began Omri to reign over Israel.—The accession of Omri after this long civil war opened a new epoch of more settled government and prosperity for about forty-eight years. Omri had (as appears from 1Kings 20:34) to purchase peace with Syria by some acknowledgment of sovereignty and cession of cities. He then allied himself with the royal house of Tyre, probably both for strength against Syria, and for revival of the commercial prosperity of the days of Solomon, and proceeded to found a new capital in a strong position. That he was a warrior is indicated by the phrase, “the might that he shewed.” Probably, like Jeroboam and Baasha, he also had his opportunity of restoring the spiritual strength of his people by returning to the pure worship of God, and threw it away, doing “worse than all who were before him.”
And he bought the hill Samaria of Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, after the name of Shemer, owner of the hill, Samaria.(24) Built on the hill.—Omri only followed the usual practice of a new dynasty in the East, of which Jeroboam had set an example at Shechem, and probably Baasha at Tirzah. Possibly the seeds of disaffection may have still lurked in Tirzah, the place of Zimri’s conspiracy, and (as has been conjectured) of Tibni’s rival power. But the site of Samaria must have been chosen by a soldier’s eye. Its Hebrew name (Shomerôn) means a “watch-tower,” and may well have had a double derivation, from its natural position, as well as from its owner’s name. Its position was one of great beauty, and, in the warfare of those days, of singular strength, as is shown by the long sieges which it withstood (1Kings 20:1; 2Kings 6:24; 2Kings 17:5; 2Kings 18:9-10). It lay north-west of Shechem, on an isolated hill with precipitous sides, rising in the middle of a basin of the hills of Ephraim, not far from the edge of the maritime plain, and commanding a view of the sea. Its history vindicated the sagacity of its founder. Even after its destruction and depopulation by the Assyrians, it seems to have revived, for Alexander took it on his invasion of Palestine, and placed a Greek colony there. Again destroyed by John Hyrcanus, it was rebuilt by Herod, and called Sebaste, in honour of Augustus. In the Assyrian inscriptions it is known as Beth-Khumri (“the house of Omri”).
But Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the LORD, and did worse than all that were before him.(25) Did worse than all that were before him.—This phrase, used of Jeroboam in 1Kings 14:9, may indicate, in addition to the acceptance and development of the old idolatry, some anticipation of the worse idolatry of Baal, formally introduced by Ahab. The “statutes of Omri” are referred to by Micah (Micah 6:16) in parallelism with the “works of the house of Ahab,” as the symbol of hardened and hopeless apostasy.
And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.(31) Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians.—The mention of Ethbaal, clearly the Eithobalus of Menander (see Jos. against Apion i. 18), affords another comparison of Israelite with Tyrian history. He is said to have assassinated Pheles, king of Tyre, within fifty years after the death of Hiram, and to have founded a new dynasty. He was a priest of Astarte, and it is notable that he is called, not, like Hiram, “king of Tyre,” but “king of the Sidonians,” thus reviving the older name of “the great Zidon,” which had been superseded by Tyre. His priestly origin, and possibly also this revival of the old ideas and spirit of the Phœnician race, may account for the fanatic devotion to Baal visible in Jezebel and Athaliah, which stands in marked contrast with the religious attitude of Hiram (1Kings 5:7; 2Chronicles 2:12). The marriage of Ahab with Jezebel was evidently the fatal turning-point in the life of a man physically brave, and possibly able as a ruler, but morally weak, impressible in turn both by good and by evil. The history shows again and again the contrast of character (which it is obvious to compare with the contrast between Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Lady Macbeth), and the almost complete supremacy of the strong relentless nature of Jezebel.
2. The Baal here referred to is, of course, the Zidonian god, worshipped as the productive principle in nature, in conjunction with Astarte, the female or receptive principle. The name itself only signifies “Lord” (in which sense, indeed, it is applied, in Hosea 2:16, to Jehovah Himself), and is marked as being a mere title, by the almost invariable prefix of the article. Being, therefore, in no sense distinctive, it may be, and is, applied to the supreme god of various mythologies. Thus we find that in Scripture the plural Baalim is first used, of “the gods many and lords many” of Canaanitish worship (see Judges 2:11; Judges 3:7; Judges 10:6; 1Samuel 7:4); and we have traces of the same vague use in the Baal-peor of Numbers 25, the Baal-berith of Judges 8:33; Judges 9:4, the Baal-zebub of 2Kings 1:2-3, and in the various geographical names having the prefix Baal. The worship of the Phœnician Baal—variously represented, sometimes as the Sun, sometimes as the planet Jupiter, sometimes half-humanised as the “Tyrian Hercules”—was now, however, introduced on a great scale, with profuse magnificence of worship, connected with the Asherah (“grove”), which in this case, no doubt, represented the Phœnician Astarte, and enforced by Jezebel with a high hand, not without persecution of the prophets of the Lord. The conflict between it and the spiritual worship of Jehovah became now a conflict of life and death.