06 September 2011

"And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him." (v. 31)


The writer of 1 Kings doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. Kings who serve God live long and prosper. Unholy kings have short reigns and die young.

Omri (reigned 885-874 BC) was respected enough to be named in Assyrian and Moabite records that we still have today. He founded Samaria. Yet the Bible devotes a whole seven verses to him. His crime? He ruled the northern kingdom of Israel: the 'unofficial and unlicensed' alternative to the southern kingdom of Judah - where the temple stood. He also "walked in all the way of Jeroboam" (v. 26).

King Jeroboam had set up places of sacrifice in Bethel and Dan to rival the Jerusalem temple - with rival priests, a rival festival and two calves as rival gods (1 Kings 12:25-33). God's response is recorded in 1 Kings 14:10: "I will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free, in Israel and will consume the house of Jeroboam, just as one burns up dung until it is all gone." (Even if Omri was to walk in the way of dung, at least he had a beautiful place to live for the first half of his reign: in Song of Solomon 6:4Tirzah's beauty is said to parallel Jerusalem's). "To follow Jeroboam" is synonymous in 1 Kings with 'doing evil'.

Yet it gets worse: enough contempt cannot be expressed for Ahab, Omri's son. Why? He married out of the true faith, sealing an unholy alliance with Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal (literally meaning 'with Baal' - a priest of the god Baal who combined religious and kingly power) from Sidon (in today's Lebanon). The 'sacred pole' (v. 33) Ahab erected represented the tree of life, a symbol of the goddess of fertility, Ashterah or Astarte, the consort of Baal.

A final note reminds us of the cost of going against God's commands. After the walls of Jericho came a-tumbling down, Joshua had prophesied that whoever dared rebuild the city would lose his eldest and youngest sons (Joshua 6:26). Now we know their names.

To Ponder

Which famous people today (or colleagues at work) would you not want to be compared with? How are you aiming to be different?

To what extent do you think the world is getting to be a better place, or, as in 1 Kings, does it appear that each generation is more evil than the last? Why?

Bible notes author: The Revd Neil Cockling

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