Omri Rises to Power

1 Kings 16:8-28

Though most Bible readers would hardly recognize the name Omri among the list of Israel’s rulers, this king played such a pivotal role in Israel’s history that 150 years later the kings of Assyria still referred to Israel as the “land of Omri” in their annals. During (or perhaps before) the brief two year reign of Elah son of Baasha (c. 886-885 B.C.), Omri rose to the rank of commander among Israel’s forces, as did another man named Zimri, but Elah himself does not appear to have been a very strong leader. While Elah was getting drunk at the home of one of his palace officials in Tirzah, Zimri came and killed him and succeeded him as king. News of Zimri’s coup quickly spread to Omri and his forces, who were attacking the Philistine town of Gibbethon, and their reaction was to immediately proclaim Omri as king instead. So Omri and his men withdrew from Gibbethon to lay siege to Tirzah, leading Zimri to commit suicide by retreating into the citadel of the royal palace and setting fire to it, thus ending his short seven day reign. But then another man named Tibni also tried to set himself up as king, and a five year civil war ensued between Omri and Tibni, with the people of Israel evenly divided between the two men. Eventually Omri prevailed over Tibni and became king. Soon after this he built a new capital city named Samaria on a hill at a strategic juncture northwest of Shechem. From the Mesha Inscription it is also clear that Omri continued to shore up Israel’s power by attacking Medeba and regaining control of this region. The Mesha Inscription acknowledges that Medeba had long been inhabited by Israelites, but Moab often vied for control over this region ever since Israel split from Judah. Omri may have also regained control over the towns in the far north of Israel, which had been captured by Aram during Baasha’s reign (1 Kings 15:9-24), or it may be that these towns were recovered later as part of a treaty between Aram and Omri’s son Ahab (see 1 Kings 20:26-34).

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