By J.R. Miller
1 Kings 16:23-33
The story of Jeroboam's northern kingdom is terribly monotonous in its sin--and tragical in treasons, stratagems, and insurrections. There is no relief in the dark picture. In the southern kingdom of Judah, too, some kings are evil--but now and then we come upon one like Asa or Jehoshaphat, who followed the Lord faithfully. In Israel, however, there is no break in the record of sin, each succeeding ruler being worse than his predecessor.
"Omri began to rule over Israel in the thirty-first year of King Asa's reign in Judah. He reigned twelve years in all, six of them in Tirzah. Then Omri bought the hill now known as Samaria from its owner, Shemer, for 150 pounds of silver. He built a city on it and called the city Samaria in honor of Shemer. But Omri did what was evil in the LORD's sight, even more than any of the kings before him." 1 Kings 16:23-25
OMRI had a taste for building. He showed his sagacity in the selection of Samaria as the site for his new capital. The location was central. It was easily defended. Springs of water abounded. The city he built became prominent and influential, and continued as the capital of the kingdom unto the end of its history. Men may do some fine things, may be public-spirited, and do much to improve and adorn their city or country--and yet in God's sight be very wicked. Heaven does not write biographies, as earth does. Men look at what the eye can see; God looks within, at the heart--and records the motives and desires. So it often happens that while this world extols a man for his achievements, God condemns him for his sins. It is better surely to have God's approval, though we remain obscure in this world, than to be lauded by men, and then hear God's condemnation.
The Scriptures paint life stories faithfully. They hide nothing, because it is evil. Over against Omri's fine achievement in building, we read, "But Omri did what was evil in the LORD's sight, even more than any of the kings before him!"
Omri's great buildings were of no account in God's sight--while in his heart he wrought evil. The real worth of our work--is what it is worth in the eyes of the Lord. Human estimates are nothing, human adulations are mockeries, while God sees sin in the acts which men approve. One honest and lowly deed wrought in love--is worth more than a lifetime's achievement wrought in pride and self-seeking.
It is said that Omri "walked in all the way of Jeroboam." Every man tracks a path on which other feet follow his. There is no one so obscure but that if he looks behind him--he will see someone coming after him, walking in his steps. This is true, both in good and evil people. Some men, by reason of their prominence and influence, lead many others in whatever way they go. We may think of the continuous throng following after John, Paul, Peter, Bunyan, and such men. But evil men have followers, too. Jeroboam stamped his impression on all the dynasties and kings of Israel that came after him.
What sort of influence are you starting in this world? What sort of path are you making? Where would it lead those who follow after you? A man who had been going with bad companions, drinking and carousing with them, came home late one night, and bending over his two little children sleeping in their clean, white bed, kissed their sweet lips. That night he could not sleep. One picture haunted him all night long--himself hurrying toward ruin, and his two beautiful children clinging to his garments and drawn after him. He rose in the darkness, fell upon his knees by his children's bed, and gave himself to God for their sake.
"The rest of the events in Omri's reign, the extent of his power, and all his deeds are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Israel." 1 Kings 16:27. It is startling to read after the story of Omri's wickedness, that all his acts which he did were recorded. Everything was recorded, even the smallest matter. Yes, and the acts of every one of us--are also written in a book of chronicles! The record is made moment by moment with unfailing accuracy. Nothing is omitted. Nothing is set down incorrectly. For "every idle word," the Master Himself said, men must give account; so for every thought and intent of the heart--they must answer. What sort of a record are we making? The children at school are eager to have good reports to show their parents; what report is made of us in God's books day by day!
"When Omri died, he was buried in Samaria. Then his son Ahab became the next king." After Omri came AHAB. "But Ahab did what was evil in the LORD's sight, even more than any of the kings before him!" That certainly was a bad pre-eminence. It is an honor to do good above others. Excelsior is a good word when it leads upward, to higher nobleness and sublimer achievements. But when it leads downward, it is a dark and evil word. Yet that is the way of wrongdoing. In sin, the disciple is apt to outdo his master. A bad father has frequently worse children. A man is only a moderate drinker, and defends his practice as sensible and safe. His sons follow in his ways, and too often outstrip their father and become drunkards. God's children grow in grace; the devil's children grow in wickedness.
The wife a man chooses, has a great deal to do with his career. One of Ahab's worst mistakes, was in his marriage. "Then, as if following the sin of Jeroboam son of Nebat were a trivial matter--he married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and then proceeded to serve Baal and worship him!" The woman he married was of the worst heathen stock, one of the worst women known in ancient times. Her character has not a single beautiful, womanly trait, and her name stands unrivaled in history for cruelty, vindictiveness, and all manner of wickedness. Ahab married her, and then of course went over to the heathen with her.
There is no step in life which has more to do with one's future weal or woe in both worlds--than one's marriage. If one marries "in the Lord," the event brings great blessing; if one is attracted by glitter or show and is married to a heathen, the result can be only misery! There is no other rock on which more lives and more human happiness are wrecked. Some people try to excuse Ahab for his wickedness by saying that he was weak, and that all the blame rested on his wicked wife. Possibly; but is any man to be excused on such grounds as these? Did he not sin, first of all, in marrying such a woman? Did he not sin also in allowing her to lead him into so much evil?
Still the record grows darker and darker as we read on. "Ahab did yet more to provoke Jehovah . . . to anger than all the kings . . . before him." It is strange how men dare the Lord and defy Him, doing the most heaven-defying evil before His eyes. The worst men will not commit their crimes in the presence of the officers of the law. No burglar would break into a house or commit a robbery with a policeman standing by. But men break God's laws right before God's face, and provoke Him to anger with impunity! They think nothing of defying the mighty God and daring Him. Why is this? Surely it must be because they cannot see God--and therefore do not think that He sees them. They do not believe that He cares, or that He will punish. "You are the God who sees me" realized, would make the worst men fear to provoke God to anger by doing the things which He forbids and condemns.