At first glance, many would be impressed with a king named Omri. He ruled over the northern Nation of Israel after the Jewish people had split into two nations. One could argue that Omri brought political stability to his nation. Three of the four kings preceding him were victims of assassinations. The king immediately before him ruled for only seven days. The country was weary of political upheaval. Omri and his family would occupy the throne for over 40 years and provide needed relief.
He also seems to have been a good politician. As a result of the political turmoil in his nation, when he came to power half the nation wanted a man named Tibni to be king. Omri was able to build a coalition that included the army, putting an end to the civil war that threatened to split the country apart.
The author of 1 Kings also indicates that Omri made wise military and economic decisions. When he gained power the capital of the nation was Tirzah. Most students of the Bible have never heard of this place. But Omri moved the capital to a place that we have all heard of—Samaria. He bought the land for that purpose because he saw its value. It would remain the capital of the Nation of Israel for the rest of its history.
As a military leader, Omri knew that Tirzah was not well-suited to be a capital. Samaria was much better. It was on a hill and therefore much easier to defend in case an enemy attacked. This new capital also gave the nation an economic boom. It was located on an important trade route that passed through the country from north to south.
Omri was so successful as a political ruler that he won the admiration of the nations that surrounded Israel. Over a hundred years after he died, these countries, in their official documents, referred to Israel as “the land of Omri.”
But how did the Biblical writer evaluate Omri’s rule? He was not impressed. In fact, the author of 1 Kings only allocates eight verses to Omri. Those verses are a scathing review of his reign. He says that Omri “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” If that were not bad enough, he comments that Omri was the worst king who had ever ruled up to that time (v 25). The reason was that he promoted sin in Israel, especially idolatry.
To add to this bleak summary, the writer ends his account of Omri by mentioning that his son Ahab followed him on the throne (v 28). Ahab and his wife Jezebel would become infamous for their depravity and sin, and the author of 1 Kings will go into detail about the harm they caused the nation. Omri, then, was responsible for what followed his death.
The most obvious lesson we learn from Omri is that we should not judge what we see by worldly standards. Political and military students will look at Omri and conclude that he saved his nation. He was a great leader and did things that tremendously benefited his country. That is what the world said about him.
In reality, he moved the nation closer to destruction. He could have used his abilities and popularity to persuade his people to follow the Lord instead of idols. It is too bad that Omri concentrated on enemies outside his country and did not worry about the spiritual enemies within. He raised his son Ahab to continue on the destructive course he set.
We do not know if Omri was a believer. It would be very easy to say his idolatry indicates he was not. But Solomon was also an idolator, and we know he was a believer. The lesson Omri leaves us is relevant whether or not he ever believed in the coming Messiah for eternal life.
New Testament believers can seek and obtain the praise of the world. Jesus warns about this possibility. He tells the disciples to be sad if the world says good things about them (Luke 6:26) and to be glad when the world speaks ill of them (Matt 5:11).
The author of 1 Kings does not speak of Omri in great detail. He was not impressed with his accomplishments and all the good things the world had to say about him. The only opinion that matters is what the Lord thinks of our lives. Omri failed miserably in that area. May we not follow his example.