We might know more about Omri from sources outside the Bible than we do from the Bible. In fact, Omri is regarded by some in history classes as the most politically and militarily influential king of the Northern kingdom of Israel. But, that wasn’t enough to salvage his reputation in the eyes of God.
With Omri’s rise to power, Israel enjoyed a time of relative stability after a brief, but intense, period of volatility. Omri’s dynasty endured for almost 5 decades – no small accomplishment by Israelite standards.
Omri’s predecessor, Zimri, reigned for only 7 days. Having murdered the previous king, Zimri declared himself ruler of Israel. At the time, Omri was leading the Israelite army in a siege against a Philistine stronghold. The military rejected Zimri’s appointment as king, preferring their commander instead. So, Omri marched on Israel’s capital, which he took easily. Before he could be killed by Omri, Zimri committed suicide, setting his palace on fire. After besting yet another contender for power, Omri secured his place on the throne, which he occupied for 12 years.
As king, Omri made a number of strategic moves. Most importantly, he built the city of Samaria on a hill and made it his base of operations. The new capital of Israel was a much more defensible site than the one Omri had subdued. From the Bible, we know that Omri lost territory to neighboring Syria (1Ki. 20:34). But, sources outside the Bible reveal he pressed his advantage against Moab, taking some of their lands. It is likely that Omri orchestrated a political arrangement with the Phoenicians, which led to his son Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel.
For all his diplomatic and military success, the Bible judged Omri a failure. Not only did he persist in the idolatry of Israel’s kings, but the writer of 1Kings concluded that Omri was even more sinful than any of his predecessors.
It may seem surprising that the Bible did not include more details of Omri’s reign, particularly since his tenure is reasonably well documented in extrabiblical sources.
Omri’s story is a useful reminder that God does not value success as the world defines success – what truly shapes a person’s legacy is her/her faithfulness to the Lord.
Ironically, Omri’s name means “The Lord Is My Life”.
You can read Omri’s story in 1Kings 16:16-28; 20:34.