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Brooke Shaffer

Author, Ski Patroller, and Pasta-Eater Extraordinaire

Famous Coups, Part 3: Ancient Israel

Time to go back, way, waaaaay back, to what may be the oldest verifiable coup in history, from the Israelites.

The account is briefly recorded in 1 Kings, Chapter 16.

Elah Reigns in Israel

In the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah, Elah the son of Baasha began to reign over Israel in Tirzah, and he reigned two years. But his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him. When he was at Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was over the household in Tirzah, 10 Zimri came in and struck him down and killed him, in the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned in his place.

11 When he began to reign, as soon as he had seated himself on his throne, he struck down all the house of Baasha. He did not leave him a single male of his relatives or his friends. 12 Thus Zimri destroyed all the house of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke against Baasha by Jehu the prophet, 13 for all the sins of Baasha and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned and which they made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger with their idols. 14 Now the rest of the acts of Elah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?

Zimri Reigns in Israel

15 In the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, Zimri reigned seven days in Tirzah. Now the troops were encamped against Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines, 16 and the troops who were encamped heard it said, “Zimri has conspired, and he has killed the king.” Therefore all Israel made Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel that day in the camp. 17 So Omri went up from Gibbethon, and all Israel with him, and they besieged Tirzah. 18 And when Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the king's house and burned the king's house over him with fire and died, 19 because of his sins that he committed, doing evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for his sin which he committed, making Israel to sin. 20 Now the rest of the acts of Zimri, and the conspiracy that he made, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?

That's nice and all, but let's take a look at a few things of significance which some studious people have been kind enough to point out.

  1. In the original Hebrew, Zimri is called an " 'ebed " or "slave servant."  This differs from a "mesharet" or "free servant" referring to servants who freely served and ministered to others, most notably to the kings of Israel, including David and Jehoshaphat.  Therefore, it is notable that a "slave servant" is elevated to such a position that he commands half the chariots.
  2. Zimri is not named as part of a family line (Zimri, son of Steve, son of Bob, son of David, etc.).  There is a Biblical account of a man of the Tribe of Simeon named Zimri, and another of Zerah having a son named Zimri, but in this instance, it may be that Zimri was not an Israelite at all.  Others speculate that he could be of the Tribe of Judah.
  3. Zimri is mentioned again, about a hundred years later chronologically, in 2 Kings Chapter 9, Jezebel speaking to Jehu.
    1. 31 And as Jehu entered the gate, she said, “Is it peace, you Zimri, murderer of your master?”
  4. King Elah is a party king who enjoys food and drink a little too much.  In fact, it is recorded that while his men are out fighting the Philistines on the frontlines, he's out, ahem, doing other things.
  5. At this time, Israel is a divided country.  Israel is to the north, and Judah is the south.  In the time it takes Judah to go through one king, Israel goes through seven, three of them in the space of a month!
  6. Similarly, King Elah was facing a military alliance between Israel and the Arameans, but he was usually too busy drinking to give it much thought.
  7. At the time, the army was far away at a city called Gibbethon, while Elah and Zimri were safely in Tirzah.  This meant that there was no one to defend the king if something were to happen.  When the army heard of what transpired, they got together and named Omri king.  They marched on Tirzah.  When Zimri saw them coming, he burned down the palace with himself inside.

So, that's today's history lesson, one from ancient history.

-Brooke Shaffer

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