Defining Greatness

King Solomon on horse C515-4-8

Without a doubt, Israel reached its greatest heights as a political entity during the reign of Solomon. In contrast to his father, David, he enjoyed relative peace in his reign and therefore focused on a number of building projects so typical of ancient rulers. After spending his first twenty years building the temple of the LORD and a palace for himself (2 Chr. 8:1), he then proceeded to expand the kingdom, building up cities both by treaty and by force, fortifying their defenses when necessary and establishing military outposts in the process (2 Chr. 8:2-5). He even strengthened the capital city of Jerusalem (2 Chr. 8:6). In the process of these building projects, he created a permanent forced labor force from non-Israelites and developed a more professional military (2 Chr. 8:7-10). He built upon these advancements with spiritual commitments, removing his Egyptian wife from his father’s house because of its association with the ark of the covenant (2 Chr. 8:11) and leading the Israelites in offering the proper sacrifices to Yahweh every day, appointing priests, Levites, and gatekeepers in accordance with his father’s wishes to ensure an orderliness to the process and an ethical commitment to the finances (2 Chr. 8:12-14). Solomon proved an effective and efficient leader in all that he accomplished, and his growing wealth bore this out (2 Chr. 8:16-18). All of these actions made him one of the most successful monarchs in the ancient world. But was he truly great? Well, that all depends on how you define it.

From a worldly point of view, Solomon had everything. But this also shows that the point of view matters significantly. Far too often, we judge greatness and success only on worldly terms. Because of this, we also pursue greatness and success in worldly ways, which is what typically leads to our downfall. We choose a vocation based upon what it pays economically rather than what it costs spiritually. We see education as a way to get ahead in the world but choose to remain ignorant spiritually in the process. We want to live in the best place possible for our family, but we consider how our location affects us spiritually only after the fact. Solomon made a number of poor choices in life, despite having all kinds of advantages, and they came back to haunt him. At the end of his life, he did not point people to his success; he pointed them to the importance of making the right spiritual choices (Ecc. 12:1, 13)—not because he had done so, but because he had failed to do so. I know many people who have worldly success, and I am happy for them. But if I have spiritual success, I still have more, and I wish they could have this too (Col. 2:3).

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