We love to compare quarterbacks, pitchers, NBA centers, tennis players, and golf professionals to see which of the historical greats was the Greatest of All Time. It might be interesting to do the same for biblical leaders and see who carries the title of G.O.A.T. If we can find a few that fit the criteria, let’s see what they had in common and why they were great. Our search is, of course, subjective and varies depending on individual perspectives and religious beliefs. Different people may have different criteria for evaluating any king’s greatness, such as their military successes, political achievements, or religious devotion. We will limit our search to the Bible and its impact on the nation of Israel.
King David (1035 – 970 BC)
(Acts 13:22)1NIV New International Version Translations – “After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'”
In the biblical tradition, King David is often regarded as making the list of the greatest kings of Israel. David was known for his deep and genuine devotion to God. He sought to follow God’s will and had a strong desire to please Him in all his actions. According to the Hebrew Bible, God made a covenant with David, promising that his descendants would have an everlasting reign and that the future Messiah would come from his lineage. This covenant is known as the Davidic Covenant.
Most know the story of David, a simple shepherd boy, chosen by God as a future king. Saul, the king at the time, mentored David. With a stone slung at Goliath, David’s bravery quickly became a threat to Saul’s greatness. You can read the story in (1 Samuel 23:7-29). Here, we get a glimpse of David’s deep and genuine devotion to God. He sought to follow God’s will and had a strong desire to please Him in all his actions. Later, as a king, David led the Israelites to numerous military victories, expanding the kingdom’s territory and securing its borders. He defeated the Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, and other neighboring nations, establishing a period of relative peace and security.
David brought people together, he was a uniter, not a divider. His efforts successfully united the northern and southern tribes, establishing a centralized monarchy and creating a stronger, more cohesive nation. He captured the Jebusite stronghold of Jerusalem and made it his capital, transforming the city into a center of political, religious, and cultural significance. This included bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem.
David’s attributes that we should all aspire to were his spirit to defend his country. He was a skilled warrior and courageous, fair, just, merciful, led with wisdom, and always fought for what was right by God’s standards. David’s story includes that of a humble and repentant sinner, having murdered for the lust of a woman. He acknowledged both his faults and his love for God. In the end, David’s legacy would leave us with both poetry and psalms, an insight into his very soul. As a leader, David protected his people, and his life was blessed by God.
King Solomon (970-931 BC)
(1 Kings 3:9) – “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
Solomon was David’s son. He is known best for responding to God’s request to prepare him for becoming a king. His response was only to be given wisdom to lead the people (1 Kings 3:1-15). King Solomon always referred to himself as God’s servant, acknowledging his role as a leader responsible for governing God’s people. He is credited with building the First Temple in Jerusalem. This grand temple was considered a magnificent structure and became the center of religious worship for the Israelites. His father David had amassed building materials in preparation for his son to complete the task (1 Chronicles 22:1-10). Solomon played a crucial role in establishing trade alliances and fostering economic growth. He engaged in international trade, forming partnerships with neighboring kingdoms, including Egypt, Phoenicia, and Arabia. Through these trade relationships, Solomon brought great wealth and prosperity to Israel.
Solomon undertook various infrastructure projects to enhance the kingdom’s efficiency and prosperity. He constructed cities, fortified strategic locations, and developed an extensive network of roads to facilitate trade and communication. By originally asking God for the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, Solomon shows his commitment to upholding justice and righteousness in his leadership. He was best known for his wisdom, which was exemplified by his famous judgment in the case of two women claiming to be the mother of the same child (1 Kings 3:16-28). His wise decision to split the baby in half, thus revealing the true mother’s love and sacrifice, demonstrated his ability to discern truth and apply justice. Solomon’s prayers demonstrate his faith and reliance on God for guidance and direction in fulfilling his role as king. King Solomon is traditionally attributed authorship or inspiration for several biblical books, including Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. These writings contain philosophical insights, moral teachings, and expressions of love and desire, contributing to Israelite literature and culture.
Solomon’s reign was relatively peaceful, allowing him to focus on building up Israel’s military strength and fortifying its defenses. This ensured the safety and security of his kingdom, protecting the people from external threats. His diplomatic skills and alliances helped maintain peace and stability in the region. Through strategic marriages, he forged alliances with neighboring kings, strengthening political ties, and fostering peace between kingdoms. Solomon was not without his weaknesses. He married foreign wives who brought their idolatrous practices into the kingdom, leading Solomon to worship false gods and neglect his commitment to the God of Israel. His affluence may have led to extravagance, excessive taxation, and burden on the people, causing dissatisfaction among his subjects. Solomon’s failure to designate a clear and capable successor led to instability after his death. His reign marked the beginning of a decline that eventually led to the division of the kingdom into Israel and Judah.
King Hezekiah (approximately 715-686 BC)
(2 Kings 18:5) – “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.”
Hezekiah was the 13th successor of David, reigning in Judah’s southern kingdom. He reigned for 29 years, beginning at age 25 (2 Kings 18:2). As a member of this royal lineage, Hezekiah would have likely been familiar with the traditions and stories surrounding David and Solomon. There is no specific mention, however, of their influence on his education in biblical accounts. Hezekiah had a reputation as one of the most righteous and reform-minded kings of the Bible. Hezekiah’s faith and trust in God were central to his reign. He sought God’s guidance and relied on Him in times of difficulty and decision-making. He sought to remove idolatry from the kingdom of Judah (southern) and restore the proper worship of the God of Israel. When Hezekiah took power, the Temple in Jerusalem was closed. He reopened the doors, made repairs, and reinstated the observance of the Passover and other religious festivals according to the laws of Moses.
King Hezekiah then embarked on a campaign to remove pagan altars, idols, and high places dedicated to false gods throughout the kingdom. He tore down the high places and the “bronze serpent” (an object of idolatrous worship) that had been associated with the worship of the Canaanite deity Baal. Hezekiah had an unwavering trust in God. When the Assyrian empire threatened to invade Judah, he sought divine guidance and turned to God for help. Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah implored God for deliverance, and according to the biblical account, God miraculously intervened and saved Jerusalem from the Assyrian army. While facing the threat of an Assyrian siege, Hezekiah initiated a remarkable engineering project to secure the water supply for Jerusalem. He ordered the construction of a tunnel that diverted the water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, ensuring a reliable water source within the city walls.
Hezekiah was known for his commitment to following God’s commandments and leading the people of Judah to do the same. Hezekiah emphasized the importance of education and sought to promote knowledge and understanding among his people. He encouraged the study of the Law of Moses and ensured that priests and Levites were well-versed in its teachings. The king worked to improve the economic and administrative infrastructure of Judah. He organized the kingdom’s resources, implemented measures to increase agricultural productivity, and fortified various cities to defend against external threats. Hezekiah’s reign contributed to a period of stability, religious revival, and cultural growth in the Kingdom of Judah and left a lasting impact on the spiritual and political development of the nation of Israel.
Attributes of the Greatest of Them All
Choosing the greatest Old Testament king is no easy task. There are, however, common characteristics that stand out. Here is a partial list:
- A strong faith in God.
- Followed God’s Laws.
- They were not perfect. It speaks to the gift of God’s forgiveness and grace that is so visible in our Bible.
- These men loved their nation. Nothing deterred them from protecting the people they served.
- They removed the past mistakes of prior kings. The religious beliefs of their nation were rebuilt, and cults were removed (the exception being Solomon).
- The infrastructure of their nation was improved for the benefit of its people.
- They united people around the “Love of God.”
- Their wisdom has stood the test of time.
Picking the G.O.A.T
David was the warrior, leading his people through tumultuous times. He was favored by God, whose covenant established the lineage to bring us our Savior, Jesus Christ. Solomon’s humble request for wisdom gained his favor with God. But the riches and lifestyle he led planted the seeds of destruction for his nation. My vote is for Hezekiah, a king willing to undo the damage of past mistakes. Hezekiah thought only of his people, leading them to a lasting faith in God that endures even today. He went against great odds to bring his nation back to God. This lesson shows that a nation’s leader, a family leader, and a business leader can learn from history. Every attribute in our list is beneficial and necessary for our society and our nation to prosper.
- Who would you pick as G.O.A.T. and why?
- Ideas to Explore: The Imperfections of David The wisdom and humility of Solomon The commitment to God of Hezekiah
- Of the obvious attributes we have looked at here, what one stands out to you?
- Ideas to Explore: Why did you choose the one you did? What experiences have you had that influenced your decision?
- What is your opinion on the “Faith” component that our three kings all had?
- Ideas to Explore: Can you be a G.O.A.T. without God? Is a person’s greatness limited to this world or the eternal world?
- Two of our candidates for greatness were imperfect, sinful people, and the third was no doubt imperfect; it is just that no one wrote down his sins. How does that make you feel?
- Ideas to Explore: Can someone be great without forgiveness? Can someone be happy without forgiveness?
- Do you see a relationship between someone’s love of country and the love of God?
- Ideas to Explore: What is greatness? Does wealth or power mean anything in the long run?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations