When Wisdom Doesn’t Reward
As a movie fan, one of my favorite genres is the historical epic—which includes films like Gladiator and Braveheart. One of my favorites from the genre is the 2005 Ridley Scott film Kingdom of Heaven.
The film is very loosely based on the historical figure Balian of Ibelin, played in the movie by Orlando Bloom. The climax of the film and Balian’s real-life story is the siege of Jerusalem in 1187 during the height of the Crusades. Balian, a Christian noble and knight, was charged with the defense of Jerusalem against one of the greatest military minds of the era, Saladin, who attacked with an army five times larger than the number of defenders.
During negotiations for the surrender of the city, Balian wisely worked out a deal with Saladin which ensured the safety of the city inhabitants. Miraculously, the handover of Jerusalem occurred with minimal bloodshed and destruction. After the siege, Balian would go on to lead a relatively quiet life with very little recognition for the part he played in saving the lives of many Jerusalem inhabitants.
I couldn’t help but think of that historical incident as I read the Preacher’s illustration in today’s reading from Ecclesiastes 9:13-18, which tells of a man who used his wisdom to save his city from a powerful king. And yet, this wise man is not remembered widely for his deeds despite the wisdom he showed (v. 15).
Even though it may not lead to recognition, the Preacher goes on to exclaim, “Wisdom is better than strength” (v. 16). It may be simple to read, but this is a truth that I have to constantly check myself on. I’m the kind of person who values positive affirmation. Even though there is nothing wrong with desiring affirmation, I’ve come to recognize that it could potentially lead me to value recognition over acting with wisdom.
In Dr. Constable’s commentary on the text, he notes that wisdom often doesn’t come with a physical reward, either. I can see this play out in our day as well. I have watched friends turn down opportunities that would have been beneficial for their careers because they have the wisdom to see that it would be detrimental to their family, their significant others, or their spiritual health. Even though it’s a wise decision, the world might see it as “weak” to put others or your own spiritual life ahead of advancement in society.
All this talk from the Preacher leads to one glaring question: why should we bother acting wisely when there is no reward or anything to gain?
Ultimately, it comes down to what we value most. The Preacher didn’t know it yet, but a person who would show ultimate wisdom was coming. Balian may have used wisdom to save a city but this person, Jesus, in heavenly wisdom, gave up His life in order to offer salvation to the world.
In Matthew 6:21, He would tell His followers, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And so it falls to us to decide where our treasure lies. Do we care more about earthly recognition and reward, or do we allow our Savior to transform us to value heavenly wisdom more?
My prayer is that we will all strive after godly wisdom. Even though we may not hear about it on earth, I look forward to seeing how the quiet, wise choices (v. 17) of generations of Christians will have an impact on the true Kingdom of Heaven.
—By Caleb Young, New Zealand
Questions for reflection
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