The Hebrew word ma’al is a key term in Chronicles. It means “act of unfaithfulness” or “sacrilege,” and is the sin that leads to Saul’s fall (he ma’aled a ma’al, 1 Chronicles 10:13) and to the exile of Judah, whose officials and priests ma’aled a ma’al (2 Chronicles 36:14).
David doesn’t commit a ma’al. Instead, his kingdom is “highly exalted” in the eyes of Gentile rulers like Hiram (1 Chronicles 14:2). “High exalted,” though, translates the Hebrew lema’lah, which contains the same consonants as ma’al/sacrilege. The term for “highly exalted” is from the verb ‘alah, “to ascend or go up,” the root of the word for “ascension offering” (burnt offering) and a commonly used term for social, spiritual, or physical ascent.
The choice before Israel’s kings is between ma’al and ma’alah, between sacrilege and exaltation. Unfaithfulness brings kings down; faithfulness lifts them up on high.