The Prophet Haggai’s fourth and final sermon was also delivered on December 18, 520 BC.
The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month.
Haggai 2:20 (NRSV)
The prophet was most likely addressing all the faithful as they were leaving the temple area after their evening worship and prayers.
Though this is the shortest of Haggai’s oracles, it is surprisingly dense!
Haggai can best be remembered with the bee, for bees build their home for their queen, honey was a symbol of God’s blessing, and as a swarm would do, God promised to drive their enemies away.
A Prophetic Word
Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying,
“I am about to shake the heavens and the earth,
“and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms;
“I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations,
“and overthrow the chariots and their riders;
“and the horses and their riders shall fall, every one by the sword of a comrade.”God to Zerubabbel, Haggai 2:20-22 (NRSV)
It was a hair-raising prophecy, without any time markers or context. Its global character marks it as eschatological, having to do with the end of all time, the final conflict that will usher in the new heavens and the new earth. Because of this, God’s final word to Zerubbabel is also to be understood as far future (to him, but now far in the past to us).
A Word To Zerubbabel
“On that day,”
(says the Lord of hosts,)
“I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel,
(says the Lord,)
“and make you like a signet ring; –for I have chosen you-,”
(says the Lord of hosts.)God to Zerubabbel, Haggai 2:23 (NRSV)
This is the very last line of Haggai’s slim volume of two chapters. As the last line, it is heavy with significance.
But, what does it mean?
Well, we have to get a handle on who Zerubbabel was, first, before we can take in the importance of God’s saying.
Remember when I initially described Zerubbabel? He was known as the son of Shealtiel, born in Babylon in the royal line of David through David’s son Nathan, whose name would one day appear in the genealogy of Jesus. For these reasons, some scholars have thought Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah (to whom Cyrus had entrusted the sacred temple treasure) might be one and the same person with Zerubbabel.
However, in both Ezra’s chronicle, and the prophets’ mention, Zerubbabel is consistently referred to as governor rather than prince or king.
This does not—necessarily—mean Zerubbabel was not a prince, or in the line of David. It also does not mean Zerubbabel and Shesbazzar were the same people. As a matter of fact, I highly doubt that idea, as it indicates:
- A narrow view of David’s dynasty. David had many sons and daughters who in turn bore many further sons and daughters. Shesbazzar was one of several young Davidic princes who, it seems had been born in Babylon, or at least adopted Chaldean names.
- A dim view of Persia’s understanding of Hebrew politics. As you will see below, King Coniah and all his line had become despised by the people, and by God. King Cyrus would have known that and saved honor for an arm of David’s dynasty whom the people would respect.
- And a rather myopic view of God’s pronouncement in Jeremiah 22. It was not just against King Coniah whom God leveled God’s judgement. It went way, way farther than that.
Here is what I mean.
As I live, says the Lord, even if King Coniah son of Jehoiakim of Judah were the signet ring on my right hand, even from there I would tear you off and give you into the hands of those who seek your life, into the hands of those of whom you are afraid, even into the hands of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and into the hands of the Chaldeans.
I will hurl you and the mother who bore you into another country, where you were not born, and there you shall die. But they shall not return to the land to which they long to return.
Is this man Coniah a despised broken pot,God to King Coniah, Jeremiah 22:24-30
a vessel no one wants?
Why are he and his offspring hurled out
and cast away in a land that they do not know?
O land, land, land,
hear the word of the Lord!
Thus says the Lord:
Record this man as childless,
a man who shall not succeed in his days;
for none of his offspring shall succeed
in sitting on the throne of David,
and ruling again in Judah.
And this infamous King Coniah (also Jeconiah) was none other than Zerubbabel’s grandfather!
Look through everything God said to this man (the first thing is the most significant, as it creates a bridge from Jeremiah’s oracle to Haggai’s oracle).
- Coniah was as a signet ring on God’s hand—the representation of God’s name and authority, the seal of God’s word and law, the symbol of God’s character and rule.
- God tore Coniah off of God’s hand—The signet ring had become corrupted, compromised, it could no longer represent God, and its seal could no longer be trusted.
- God gave Coniah to Babylon—the Chaldeans, who were the enemy of God’s people and of God, could now have this worthless-to-God-and-to-Judah king
- Coniah and his mother would die in exile—many of the people who had been taken captive were released a generation later to return to Jerusalem, to rebuild the walls and temple. But not Coniah.
- God disinherited Coniah’s children—it seems clear Coniah did have sons and daughters, who accompanied him into exile, and likely at least some of them returned to Judah, for example Zerubbabel the governor, son of Sheltiel. BUT! God would never again permit any of them to sit on the throne of David, nor rule over Judah.
This is the heavy family legacy laid upon the shoulders of Coniah’s heirs, and borne out in Judah’s post-exilic history.
And then we come to Matthew’s gospel.
. . . And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel . . .
. . . and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.Genealogy of Jesus, Matthew 1:12, 16 (NRSV)
God would redeem the family baggage Zerubbabel had gotten saddled with. Though King Coniah and his descendants would never again have the royal inheritance they had been born into, yet Zerubbabel would be given the highest honor, for he had been faithful to God. He would one day be included in the line of Jesus Messiah, the True Signet Ring, the Chosen of God. (Luke’s gospel also mentions this remarkable fulfillment of prophecy.
Celebration of the Temple’s Completion
No more oracles or sermons are recorded from Haggai, though we can assume he continued to work side-by-side with the leaders and the people until the last hewn stone and sacred vessel had been completed and put into place.
Then, according to the word sent by King Darius, Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their associates did with all diligence what King Darius had ordered.
So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo.
Five years after Haggai had begun to prophesy, they finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia; and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.Ezra 6:13-16 (NRSV)
The people of God would now begin a new chapter of life in the Promised Land.
[Haggai delivering his prophecy to Zerubbabel | Picryl.com, Public Domain]