Zerubbabel, the Lord’s Signet Ring

On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the LORD, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the LORD of hosts” (v. 23).

- Haggai 2:10-23

Last week, we saw that Haggai spoke to Judah to encourage the work of rebuilding the temple after it began anew under Zerubbabel and Joshua (Hag. 1:12–2:9). This happened one month into the renewed work, and Haggai said the final glory of this second temple would be great if the people would trust the Lord. But that was not the last word from God through Haggai about the temple. Then, Haggai encouraged the people again during the rebuilding process two months later (2:10–19). He gave four oracles in total: one so that Judah would resume the rebuilding; a second to keep the work going; a third to prompt the Jews to press on; and a fourth to encourage Zerubbabel (vv. 20–23).

This third oracle states the consequences of leaving the work half finished. Under the old covenant, an unclean object polluted whatever touched it (Lev. 5:2; 11; 15). As Haggai states, this pollution could be passed to a third object: a person becomes unclean when he touches a dead body, which is unclean; then, the unclean person makes unclean anything he touches (Hag. 2:13). An unfinished, neglected temple was unclean because it had been touched by unclean people, who revealed their uncleanness—their lack of faith—by disobeying God’s instruction to finish the temple. While the temple remained unclean, it polluted the land, resulting in natural disasters and reduced agricultural production (vv. 14–17). One commentator likens the unfinished temple to a decaying body that contaminates everything around it as long as its decay—its “half-finishedness”—remains. Yet if the people showed true faith by continuing to obey the Lord and rebuilt the temple, there would be no uncleanness to pollute the land and God would bless them (vv. 18–19). Since faithlessness is the ultimate impurity, this also meant the people could not be disobedient and trust in a finished temple as a talisman to ward off‰ trouble. That’s what the pre-exilic community did, and God sent them into exile because their failure to trust Him polluted the land.

Haggai concludes with a messianic word to Zerubbabel that God would greatly exalt him (vv. 20–23), but the prophet does not mean the person of Zerubbabel himself. The prophets often promise the return of David—the first ruler of Israel appointed by God alone before the exile—but the person in view is actually one of David’s sons as prophesied in 2 Samuel 7:1–17. Haggai promises the throne to Zerubbabel—the first ruler of Israel appointed by God alone after the exile—but the person in view is actually one of Zerubbabel’s sons.

Coram Deo

God’s promise to exalt Zerubbabel, that is, one of Zerubbabel’s sons, is fulfilled in Christ Jesus, who is David’s descendant through Zerubbabel (Matt. 1:1–17; Luke 3:23–38). Christ has been exalted to the right hand of God the Father Almighty, fulfilling Haggai’s word. Because the promise to Zerubbabel has been fulfilled, we can be confident that the Lord will keep all of His promises, namely that our glory as His house will one day be greater than any previous temple.

Passages for Further Study

2 Samuel 7:1–17
Zechariah 4:8–10
Matthew 1:18–25
Romans 1:1–4

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