20 The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 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 go down, every one by the sword of his brother. 23 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.” – Haggai 2:20-23 ESV
In these closing verses of Haggai’s prophecy, he records a somewhat enigmatic statement made by God concerning Zerubbabel. Up to this point, all that has been revealed about Zerubabbal is his role as the governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1, 14; 2:2, 21). But Haggai has repeatedly described Zerubbabel as “the son of Shealtiel” (Haggai 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2). While it was not uncommon to describe someone’s patriarchal lineage in this manner, Haggai’s repeated mention of Zerubbabel’s “father” is particularly interesting and will take on greater significance as we examine these closing verses.
Zerubbabel’s designation as the son of Shealtiel establishes him as a grandson of King Jehoiachin of Judah. Jehoiachin was a direct descendant of King David and one of the last kings to sit on the Davidic throne ruling over the southern kingdom of Judah. Jehoiachin shared David’s bloodline, but not his great-great grandfather’s love for Yahweh. The book of 2 Chronicles describes his short reign and ignoble end.
Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. In the spring of the year King Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought him to Babylon, with the precious vessels of the house of the Lord, and made his brother Zedekiah king over Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:9-10 ESV
According to the book of 1 Chronicles, Jehoiachin had a number of sons. Two of them play important roles in Haggai’s narrative. One was Shealtiel and the other was Pedaiah. A close look at the following passage reveals an important clue to Zerubbabel’s identity and provides insights into the final four verses of Haggai’s prophecy.
The sons of Jehoiachin, who was taken prisoner by the Babylonians, were Shealtiel, Malkiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama, and Nedabiah.
The sons of Pedaiah were Zerubbabel and Shimei. – 1 Chronicles 3:17-19 NLT
Zerubbabel was actually the son of Pedaiah, the brother of Shealtiel. This would have made Zerubbabel the nephew of Shealtiel. But it would appear that there is something else going on here. In ancient days, it was important that the family name be preserved because the inheritance was passed down from father to son. In Deuteronomy 25:5-6, the Mosaic Law describes what is often referred to as levirate marriage.
“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 25:5-6 ESV
The word levirate comes from the Latin word levir, which means “a husband’s brother.” A levirate marriage, therefore, is literally a “marriage with a brother-in-law.” According to the 1 Chronicles 3 passage, it would appear that Pedaiah, the son of Jehoiachin, died not long after his wife gave birth to Zerubbabel. Then his brother, Shealtiel adopted Zerubbabel as his own son, in order to help preserve his brother’s lineage. Or, it could be that Pedaiah died before Zerubbabel was born, and according to the law of levirate marriage, Shealtiel married his brother’s widow and she bore Zerubbabel. Either way, Zerubbabel would have been a direct descendant of King David and a rightful heir to the Davidic throne.
What makes the idea of levirate marriage a likely explanation to Zerubbabel’s heritage is the way God refers to him in these closing verses of Haggai’s book. On the very same day that God vowed to bless the people of Judah, He had Haggai deliver a very specific and highly personal message to Zerubbabel. God tells the governor of a coming day when He will “shake the heavens and the earth” and “overthrow kingdoms” (Haggai 2:21-22 ESV). On that future day, God would “destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother” (Haggai 2:22 ESV).
It is important to note that God gave this message directly to Zerubbabel and not to Joshua the high priest or the people. For some reason, God has set apart the governor and made him the sole recipient of this message of future divine judgment. What is significant is God’s repeated mention of kings and kingdoms. He promises Zerubbabel that a day is coming when He will overthrow and destroy all the kingdoms of the nations. This message is being given to a man who rules as governor over the disheveled and demoralized nation of Judah. They have no king. They can muster no army. And they are surrounded by enemies who constantly harass and threaten them. But God predicts a day when the tables will turn. And, amazingly, God informs Zerubbabel that he will have a role to play in that future reversal of fortunes takes place.
“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.” – Haggai 2:23 ESV
This message must have struck Zerubbabel like a ton of bricks. It was unexpected and must have come across as highly unlikely. A simple glance around him would have revealed to Zerubbabel a scene of disarray and disappointment. The city of Jerusalem remained in a state of disrepair. The construction of God’s house was incomplete and the nation was still suffering from the impact of the recent drought. And yet, here was God declaring to Zerubbabel that he was his chosen servant. He describes Zerubbabel as His “signet ring” – the symbol of a king’s authority and power. Affixed to the ring was an emblem that represented the king’s house. That emblem was impressed into wax in order to seal official documents and to designate them as authentic.
God was telling Zerubbabel that he would play the role of a signet ring or the official representation of kingly authority. What makes this so significant is the curse that God had placed on Zerubbabel’s grandfather, Jehoiachin.
“As surely as I live,” says the Lord, “I will abandon you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah. Even if you were the signet ring on my right hand, I would pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek to kill you, those you so desperately fear—to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the mighty Babylonian army. I will expel you and your mother from this land, and you will die in a foreign country, not in your native land. You will never again return to the land you yearn for.” – Jeremiah 22:24-27 NLT
Jehoiachin had proven to be an unfaithful king and a lousy bearer of God’s image. He was like a signet ring that no longer bore the image of its owner. Useless as a symbol of God’s authority, power, and honor, Jehoiachin had been set aside by God. But an unlikely descendant of this discarded king would be used by God to bring about the destruction of the kingdoms of the earth.
In this passage, Zerubbabel is presented as a type of Christ. He is a descendant of David and a rightful heir to the throne. And through him would come the Messiah, the one true servant of God who would fulfill all the promises and prophecies concerning Israel and the nations. The gospel of Matthew records the lineage of Jesus, and in it, we find the name of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel.
After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah. – Matthew 1:12-16 NLT
Zerubbabel appears in the family tree of Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And what makes this so remarkable is that God had placed a curse on Zerubbabel’s grandfather, Jehoiachin.
“This is what the Lord says:
‘Let the record show that this man Jehoiachin was childless.
He is a failure,
for none of his children will succeed him on the throne of David
to rule over Judah.’” – Jeremiah 22:30 NLT
But remember, according to 1 Chronicles 3:19, Zerubbabel was actually the son of Pedaiah. Yet, according to God’s sovereign will, He had arranged for Zerubbabel to be raised by his uncle, Shealtiel. Rather than Zerubbabel being the result of levirate marriage, it seems more likely that he was born to Pedaiah. But when his father died, Zerubbabel become the ward of his uncle, Shealtiel, and was raised like his son. This would have effectively bypassed the curse placed on Shealtiel by God.
Through Zerubbabel, God would raise up another unlikely heir who would sit on the throne of David and fulfill all the promises found in verses 21-22 of Haggai 2. Like a signet ring in the hand of God Almighty, Zerubbabel would become a seal of divine authority and power, guaranteeing the authenticity of God’s promises for the future.
Zerubbabel would die long before Jesus was born. Yet, his name is memorialized in the lineage of Jesus. He lives on as a symbol of God’s power and authority, like a signet ring that bears the image of its owner and authenticates His sovereign will over all things. God was not done with Judah. He had restored them to the land but He had far greater plans in place for them as a nation. Through the tribe of Judah was come the Lion of Judah. Zerubbabel was another in the long line of unlikely and undeserving individuals whom God used to accomplish His grand redemptive plan of salvation. And one day, God will fulfill His promise “to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders” (Haggai 2:22 ESV).
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.