A Signet Ring | Haggai 2:20-23

The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, “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 go down, every one by the sword of his brother. 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

As we have seen, the primary message of the book of Haggai was calling the people of Judah to resume their work on the temple after neglecting it for roughly fifteen years. But even though the people responded in obedience at the end of chapter one, God continued to speak to their discouragement through three oracles in chapter two. The first oracle addressed their fears of insignificance and promised that the latter glory of the temple would be greater than the former. The second addressed the continued drought upon their land and promised blessing from that day forward. We come now to the third oracle of chapter two and the final passage of the book. Here the LORD speaks to Zerubbabel, the descendant of David, and reaffirms that covenant He made with David still stands.

OVERTHROWN THRONES // VERSES 20-22

Haggai’s final oracle begins again with a date but notice that the date is the same as our previous text, December 18. Thus, the LORD is speaking through Haggai a second time on the same day. This signals an important connection between the two passages. Indeed, the two oracles were given to the leaders of the people of Judah. The priests who were given the oracle of verses 10-19 were the religious authorities of God’s people, while Zerubbabel as both governor of Judah and the heir to the throne of David was the immediate political authority over them. Furthermore, the messages reflect the roles of office. To the priests, God emphasized the defilement of the people yet concluded with the promise of His blessing. As we will see, to Zerubbabel, God speaks about the overthrowing of the nations and to Zerubbabel’s own lack of the crown. In the first, their spiritual condition was addressed, and now attention is turned to their physical and political condition.

God’s declaration within verses 21-22 are quite reminiscent of verses 6-7 of chapter two, and it certainly seems that a continuation is meant to be understood. However, the shaking described within these verses has a slightly different goal than the first. In verses 6-7, the LORD specifically promised to shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in. The plundering of the nations’ treasures was for the purpose of filling God’s house with glory. Here in verses 21-22, the shaking is for the purpose of overthrowing the kingdoms and destroying their strength. Thus, just as verses 6-7 promised that on the Day of the LORD the wealth and glory of the nations would be cast before the Holy One’s feet so to will strength and authority of the nations be broken with a rod of iron and made to swear fealty to Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

With this overall message in mind, let us consider a couple particular points of interest within these verses. First, note that in verse 22 God promises to overthrow the throne of the kingdoms. Here kingdoms is plural while throne is singular. The most immediate way to understand this choice of wording is as meaning every throne of all the kingdoms. Yet this could also be a subtle reminder of Darius’ very finite time of reigning over nearly all of the known world. His throne was certainly over many kingdoms, but he faced death the same as the poorest of beggars.

Furthermore, as the rest of the Scriptures show, there is a single throne ruling over the kingdoms of the earth that reject the LORD as their God. During Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, Luke records the following:

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” [1]

Luke 4:5-7

Satan is, of course, “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), and many of his most effective lies are partially (sometimes even mostly) true. Such is the case here. Jesus does, in fact, call Satan the ruler of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), and John notes that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Even Paul speaks of Satan and his demons as being rulers, authorities, dominions, and cosmic powers (Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:16, 2:15). Thus, the nations of the world that do not submit themselves to the authority of Christ are in reality under Satan’s “domain of darkness” (Colossians 1:13). Everyone alive, therefore, is a citizen of either the kingdom of Christ or the kingdom of Satan.

Many, of course, will object to such statement, claiming that they bow to neither, that they may not even believe that Satan exists. Yet one of Satan’s great strategies is to let us pretend to be king or, perhaps even more accurate in many cases, to be god. After all, a slogan of modern Satanism is do what thou wilt. Now where have we seen that before? Ah yes, you do you, live your own truth, and all the other taglines of day are essentially telling us the same lie: do whatever you want, be your own king over your own kingdom, you are god. Such self-focus is just as satanic as worshiping of pantheon of false gods which are really demons (1 Corinthians 10:20).

Now the deception of Satan’s temptation was the implication that his authority is absolute, yet in the book of Job, Satan required the permission of the LORD to do anything to Job. For now, Satan’s throne is powerful but limited. One day, his throne will be overthrown, and he will be cast in the lake of fire to “be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

Second, also note in verse 22, how God promises to Zerubbabel that His victory over the kingdoms will be won: 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. The strength of a kingdom is its military, its armaments. In fact, through Moses, God warned the future kings of Israel against acquiring many horses since they would begin to place their confidence in military might rather than in the LORD (Deuteronomy 17:16). The overthrowing of chariots and horses, therefore, was the destruction of a nation’s might.

But the LORD is also alluding here to two of Israel’s previous victories by the hand of God. The throwing down of the chariots and horses calls to mind the drowning of Pharaoh’s chariots and horseman by the Red Sea during the Exodus (Exodus 14:28). And the destruction of soldiers every one by the sword of his brother is reminiscent of Gideon’s victory over the Midianites, when “the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army” (Judge 7:22). Thus, the LORD is reminding Zerubbabel that just as He unilaterally defeated before, so will He do again.

This, of course, makes seeking God’s kingdom first eternally practical. If every other kingdom will fall before the LORD’s might, let us give ourselves fully to His kingdom now.

A SIGNET RING // VERSE 23

So far God’s message to Zerubbabel has been very big picture, but here in the final verse of Haggai, the LORD gives a specific promise to the governor of Judah. 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.

The first three words on that day tie this promise explicitly onto the previous verses’ shaking and overthrowing of the kingdoms.[2] Since we’ve identified the previous verses with describing the Day of the LORD, for which we are still waiting, the following promise to Zerubbabel may seem a bit fishy. But it is worth noting that a partial fulfillment of God’s promise to shake the nations did occur in Zerubbabel’s day. Ezra 5-6 record some of the opposition that the people of Judah met even as they restarted their work on the temple following the oracles of Haggai and Zechariah. In Ezra 5:6-17, the governors of a neighboring province wrote a letter to Darius asking whether the people of Judah truly had the authority to rebuild the temple, but Darius sent a letter to those officials in response, not only ordering the temple to be built but adding the following decree:

Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. And whatever is needed—bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons.

Ezra 6:8-10

Thus, the wealth of the surrounding nations was brought into the rebuilt temple as promised (2:6-7) and their opposition was overthrown. But as I said this was only a partial fulfillment, the ultimate fulfillment is still yet to come. In a similar way, God’s specific promise to Zerubbabel was certainly also fulfilled partially at that time, but the full fulfillment is still in waiting.

But what is God’s promise to Zerubbabel? The LORD declared that He would take Zerubbabel and make him like signet ring. The first time that a signet ring appears in the Bible is during Genesis’ narrative of the life of Joseph. After being sold by his brothers into slavery and spending years within an Egyptian prison, God provided Joseph with an interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream and a plan to rescue Egypt from a severe and impending famine. Thus, Pharaoh granted Joseph authority second only to himself, and as a symbol of this authority, “Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand” (Genesis 41:42). Everyone who saw Pharaoh’s signet ring upon Joseph’s hand would understand that Joseph bore the authority of Pharaoh himself. Judah, Joseph’s brother, even remarked that looking upon Joseph was like looking upon Pharaoh himself. Likewise, in the book of Esther, first Haman and then Mordecai are given the King Ahasuerus’ signet ring, and both use it to seal official decrees in the name of the king. Therefore, a person who bore the signet ring of the king also bore the authority of the king. They had become the king’s representative.

In verses 21-22 and from God’s repeated use of the title LORD of hosts, the LORD has established Himself as king. But He is not any king. He is the King of heaven’s battalions, the legions of angels that answer to His command. He is the eternal King, who was and is and is to come, the One with no beginning and no end. He is the almighty King before whom all thrones and kingdoms will bend their knees in submission. And now, the High King of heaven promised to make Zerubbabel like His signet ring.

But why did the LORD promise to give Zerubbabel such an exalted position? We are given two clues. First, the LORD calls Zerubbabel His servant. To be a servant of the Creator-King is a high honor, and many heroes in the faith bore the title, such as Job (Job 1:8), Abraham (Genesis 26:24), Moses (Numbers 12:7-8), Caleb (Numbers 14:24), David (1 Kings 11:13), and Isaiah (Isaiah 20:3). Furthermore, the Apostles begin many of their epistles by calling themselves servants (or even slaves) of Christ. Thus, this designation of Zerubbabel as God’s servant is powerful declaration; after all, a slave with the king’s signet ring has greater authority than any others in the kingdom.

Second, the LORD declares for I have chosen you. Zerubbabel certainly proved himself to be a trustworthy servant of the LORD by leading the people in repentant obedience after receiving Haggai’s rebuke, yet even Zerubbabel’s obedience resulted from the LORD stirring his spirit and the spirit of all the people. God has freely chosen to use Zerubbabel as His servant like a signet ring.

From here, we should also be careful not a read what the LORD did not say. Since Zerubbabel was David’s descendant and the heir to the throne of Judah, some read this as a promise to restore Zerubbabel’s kingship, but that is not the case. Zerubbabel was never crowned king of Judah because, as we have noted before, Judah was no longer a kingdom. Judah was merely a province of the Persian Empire, and in a fairly gracious act from the Persian king, Zerubbabel was permitted to be the governor of his people. But Darius was their king, not Zerubbabel.

This must have been a tremendous discouragement to Zerubbabel. Like Zerubbabel himself, his father Shealtiel was never crowned king, and even his grandfather Jehoiachin was only king for three months before he was taken as a captive to Babylon. What, therefore, happened the covenant that God made to David? Didn’t God promise these words to David: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16)?

No, the LORD had not forsaken His promise to David. In fact, this promise to Zerubbabel is essentially a restatement of God’s commitment to that covenant. How so, we might ask? There is one other reference to a signet ring that we need to consider. Although only a king for three months, Jehoiachin, Zerubbabel’s grandfather, was a wicked king; thus, the LORD spoke these words to him through the prophet Jeremiah (note that Jehoiachin is here called Coniah and is elsewhere named Jeconiah):

As I live, declares the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, yet I would tear you off and give you into the hand of those who seek your life, into the hand of those of whom you are afraid, even into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand 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 to the land to which they will long to return, there they shall not return.

           Is this man Coniah a despised, broken pot,
                        a vessel no one cares for?
            Why are he and his children hurled and cast
                        into a land that they do not know?
            O land, land, land,
                        hear the word of the LORD!
            Thus says the LORD:
            “Write this man down 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.”

Jeremiah 22:24-30

Notice the language that God used against Coniah. Even if he had been the LORD’s signet ring, God would still throw Him to Babylonians to die in exile, which is the opposite of Zerubbabel’s message. The most troubling portion of this oracle of judgment is verse 30, where the LORD declares that no offspring of Coniah would sit on David’s throne or rule in Judah. The LORD appeared to cut off this branch of David’s lineage off from the Davidic Covenant.

Even so, God did not forsake His covenant to David. In the following chapter, Jeremiah makes this promise to the people:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’

Jeremiah 23:5-6

Interestingly, the man chosen to replace Coniah as king whenever he was deported to Babylon was his uncle, Mattaniah, who upon becoming king, changed his name to Zedekiah, which means ‘the LORD is our righteousness.’ Thus, it would seem that Zedekiah was the new chosen branch of David’s family tree to receive the promise of his offspring sitting upon David’s throne. However, after reigning eleven years in Jerusalem and rebelling against Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jersusalem, and when Zedekiah and his sons tried to escape, they were captured. Nebuchadnezzar then had Zedekiah’s sons slaughter in front of him before gouging out his eyes and taking back to Babylon as a prisoner. Interestingly, Coniah also faced a reversal of circumstances. Although he did indeed die in exile, after thirty-seven years in a Babylonian prison, he was freed by the king and ate daily at the king’s table.

The LORD’s oracle to Zerubbabel as Coniah’s grandson is the official reversal of God’s former curse upon Coniah’s lineage. But some might argue, would the undoing of God’s curse upon Coniah mean that the LORD acted against His own Word?

To borrow Paul’s language, by no means! We should be infinitely thankful that God is in the business of reversing His curses. In fact, God’s covenant with David was one piece of the LORD’s grand plan to reverse the great curse of sin that has been upon us since the Fall.

Beginning with the rebellion of our ancestors Adam and Eve, each proceeding generation has followed their example, choosing to reject God rather than worshiping, obeying, and enjoying Him. Yet in the midst of cursing Adam and Eve for their treason against the infinite King, God promised that the offspring of woman would one day defeat sin for good. This offspring was further promised to descend from Abraham, and through this offspring of Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed. The LORD’s covenant with David is another link in this chain. God promised to establish the throne of the kingdom of David’s offspring forever.

All of these promises find their fulfillment in the opening verses of Matthew’s Gospel: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). Jesus is the offspring of woman who on the cross defeated the curse of sin once for all by taking our penalty and granting us His righteousness. Jesus is the offspring of Abraham who alone is the hope and blessing of all nations. Jesus is the offspring of David who by His death conquered sin and death and reigns now forevermore as the King of all kings.

And in verses 12-13 of Matthew 1, we see that both Zerubbabel and Jeconiah are part of Jesus’ ancestry. The reversal of God’s curse against Jeconiah through his grandson Zerubbabel is only a piece of the reversing of the curse of sin. God’s promise to make Zerubbabel like a signet ring is only foretaste of Zerubbabel’s offspring Jesus who is the exact imprint of God’s nature (Hebrews 11:1). Although Zerubbabel never sat upon the throne of Judah, from his lineage came the one is “the ruler of the kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5), the one who will overthrow the throne of kingdoms and break the nations “with a  rod of iron” (Psalm 2:9). Let us humbly and joyfully serve Christ, the King eternal!

FINISHED & DEDICATED // EZRA 6:13-16

Ezra records the events following Haggai as follows:

Then, according to the word sent by Darius the king, Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their associates did with all diligence what Darius the king had ordered. And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia; and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.

And 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 6:12-16

Four years after Haggai’s original rebuke and seventy years after the temple’s destruction, the new temple was finished and dedicated, which was celebrated by the people with joy. As they continued steadfastly in their obedience to the LORD, prioritizing the rebuilding of His house, the LORD prospered His people just as He promised.

Likewise, we have been called by the LORD not to build a temple but to proclaim the gospel of His kingdom. We are commanded to go as Christ’s servants until disciples have been made of all nations, until the good news of the King’s arrival and the hope of His return have reached the ears of all people. Such a project is far too great for us alone, but He is with us, even until the end of the age.

God’s work will be accomplished. His house will be built. His kingdom will come in all its glory. In the meantime, we are called simply to obedient and expectant. Obedient to seek His kingdom above all else, and expectant that what we now know by faith shall soon become sight as we behold the glory of our God in the face of Jesus Christ our King, crying out for all eternity: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12)!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Why is it significant that this oracle (verses 20-23) was delivered on the same day as the previous one (verses 10-19)?
  2. What promise does the LORD make in verses 21-22? Have these words already been fulfilled?
  3. What promise did the LORD make to Zerubbabel in verse 23? Why is it so significant?
  4. Consider our study through Haggai as a whole. In what ways have you responded to the overall message of seeking first God’s kingdom, of prioritizing God’s house rather than busying yourself with your own home?

[1] A comment from the ESV Study Bible on Matthew’s version fittingly notes that “The devil offers a shortcut to Jesus’ future reign in God’s kingdom—a shortcut that side-steps Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross and comes at the cost of exchanging the love of the Father for the worship of Satan.”

[2] It is also another connection to the previous oracle, which repeated three times from this day, but here the focus is turned to on that day.

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