Haggai – Restoring the Glory Series
“Asserting God’s Sovereignty” – Haggai 2.20-23
For the last few weeks we have been looking at Haggai’s prophecies found in the book of Haggai. Haggai’s prophecies are part of the Post-Exilic prophetic books (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). It important for you to know that these prophecies were the last messages from God before the coming of Christ. The Prophet Haggai comes onto the scene with no prior prophecies, gives his brief messages from the Lord Almighty and then, less than four months later, disappears from the pages of history.
The book of Haggai consists of four precisely dated prophecies but to understand those prophecies it helps to know the historical context. So, once again I will begin by giving a brief summary of Old Testament history. God’s Word tells us that the Lord chose the nation of Israel out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His instrument to fulfill His plan of redemption through Christ. The Lord did not choose Israel because were greater in number than other nations, because they were one of smallest of all nations. The Lord chose the nation of Israel because He had set His covenant love upon them and He promised to be faithful to them throughout the generations. (Dt.7.6-9)
But Israel was persistently disobedient towards God and the Lord disciplined them by sending the Babylonians under the leadership of king Nebuchadnezzer to invade Jerusalem, destroying the city, burning the Temple to the ground, and taking the people into captivity in Babylon for seventy years. After living as exiles for seventy years the Persians overthrew the Babylonians and a new world leader came into power, Cyrus king of Persia. Cyrus was sympathetic to the Jews and sent a proclamation throughout the world declaring that the Jews were to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. (Ezra 1.1-4) So with the king’s edict, about fifty thousand exiles enthusiastically returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. (2 Kings 25.9; 2 Chron.36.19; Ezra 2)
Upon their return they found the city of Jerusalem decimated and the Temple destroyed lying in rubble. They immediately repaired the altar so that sacrifices would resume and then got busy digging the foundation for the new Temple. But soon their enthusiasm shifted away from rebuilding the Temple to building for themselves elaborate homes. (Hag.1.1-4) And as a result the construction of the Temple stopped for sixteen years.
After sixteen years of complacency the Prophet Haggai comes on to the scene and on August 29th, 520 BC issued his first prophecy calling the people to reject spiritual apathy and return to rebuilding the Temple. (Hag.1.1a) The people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and began clearing the worksite. (Hag.1.12-15)
But after three and a half weeks (Hag.1.15; 2.1) the people became discouraged and disillusioned by the overwhelming amount of work they had to do and the lack of resources. So on the last day of the great feast, October 17, 520 BC, the Prophet Haggai issues his second prophesy encouraging the people to stay on task and to have confidence that their work was not in vain. (Hag.2.1-9; I Cor.15.58)
It took two months for the people to finish clearing the Temple site from all the rubble and debris that had been lying in ruins for eighty-six years. Now it was time to actually start the construction phrase of the rebuilding project. The people were preparing to start building the walls of the Temple by setting stones upon the foundation. The Spirit of the Lord was stirring the Prophet’s heart as he watched and listened to the people. So, on December 18, 520 BC the Prophet issues his third prophecy calling the people to honor God from the heart instead of seeking to earn God’s favor by following religious rituals. The people repented and on the same day December 18, 520 BC Haggai issues his forth and final prophecy.
Hear now the Word of God. Haggai chapter two verses twenty through twenty-three.
20 Then the word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, saying, 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel governor of Judah, saying, ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 And I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders will go down, every one by the sword of another.’ 23 ‘On that day,’ declares the Lord of armies, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you,’” declares the Lord of armies. (Hag.2.20-23)
This forth prophecy is unique because it is issued exclusively to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah.” (Hag.2.21a) Haggai’s other prophecies had been addressed to the governor, Zerubbabel, the high priest, Joshua, with all the remnant of the people. (Hag.1.12, 2.2) But this forth prophecy is exclusively to Zerubbabel. Why? Well, we will get to that it a moment.
Surrounding Gentile Nations
To understand Haggai’s forth prophecy you must know that since the first group of exiles returned to Jerusalem the people had faced fierce opposition from the surrounding Gentile nations. Even though the returning exiles enjoyed a peaceful relationship with the Persian Empire, the countries surrounding them had caused great opposition. Their enemies were relentless in the efforts to discourage the people from rebuilding the temple. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zechariah document the difficulties the people faced from their neighbors throughout this period. Calvin wrote, “The Jews were surrounded on all sides by inveterate enemies, they had as many enemies as they had neighbors; and they were hated even by the whole world.”
Remember that the number of returning exiles was small, only fifty thousand. The city walls were lying in rubble leaving the people without any defense. They had little resources to rebuild the Temple let alone resources to make weapons. No wonder the people trembled as they considered what was likely to erupt around them. So the word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah: I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. (2.20-21)
Shake the Heavens and the Earth
Once again the Lord promises shake of the kingdoms of this world in order to fulfill His purposes saying, “I am going to shake the heavens and the earth.” We considered this shaking of the nations in Haggai’s second prophecy when the Lord promised to “shake all the nations so that the treasures of all the nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory.” (2.6-8) Notice that the shaking of the nations in Haggai’s second prophecy focused on the Lord using the wealth of all the nations to fill His house with glory. Without them even knowing it the Lord literally used the wealth of the nations to pave the road for the proclamation of the Gospel into all nations. The Lord shook what could be shaken, the kingdoms of this world, to establish what cannot be shaken, the Kingdom of God in Christ. (Heb.12.27-28)
But the shaking of the nations described in Haggai’s forth prophecy involves more than the Lord using the wealth of the nations to bring the Gospel. Here the Lord asserts His sovereign rule over the nations to guide and direct them for His own purposes. And I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders will go down, every one by the sword of another. (2.22) The Lord is declaring that He, and He alone, orchestrates the rise and fall of kingdoms, empires, and nations. Why, to usher in the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ where He will reign forever and ever. (Rev.11.15) As the Prophet Isaiah tells us, The Lord brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than He blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. (Is.40.23-24)
As Zerubbabel resides as the leader of the people he is anxious and worried about the future and possible attacks from surrounding nations. The Lord comes to Zerubbabel and reassures him that He is in control of the nations and His purposes will stand. The Lord declares that even though Zerubbabel might consider the people powerless in the face of the enemy He is all-powerful. Even though they might consider themselves as weak He is almighty. Even though they do not have walls to defend themselves He will be their defense. Even though they don’t have any weapons He has weapons that are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses and no weapon form against them will prosper. (2Cor.10.4; Is.54.17)
Maybe you are sitting here today and you are worried and anxious about the future and attacks of the enemy upon your life, your family, and your loved ones. Well, the Lord is here to say He will fight for you! It was easy for the returning exiles to feel insignificant in the world, as if they were just pawns or spectators. But God wanted them to know that though they were small in the eyes of the superpowers of the world, they were servants of the Almighty and therefore they are on the winning side. And He wants you to know the same thing for your life.
If you look at the five centuries that followed Haggai’s forth prophecy you will see that the Persian Empire gave way to the Greek Empire. The Greek Empire gave way to the Roman Empire. But while all of this shaking was going on Judah enjoyed stability. As one empire overthrew another, as one military power was destroyed by next, as the reins of world dominance changed from one throne to another, God preserved His people. As the world was experiencing the shaking of the empires, the Lord maintained the stability of Judah in order to set the stage for the coming of Christ. The people would be safe during all of these convulsions because they were chosen by God to be His instrument to bring forth the Messiah.
I must stop for a minute and relate what the Lord was telling Zerubbabel to our day. The Lord rules and governs the nations today in order to orchestrate His purposes in Christ. History is not spinning out of control with God desperately trying to grab it by the reins. The Sovereign God controls all the events of history for His purpose. As He declares through the Prophet Isaiah, “The Lord Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will happen.’” (Is.14.24) “Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.” (Is.46.8-11)
Brothers and sisters, it doesn’t matter who the President is, or who the Prime Minister of England is, or who the king of Saudi Arabia is. The purposes of God will stand and the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed.” (Dan.2.44-45) The kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever. (Rev.11.15) Brothers and sisters, as the nations are in uproar and the kings of the earth take their stand our God sits in the heavens and laughs because He has installed His King, our Lord Jesus Christ on His Holy mountain and He will rule forever and ever, Amen! (Ps.2.1-6) The Lord Jesus told us, “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.” (Mt.24.6-7) You see the Lord is still shaking the nations to accomplish His purposes and we should not be alarmed when we see these things occurring on the world stage. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. But the Lord says, “I am with you; do not fear.” This is the word of the Lord for His people. As Calvin wrote, “If the Lord is the strength of our lives, our security surpasses that of the most powerful nations with all their weapons.”
The Lord concludes Haggai’s forth prophecy by saying, “On that day,” declares the Lord of armies, “I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant,” declares the Lord, “and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you,” declares the Lord of armies. There are several encouraging elements in this last part of Haggai’s prophecy that I want you to see.
On that day
When the Lord says, “on that day,” He is not referring to a particular day but rather the period of time between Haggai’s last prophecy and the coming of Christ. The Lord is referring to the time of shaking the nation to accomplish His purpose to bring forth the Christ. Notice the Lord identifies Himself as the Lord of armies or the Lord of host. The Lord is declaring that He is the One who will defend His people during this time so that the Christ would come. And brothers and sisters, the Lord will defend His people today as we wait for the second coming of Christ!
“I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant,”
“On that day,” . . . “I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant.” The Lord does not identify Zerubbabel as the appointed governor and ruler of the land but rather as “My Servant.” There can be no higher title given than to be the Lord’s servant. Moses was called by God, “my servant” (Num.12.7). David and Daniel were both called “the servant of the living God.” (Ez.34.23; Dan.6.20) And the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that they should regard Apollos, Peter, and himself “as servants of Christ.” (ICor.4.1) Brothers and sisters, no matter how the Lord uses you, no matter what gifts the Lord has given you, no matter what level of church leadership you might achieve, we all, each and everyone of us, need to regard ourselves as fellow servants of the Lord.
“and I will make you like a signet ring,
“And I will make you like a signet ring. Ancient kings used signet rings to designate authority, authenticity, or ownership. The signet ring bore an insignia unique to the king and the king would press the signet ring into a drop of hot wax to put his official seal on documents. The seal of a signet ring was a guarantee that the document was genuine and that king’s authority and power was fully behind the terms of the document. How could Zerubbabel be like the Lord’s signet ring? We must remember that King Cyrus of Persia appointed Zerubbabel as governor of Judah and gave him the specific assignment to make sure the temple project was completed. (Ezra 4.3) But what is interesting is that Zerubbabel came from a royal bloodline himself, being a direct descendant of King David. Since Zerubbabel is a direct descendant of King David, as well as the one responsible to rebuild the temple, God is declaring that He will keep the covenant He made with David when He promised David that one of his descendants would establish the throne of God’s Kingdom that would reign forever. (2Sam.7.12-13)
Zerubbabel was part of the Davidic lineage that led to Jesus, the One God raised up to establish His kingdom that would have no end. Zerubbabel is the Lord’s servant providing a link in the lineage that would bring forth the Christ, the One greater than the Temple. (Mt.12.6) When you look at the genealogy of Christ given in the books of Matthew and Luke you will see Zerubbabel’s name listed. (Mt.1.12-13; Lk.3.27) You just can’t make this stuff up!
God is reminding everyone that Zebubbabel is part of the Davidic line that will produce the Messiah who will establish the Kingdom of God. The Lord is using Zerubbabel like a signet ring setting His seal into the wax of world history to reassure Judah that through Zerubbabel they are to look forward to the coming of the Son of David, the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Zerubbabel is the Lord’s servant by providing the supervision for the rebuilding of the Temple but he also part of the lineage that would usher in the One who is greater than the temple, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Mt.12.6) Zerubbabel is like the Lord’s signet ring pressing the Lord’s insignia on the pages of world history showing the world that the Lord will fulfill His redemptive purposes through Christ no matter what!
“for I have chosen you,”
“On that day,” . . . “I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant,” . . . “and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you.” From man’s perspective Cyrus the king of Persia had chosen Zerubbabel to be the ruler of the land and but in reality the Lord had chosen him. It is interesting that Zerubbabel’s name means “Born in Babylon.” Maybe his parents gave him that name because they feared that the promises of God would never be fulfilled because they were living in exile and their baby boy was born in exile. Perhaps his parents were discouraged and thought that they even though their son was in the lineage that would lead to the Christ they would never see the promises of God fulfilled because they baby was born in Babylon. As Zerubbabel’s parents sat in captivity giving their son the name Zerubbabel, they had no way of knowing that God would shake the nations and cause Persia to overthrow Babylon. They had no way of knowing that a Persian king would chose their son as the leader of the returning exiles and give him the oversight to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. They had no way of knowing that the one who was born in Babylon, the one born in captivity, would be an important link to bring the One who would set people free. (Lk.4.18; Gal.5.1) Zerubbabel’s parents had no way of knowing but God knew. Brothers and sisters, there are so many things we don’t know but God knows. As God’s people we need to assert God sovereignty and trust God to fulfill His promise. For as many as the promises of God are, in Christ they are yes; therefore through Christ also is our Amen to the glory of God through us. (2Cor.1.20)
On December 18, 520 BC Zerubbabel might have stood at the Temple site ashamed of his heritage knowing that his wicked grandfather, Jehoichin, was the last ruler over Judah before Nebuchadnezzer destroyed Jerusalem, conquered the land, and carried off the people to captivity. Zerubbabel might have felt like a failure knowing that under his leadership he allowed the returning exiles to sink into spiritual apathy and the rebuilding of the Temple to be postponed for sixteen years. But the Lord wasn’t going to allow Zerubbabel to remain in the mindset of failure or shame so the Lord said to him, “I have chosen you.” Brothers and sisters, the Lord is not going to allow you to remain in a mindset of a failure or shame either. He says to you, “I have chosen you!” You are My child. You are My people. Therefore I will protect you. I will draw your to Myself. I will keep His promises throughout the ages no matter what!
As I conclude I want to point out that the Lord states “I will” four times in this short prophecy. “I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms – I will overthrow the chariots and their riders – I will take you, Zerubbabel – I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you.” Here the Lord is telling us that He will protect His people no matter what. The Lord will bring us to Himself no matter what. The Lord will keep His promises throughout the ages no matter what. Brothers and sisters, no matter what chaos surrounds us the Lord will protect us! No matter how distant or insignificant we might feel the Lord will bring us unto Himself and cover us with His grace. No matter how far off the Lord’s promises may seem He will fulfill His promises for our good and for His glory.
Brothers and sisters, like Zerubbabel you did not choose the Lord but He chose you, and He has appointed that you would go to bear fruit and that your fruit would remain. So let’s have confidence knowing that whatever we ask of the Father in Jesus’ name He may give to us. Let us assert God’s sovereignty no matter what!