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 fall, every one by the sword of a comrade. 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.
Thus far Haggai’s oracles have been addressed to the whole community but these final two are directed solely to Zerubbabel. They focus on the future, not the present; an unspecified time of God’s choosing, a time we cannot predict.
The language of God ‘shaking’ and ‘overthrowing’ the powers on earth resonates with many other biblical passages; and reference to ‘chariots and riders’ recalls both the Exodus tradition at the crossing of the sea and other instances of conflicts between Israel and her enemies. Haggai looks forward (as we still do) to the time when God overrules the warring forces on earth and exercises sovereignty over all creation.
The concluding oracle reverses one in Jeremiah 22:24-30, which announced a complete end to the Judaean monarchy. Haggai proclaims restoration of that monarchy in the figure of Zerubbabel, a direct descendant of David; expressing hope that Israel would again become an independent nation with its own king. This prophecy wasn’t fulfilled. What happened to Zerubbabel is unknown but he had disappeared from the public scene within two years.
Was he removed from his role as Governor by the Persians who saw him as a threat? Did Zerubbabel turn away from the prophetic challenge and retire into obscurity? Did the people reject Haggai’s words as false, of human origin, not from God?
As Christians we recognize Jesus as the fulfilment of Haggai’s prophecy. When Jesus came on earth neither God’s people nor the world were ready to embrace the radical new kingdom that God was inaugurating through him. However, even death was unable to thwart God’s will and the ascended Christ now reigns as King.
The world still tries to retain sovereign power and reject the values of God’s kingdom. What about us? Have we the courage to proclaim Christ’s kingship through our lives and face whatever consequences we provoke?
Thy kingdom come, O God; thy rule, O Christ, begin; When shall all hatred cease, as in the realms above? When comes the promised time, the end of strife and war, when lust, oppression, crime shall spoil the earth no more? Amen
(Lewis Hensley 1824-1905 – Rejoice & Sing 638)
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister living in Cambridgeshire; she is a member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.