A correction notice in a local Oregon newspaper read, “The title of a First Christian Church program in last week’s paper was written as ‘Our God Resigns.’ The actual title is ‘Our God Reigns’” (Reader’s Digest, [9/93], p. 53). What a difference one letter makes!
But maybe that typo is more true in our experience than we care to admit! Many Christians live as if their God resigned, not as if He truly reigns as the Sovereign of the universe. As I mentioned recently, 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression and over 80 percent of pastors and their wives feel discouraged in their work. If we aren’t careful, we can easily develop that perspective, because as you look around, it seems as if the enemy is winning. In spite of all of the Christian influence and Christian resources available in this country, evil has escalated to unimaginable proportions in the past 35 years.
Most Americans used to agree with Christian moral standards, even if they didn’t keep them. But now even many professing Christians do not live by those standards, let alone those in the world. People flaunt their sin as if it’s a badge of honor. Several Christian denominations tolerate homosexual sin not only among their members, but even among the clergy! Very few churches take a stand for absolute truth, whether in morals or in doctrine. The gospel has been changed from how a person can be saved from God’s judgment to how we can use God for personal fulfillment!
When you consider the cause of world missions, it also can be discouraging. The worldwide threat of militant Islam is daunting. Often new converts in Islamic countries are killed, which is no small problem in founding new churches! There are still thousands of people groups with no gospel witness. Quite often, even in this country, let alone in developing nations, professing Christians mingle cultural folk religion with their Christian faith. If we focus too much on these problems, it’s easy to wonder if our God resigned!
Zerubbabel found himself in that sort of discouraging situation. He was the grandson of Jehoichin, the last ruler of Judah before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and conquered the land. Most of the population had been carried off to Babylon, and even now, only a small remnant of about 50,000 had returned under Cyrus’ permission. They were still under Persian rule and surrounded by hostile neighbors who opposed the Jewish resettlement. The Jews who returned seemed more concerned with their own comfort and prosperity than with the things of God. Although there was a good response to Haggai’s call to rebuild the temple, many of the Jews were religious outwardly, but their hearts were not right before God (2:14). The walls of Jerusalem were still torn down, leaving the city vulnerable. Somehow, Zerubbabel was supposed to govern in this bleak situation.
That was the picture on December 18, 520 B.C., the day that Haggai had a message from God for the people (last week, 2:10-19). He called them not only to continue the work on the temple, but to do it from hearts that were holy before God. He promised to bless them from that day on.
On that same day, God gave Haggai a message directly to Zerubbabel. As I said before, the first and third messages in Haggai are parallel, and the second and fourth are parallel. The first and third were messages of rebuke or exhortation. The second and fourth are messages of encouragement. To Zerubbabel and to all of God’s servants who may be discouraged, God has this word:
Because the Sovereign Lord will prevail in His eternal plan, His servants should be encouraged to trust Him and to do His will.
This is the explicit message of the text. The application (being encouraged to trust God and do His will) is by way of implication. Five truths drive home this overall message, that the Sovereign Lord (“Lord of hosts”) will prevail.
Note the repetition of the first personal pronoun, “I”:
*“I am going to shake the heavens and the earth…”
*“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…”
*“‘I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord of hosts.”
You get the impression that God has an idea about what He is going to do! History isn’t just careening out of control with God desperately trying to grab the reins! The Sovereign God controls all of the events of history for His purpose. As He declares through Isaiah:
The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand” (14:24).
Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure”; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it (46:8-11).
As you know, there are many Christians today who effectively deny God’s sovereignty over man’s will. One popular Bible teacher even has a message he calls, “The Sovereignty of Man,” which I consider to be a blasphemous title! Scripture affirms that people make choices for which they are responsible, but it also affirms that over and above the choices that we make is the sovereign purpose of God. His ultimate purpose is that He will be glorified: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). We have the choice of either cooperating with that purpose, in which case we will be blessed; or of fighting against it, in which case we will not in any way thwart it, and He will be glorified in our judgment.
Our text does not contain any conditions. God does not say, “I hope to be able to shake the heavens and the earth, but it depends on how men respond with their free will! I would like to take you, Zerubbabel, if you’re willing, and make you My signet ring. I sure hope that you say yes!” God is quite absolute in declaring what He will do in the future to accomplish His plan.
Zerubbabel easily could have said, “But, Lord, we Jews who have returned to the land are few in number. We have no king, no army, no weapons to use in our defense. We’re surrounded by hostile and powerful nations and we’re subject to the most powerful kingdom on the face of the earth. How can we prevail?”
But clearly, God’s ability to accomplish His sovereign purpose does not depend on the puny resources of His people, but on His power and might. The Bible is loaded with stories of how God delights to overthrow powerful kingdoms that dare to exalt themselves over His weak, vulnerable, chosen people.
He is the God who brought the plagues on the mighty Egyptians and drowned their king and his army in the Red Sea. He delivered Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, into the hands of this ragtag bunch of refugees in the wilderness. He toppled the walls of Jericho. He used Joshua and Caleb, who trusted Him, to conquer the fearsome giants in the land. He delivered the horde of Midian into the hands of Gideon with a mere 300 men. He felled Goliath and put the Philistines to flight at the hands of a teenaged shepherd named David. He delivered Hezekiah and Jerusalem from the siege of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, by sending His angel to kill 185,000 soldiers in one night.
He repeatedly declares in His Word, as Jeremiah put it, “Ah Lord God! Behold You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You!” (Jer. 32:17; see Jer. 32:27; Gen. 18:14; Zech. 8:6; Matt. 19:26; Luke 1:37). Now, what is your problem?
God plainly states the reason that He will make Zerubbabel like His signet ring: “‘for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord of hosts” (2:23). Again, note that God does not say, “I will make you like My signet ring because I can foresee that you will choose Me.” There are many Christians who would force that meaning onto this text, but I am content to let the text read as it stands. God accomplishes His sovereign plan through His choices. As John Calvin observes, “For God does not here ascribe excellencies or merits to Zerubbabel …; but he attributes this to his [God’s] own election” (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], 15:387). Calvin goes on to say that if we ask why God had so much exalted Zerubbabel, “it can be found in nothing else but in the goodness of God alone.” In other words, God’s election is not conditional on anything that He sees or foresees in fallen man, but only on His grace and good pleasure.
I agree that Zerubbabel willingly cooperated with God’s plan; but the reason he cooperated with God’s plan was that God chose him to do so. God’s sovereign, eternal choice lies behind the temporal choices of men. But at the same time, men are responsible for the choices that they make.
It is the same in the matter of salvation. People must choose to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Indeed, God commands them to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). But when people make that choice, it does not stem from anything in them. It does not happen because they considered all the alternatives, and with their innate brilliance, they saw that it made the most sense to trust in Christ.
The natural mind is blinded by Satan and by sin, so that it cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). The natural mind cannot understand or accept the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). So when anyone chooses to trust Christ, it is only because God has sovereignly chosen them and because Jesus willed to reveal the Father to them (Luke 10:22). Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).
In our text, the Lord says that He has chosen Zerubbabel to be like a signet ring. The signet ring was the instrument that the king used to seal all official documents. It was a symbol of honor and authority. When the wicked Queen Jezebel confiscated Naboth’s vineyard for her weak-willed husband, King Ahab, she wrote letters in his name and sealed them with his seal (1 Kings 21:8). That seal told the recipients of the letters that the king stood behind the message and it had better be obeyed (see also, Dan. 6:17; Esther 8:8). Since it carried such authority, the king’s signet ring was a precious object of great care, which he usually wore on his person so that no one could steal it (Jer. 22:24).
God had said concerning Zerubbabel’s wicked grandfather, Jehoiachin (Coniah), “even though … [he] were a signet ring on My right hand, yet I would pull you off; and I will give you over into the hand of those who are seeking your life” (Jer. 22:24, 25). But now God graciously is reversing that judgment and restoring the Davidic line through Zerubbabel. Although Zerubbabel himself did not reign on the Jewish throne, he is included in both of the genealogies of Jesus Christ, the son of David (Matt. 1:12; Luke 3:27). So God’s promise of His choice of Zerubbabel as His signet ring should have brought great comfort and encouragement to this discouraged man in these difficult times.
Other than the fact that the doctrine of God’s sovereign election humbles the flesh and gives us no reason to boast, I do not understand why Christians stumble over and invent ways to get around it. It is given to us repeatedly in Scripture to comfort and encourage us. God’s message to Zerubbabel was that even though the most powerful kingdoms on earth would shake and fall, he need not fear because he is God’s chosen one, as precious in God’s sight as a signet ring was to a king. God’s message to His church and to individual believers in frightening times, when world or personal events cause us to quake with fear is, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). The doctrine of God’s choosing us should comfort, encourage, and strengthen us when we face hard times!
Thus, God has a definite plan for history. He is mighty to accomplish that plan. He carries out His plan in accordance with His sovereign choices.
We cannot correctly understand our text unless we see that Zerubbabel is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ (Calvin saw this over 450 years ago, ibid., p. 384). Jesus Christ is the center and final goal of what God is doing in human history. All of the Old Testament points ahead to Jesus Christ. God’s promises to Abraham and to David find their fulfillment in Christ. All of the New Testament centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. As Luke records of Jesus on the Emmaus Road after His resurrection, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
Richard Wolff (The Book of Haggai [Baker], pp. 80-81) writes,
[Zerubbabel] is a type of Christ, the true servant of God and God’s signet ring. All that has validity in God’s eyes, bearing the seal, the stamp of His approval, comes to us through Jesus Christ….
[Zerubbabel] led Israel out of the Babylonian exile and Christ delivered from the bondage of sin; Zerubbabel built the temple of God and Christ is building the spiritual temple, the church. Christ is the signet ring in and through whom all divine purposes are sealed. After the final shaking of the nations we shall receive a kingdom that cannot be moved and all nations shall walk in the light of God and He shall be all in all.
It is important to affirm that Zerubbabel is a type of Christ because these promises were not fulfilled in Zerubbabel’s lifetime. He never ruled on a throne over Israel. He didn’t live to see the thrones of kingdoms overthrown. He didn’t see his name in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. That points to the last thing about God’s plan for history:
In 2:6, the Lord says, “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. And I will shake all the nations ….” Haggai 2:21 & 22 obviously refer to the same shaking, which God said would take place “in a little while.” Although there may have been some partial fulfillments of that shaking of the nations when Persia, Greece, and Rome were overthrown, the final fulfillment is still future in our day! Clearly God’s idea of “a little while” does not coincide with our idea of “a little while”!
Because these prophecies were not fulfilled in Haggai’s day, liberal Bible scholars make comments like these: “The nations did not press into the Second Temple of the prophet, here anticipated; the kingdoms of the world were not overthrown, the messianic age did not at once begin, and the governor Zerubbabel held no honourable place in it… ideals which, in the sense in which they were spoken, remain unfulfilled” (S. R. Driver, cited by Wolff, p. 79).
Such liberal commentators are the type of men of whom Peter wrote, mockers who say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” As Peter goes on to point out, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:4, 8-9).
As Hebrews 11:13 states with regard to the men of faith from the past, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Faith is the issue, isn’t it! We must accept by faith in God’s Word the promise of Christ’s return and all that it holds for us who believe, as well as the warnings about the coming judgment to those who scoff. That leads to the implicit application of our text:
God calls Zerubbabel His servant (2:23), which is a title used of David (Ezek. 34:23; 37:24) and repeatedly of Messiah (Isaiah 40-55). So again in that sense, Zerubbabel is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. But also, we who believe in Christ are all His servants. Just as He chose Zerubbabel to serve a unique role in His sovereign plan, so He has chosen you, if you know Christ, to serve Him.
Haggai ends with this final triumphant note, but it is only a source of encouragement if we trust God’s word. If Zerubbabel heard this word through Haggai and hoped that it would be fulfilled in his lifetime, he would have died as a disappointed man. He had to take God at His word and trust that in His timing, the Lord would fulfill all of these promises in His perfect way. And he had to get on with the task of governing this people, which God had called him to do.
This final message of Haggai teaches us that frightening world circumstances, powerful enemies of the gospel, and personal discouragement are not good reasons for neglecting what God has called us to do. God’s Word to the leaders and the people in the second message, “Be strong and work,” is His message to us now. We have the great privilege of participating in God’s plan for the ages, the plan that brings Him eternal glory through Jesus purchasing for God with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). But to serve Him as we should, we have to trust His promises about what He is going to do in the future. Our God will prevail! He has not resigned. Our God reigns!
We don’t know what happened to Zerubbabel after this. Some scholars assume that both Haggai and Zechariah encouraged Zerubbabel to look forward to a time when Judea would be free from foreign domination and be governed by a descendant of the house of David. And they assume that the promise of our text led to the crowning of Zerubbabel, an act that was quickly crushed by Darius (R. K. Harrison mentions these views, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [Zondervan], 5:1057). But this is not likely. Although there are several legends about what happened after this, the Bible is silent. It leaves Zerubbabel with these hopeful promises, and we never hear of him again until he appears in the genealogies of Jesus Christ.
Maybe some of his unbelieving contemporaries scoffed, “You’re just believing in pie-in-the-sky when you die!” If they did, and if anyone scoffs in that manner at you, the correct answer is, “That’s true!” “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). As believers in the promises of God, we put all of our “eggs” in the eternity “basket.” If God’s promises about the resurrection to life and to judgment are not true, then “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32).
But if God’s Word is true and if Christ is raised from the dead, then let us “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58)!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation