December 18, 520 BC, has been a pretty good day so far; Haggai’s third sermon has given us a lot to chew on.
But he’s not done yet.
Later the same day, Haggai delivers his fourth and final sermon, and it goes far beyond any of the others.
This sermon is different from the others; for starters, it’s delivered not to the crowd of onlookers or the workers themselves, but to just one man—the governor, Zerubbabel (Hag 2.21).
And it’s brief and to the point.
Haggai talks about the shaking that’s coming (Hag 2.21b-22). He’s mentioned that before, in his second sermon (Hag 2.6-7). And in that day, he says to Zerubbabel, I’m going to make you a signet ring!
And that’s it. End of sermon, end of book.
What on earth does that mean?
Zerubbabel would know very well what it means. I’ve mentioned that he’s the grandson of the last Davidic king. This statement is about his grandfather.
His grandfather went by several names. Jehoiachin. Jeconiah. Or just Coniah.
And in his reign of just three months (2K 24.8), he was an evil, evil king. So evil, in fact, that God had placed a special curse on him through Jeremiah: he would be cut off, the royal signet ring pulled off of God’s finger and cast aside (Jer 22.24-27). And worse, none of his descendants would ever sit on the throne of David (Jer 22.30).
How about that. God just cursed the Messianic line. To all appearances, his promise to David (2Sam 7.4-17) was over. No eternal Messianic king after all.
The end of hope.
And now, to Zerubbabel, two generations later, he speaks again of the signet ring. What does it mean? Will Zerubbabel become king again?
Not until the shaking (Hag 2.21-23). When would that be?
Well, Zerubbabel never becomes king, so not in his lifetime. And not for the next 400 years, through all of Zerubbabel’s royal descendants (Mt 1.12-16). And along about 5 BC, the royal heir—cursed—is a carpenter in Nazareth.*
He will never be king. Nor will any biological son.
I think he knew that. The very existence of the genealogy in Matthew 1 testifies to the fact that the Jews kept track of such things.
And now he learns that his fiancée—a woman whose character he had never questioned—is with child, and he knows he’s not the father.
Anguished, he ponders his next step. In the dark of night, a heavenly messenger appears to him. The situation is not what you think, he says. Marry the woman. Adopt the baby.
Joseph’s reputation will be ruined if he does what the messenger says. It will cost him everything.
But he does it anyway. Does he know? Does he realize that this is God’s remarkable way of keeping an apparently broken promise? Or does he just figure that you ought to do what a heavenly messenger says?
He adopts the baby.
And in that instant, it all comes together. The adopted child becomes the legal heir to all the promises of God to David. He becomes the eternal king, the child born to bear all government on his shoulders. Yet he is not heir to the curse on Coniah. He can reign.
How much do we owe to this Joseph, the man who sacrificed everything to follow God’s hard command and then disappeared entirely from history? What if he had said, “No, let the next generation do it!”?
There can be no next generation. Daniel predicted the death of Messiah around AD 30 (Dan 9.24-26). This is the time. If Joseph doesn’t do it, the promises are all broken, and it all falls apart.
Back to Haggai’s day. Does Zerubbabel understand any of this? Can he make sense of the prophecy of the signet ring?
We’re not told. Maybe Haggai explained it to him. Maybe he never knew. Maybe he thought, “And this is the thanks I get?!”
But the theme of the sermon is clear to us. God keeps his promises.
He has made plenty more. And he keeps them all.
Walk in the light of that trust.
* What follows assumes that Matthew’s genealogy is the royal line of David culminating in Joseph, while Luke’s genealogy is a non-royal Davidic line culminating in Mary. No space to defend that view here, but it’s common and justified at length in standard reference works and commentaries.