I Chr 3:17, Ezra 3:2
Note that Zerubbabel’s name translated means ‘offspring of Babylon’ (that is, ‘born there’). I Chr 3:19 states that Pedaiah was the father of Zerubbabel (where Pedaiah was a brother of Shealtiel). But this isn’t to say that this Zerubbabel is the same as the one born to Shealtiel.
Ezra 3:2, Neh 12:1 and Hag 2:23 all speak of Zerubbabel as the son of Shealtiel so that there can be little doubt concerning his father. Zondervan comments that
‘Cuneiform inscriptions from Babylonia dating from the early Persian period (539-331BC) show that the name Zerubbabel was of common occurrence, thus making for difficulty in exact identification’
These two Zerubbabels were therefore cousins but the Zerubbabel that returned was the son of Shealtiel, an adopted son of Jeconiah (on which, see the relevant article).
The importance of Jeshua and Zerubbabel
Zerubbabel and Jeshua were the two main figures in the return of a group of Israelites to Canaan in the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia (Ezra chapters 1-2), who led the people to restore the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra chapters 3-6) a number of years before Nehemiah returned to rebuild the defensive walls of the same city (Nehemiah chapters 1-6).
That both Jeshua and Zerubbabel were considered special by the people is beyond doubt. Jeshua, the current high priest, was head of the sacrificial system reintroduced upon their return while Zerubbabel, a son of one of the last Judahite kings before the exile, took a leadership role among the people so much so that it’s not difficult to see the people discussing whether he’d take the throne upon himself and try to pull away from the rule of Babylon.
But, more importantly, God considered both Zerubbabel and Jeshua special - the books of the record of Zechariah and Haggai’s prophetic utterances make it plain that God was using who they were and the position that they were operating in to proclaim Truth to His people, not only concerning forthcoming events about which they needed to know, but about times and seasons that would soon come upon them.
Therefore, we read in Zechariah of
1. The high priest’s reconsecration by God in the person of Jeshua (Zech 3:1-5) with a promise of the coming of Messiah (Zech 3:8 Cp Jer 23:5, 33:15).
2. The labelling of both Jeshua and Zerubbabel as the two anointed of the Lord (Zech 4:11-14) with promises and instructions concerning the re-establishing and rebuilding of the Temple (Zech 4:1-10).
3. The symbolic crowning of Jeshua and the declaration of him being the Branch, God’s Messiah (Zech 6:9-12a where the Hebrew translation of v.12a runs literally
‘Behold a man, Branch by name’
showing that the intention wasn’t to name Jeshua as the Messiah but show him as a type of the One to come), that the real Messiah would spring up in Jeshua’s place (Zech 6:12b-15 - the office of the high priest was to be a type of Christ. Some later Rabbis, primarily through this Scripture, proposed the idea that the Messiah would be a high priest and not from the Judahite/Davidic line at all).
We also read of the pair’s special place before God in Hag 2:2 where, in a prophetic word, God addresses the people
‘Speak now to Zerubbabel...and to Joshua...and to all the remnant of the people...’
choosing to single these two out at the beginning of His address.
The signet ring
God made it known that He had a special purpose for Zerubbabel and his family in the days to come. In Haggai 2:20-23 we read
‘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’
where the context of ‘On that day’ is the overthrow of earthly kingdoms and authorities by God’s shaking of both the heavens and the earth (Hag 2:21-22).
A ‘signet ring’ came to be regarded as a symbol of one’s authority - the signet ring or ‘seal’ showed the owner’s identity when stamped on almost anything. The kings of Judah and society’s well-to-do would usually carry their own seal upon their person (in the form of a ring or tied about their necks - there have been many different styles of seals recovered from archaeological digs) and so ‘seal’ documents and the like with their authority (see Esther 8:10) often making an impression in soft clay that, when hardened, would be indisputable proof that a transaction had been made. Trusted slaves could also be given their master’s seal to be able to buy goods ‘to the master’s account’/’in the master’s name’ when they attended market places and bazaars.
The signet ring therefore symbolised the person whose mark it bore but also carried with it the authority of that person - in very much the same way as a signature does in today’s society. A person who can sign on behalf of another is one who has the right to exercise the authority of that individual as they see fit.
In Jer 22:24, God removed the authority of the throne in the form of king Jeconiah from having sovereignty over Judah and ended the line of the Messiah through him (v.30) Jer 22:24 reads
‘As I live, says the Lord, even if King Coniah son of Jehoiakim of Judah were the signet ring on my right hand, even from there I would tear you off’
Notice that Jeconiah wasn’t the signet ring on God’s hand, a symbol of His authority and representation, but if he had been that important then he would still have been removed.
But, here in Hag 2:23, YHWH promises to take Zerubbabel and make him His authority, the symbol that represents God Himself by stating
‘I will take you...and make you like a signet ring: for I have chosen you...’
He would do this on the day that’s described in Hag 2:21-22, reminiscent of the Day of (the return of) the Lord (Heb 12:26-29).
By appointing Zerubbabel as His ‘signet ring’ or ‘seal of approval’, God showed that He’d endorsed Zerubbabel as the legal heir to the Davidic throne. In Jeconiah, God had removed (so to speak) that ring of authority, but in Zerubbabel He’d restored it.
There’s no conclusive evidence to indicate that Zerubbabel ever took the title of ‘king’ in Jerusalem, but the promise concerned the eternal purpose of the Lord to bring the Messiah - God’s eternal Anointed King, the One who is both His authority and representation - through Zerubbabel’s family line at a future date.