HAGGAI 2:20-23

Shaking the heavens and the earth
The signet ring

There is no specific relevance for the date in the context of this word to Zerubbabel, even though the previous message fell just about perfectly on the same day because of its content.

Smith sees the prophetic word as the effect of a specific request from Zerubbabel as to what role he was to play in the future, whether he would always continue to be a governor and never manage to rise to the throne of David’s kingdom.

However, this is just speculation and need do no more than interest us in passing. While some of the conversations that were taking place in Jerusalem would interest us and set the prophetic words in better and more informative contexts, we are only left with the bare bones of what God was saying and we need go no further than this.

Shaking the heavens and the earth

What are we to make of this shaking of the heavens and of the earth? Are we to think of it as taking place in Zerubbabel’s day? Are we to think of it as ever having taken place at all since the time that the word was first given? Are we to assume that the time of which it speaks is the same as that of the previous passage where a shaking was also mentioned (Hag 2:6-7)?

Strangely enough, in the OT it is only twice here in Haggai and in Joel (2:10 and 3:16) where the Hebrew word (Strongs Hebrew number 7493) is used to speak of both the heavens and the earth being shaken, the NT word being employed just the once when the quote of Hag 2:6 is used in Heb 12:26. However, there are differences in each of these passages which do nothing to help us determine whether they are one and the same event - indeed, from even a cursory glance at Joel, it can be seen that the two passages cited there must refer to different times, even though they appear to be separated only by a short period of time and a handful of verses.

Baldwin states that

‘The shaking of the heavens and the earth would not only be the signal for the nations to bring their wealth (2:7-9), but also an indication that the last days had come’

but there is no definitive indication here that the ‘last days’ are being referred to (and what do we actually mean by the term ‘last days’? The last days of the Old Covenant, of the world order then in existence or of the present world order? The phrase can mean a great many things in differing contexts). If, indeed, Zerubbabel expected to see the events take place within his lifetime as a brief reading of the passage would infer, there remains a multitude of interpretations as to the application of the prophetic word and only one of them is that it refers to the ‘last days’ before Jesus Christ returns to set up a visible Kingdom throughout all the earth (I presume that, by that phrase, Baldwin means this time).

So we’re no further forward in our attempted answer to the most of the questions posed!

The shaking certainly doesn’t appear to be a minor tremor that has little or no side effects - the throne of many kingdoms are overthrown, and the Lord specifically states that He is

‘...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 go down, every one by the sword of his fellow’

a statement that can’t be taken in any other way than seeing quite a rearrangement of the world order then in existence.

But did this take place in Zerubbabel’s time? We need to ask ourselves the question whether this event ever took place and, if it didn’t, what might have prevented it from doing so and, perhaps most importantly for our own generation, are we to think of the prophetic word as continuing to be relevant for today’s society of inhabitants upon the earth even though the word was specifically addressed to Zerubbabel?

Unfortunately, we won’t get very far beyond being able to state with a great amount of certainty that the event never took place in the governor of Judah’s day even though we might like to try and make circumstances somehow apply!

Baldwin, however, gives good reason for us to take the passage and see its fulfilment at a later date when she writes

‘It is natural to assume that Haggai...expected this new age to dawn in [his] own time...As time passed, and Zerubbabel was not honoured as had been expected, the Messianic hopes were transferred to his descendants. As the writer to the Hebrews realised there was an important principle, amply illustrated in OT story, in the deferment of the promise (Heb 11:13)’

That the word was deferred to another time is about the easiest of the options and, in the discussion below concerning the signet ring, I shall try and show just what that means (most of this text is borrowed from my notes on the Genealogy of Christ located here).

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 2:23 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 as a stamp tied about their necks - there have been many different styles of seals recovered from archaeological digs) and so ‘seal’ or ‘authorise’ documents (and the like) with their definitive and exclusive mark (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 does a signature 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 Jeremiah 22:24, God removed the authority of the throne of Judah in the form of king Jeconiah from having sovereignty over Judah (‘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) and ended the line of the Messiah through him (v.30).

But, here in Haggai 2:23, the Lord promises to take Zerubbabel and make him His authority, the symbol that represents God Himself, the one through whom He will endorse what He does. He says

‘I will take you...and make you like a signet ring: for I have chosen you...’

He would do this on the day that is 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 had, by implication, 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 had restored it.

There is 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.

Of course, by speaking of the signet ring in the context of kingdoms being overthrown, one is perhaps better to see the prophetic word as referring to the time at which God would establish a visible kingdom after the work of the Messiah through His death and resurrection.

As we now know, but as they could not have imagined then, the sufferings were to precede the visible kingdom - but that Zerubbabel will be the one through whom God will authenticate His work at a time still to be realised means that it is necessary for him to stand as a direct descendant of the Messiah whom God will use to bring about His purposes.