Ezra 1-6, Zechariah 4
I suspect Zerubbabel is not on the short list of famous bible characters – but he should be! If you are not really sure who he was, read on. His story will encourage you and challenge your faith.
Zerubbabel was a man who had the privilege of seeing the promises of God fulfilled in his lifetime. Indeed, he himself played a part in God’s plans. Let’s begin by reminding ourselves of the situation Zerubbabel walked into.
The nation of Israel had a long history of rebelling against the Lord and serving false gods. God warned them many times that if they did not repent and follow him whole heartedly, he would remove them from the Promised Land and send them into captivity.
Eventually, due to their continued rebellion, God sentenced them to 70 years of captivity in Babylon.He fulfilled this decree through king Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah 25:8-9 – Therefore thus says the Lord of Hosts: Because you have not obeyed by words, behold I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants…
So Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah and laid siege to Jerusalem. He captured and deported people in a number of phases. Daniel, who would later be thrown into the lion’s den, was actually taken in one of the first waves of captives. The final fall of the nation occurred in 586 BC. The scripture says that Babylon’s soldiers killed the Israelites indiscriminately and without compassion; they killed not only soldiers but women, children and old people. It was a very great slaughter (see II Chronicles 36:17-21).
II Chronicles also reveals that all the temple treasures as well as the treasures of the King of Judah were captured as spoil and taken to Babylon.
The entire nation of Judah (except for the very poorest of the poor people) either died or was taken captive to Babylon. What dark days these were for the chosen people of God! They must have been full of despair as they left their homeland and marched to the land of Babylon… their beautiful homes – gone! All the possessions that they worked so hard for – gone! Their fields and vineyards – now possessed by others! Their families – fate unknown! The temple of God – destroyed!
Let us note that God chastised them; but did not destroy them, nor did they forfeit their place as God’s chosen people.In fact, long before they were taken captive God declared that they would be in exile for 70 years but at the end of that time, he would bring them back to their land.
Jeremiah 29:10 – For thus says the Lord: When 70 years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you [the children of Israel], and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
During those dark years, as the remnant of Israel settled in Babylon and began a different life, the promise of restoration must have seemed a long, long way away. We can easily imagine how that future promise would take a back seat to the immediate needs of the day. After all, very few of those who marched to Babylon would live to see the restoration of Israel.
All too soon the days turned into weeks and the weeks into years (does that sound familiar?). The people of Israel married and had children and put down roots and built the best life they could in Babylon.
Because they were cut off from the temple and its worship practices, the Jews began to put a significant emphasis on prayer and fasting. Many scholars believe that this was the time that the synagogues were first developed.
To be sure, prayer and fasting are good things. Nevertheless, the people settled for something that was less than God’s best for them. They lost their hunger for the land, the temple and its sacrifices. They were missing out on the divine presence of God dwelling in their midst. Eventually, a generation arose that had never seen the Promised Land or the temple. Consequently, desire for a life in Judah began to diminish. Clearly, their current circumstances caused them to lose focus on the promise of restoration.
However, God has always been and will always be, faithful to his promises. In fact, God says this to us:
Jeremiah 1:12 – …I am watching over my word to perform it.
Did you catch that? God watches over his promises to make sure that he does all he said he would do. God is so perfectly faithful in all he has promised! If he said it, it will surely come to pass!
Were you aware that God named Israel’s deliverer long before he was even born or before they even went into captivity? That’s right – nearly 150 years before Cyrus ascended his throne, he was named by our God as the one who would deliverer Israel from Babylon! Look was the prophet Isaiah had to say:
Isaiah 45:1, 4, 13 – Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus…For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name. I name you, though you do not know me; I have stirred him [Cyrus] up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward, says the Lord of Hosts.
So, while it seemed to the exiles that God was doing nothing and was nowhere to be found, nothing could have been further from the truth.
God is like a conductor. He is orchestrating multiple nations and events as well as individual people to bring about the fulfillment of all he has promised.
Like a crescendo, he causes new nations to emerge and grow strong, while he allows other nations to slip into decline and silence. He raises up new rulers with new ideas. He allows technology and science to advance. He sends words of encouragement to his people through the prophets. Here and there he allows super abundant years of harvest, so that supplies can be prepared. He reignites a longing for himself and his ways in the hearts of his people. He takes seemingly discordant notes and fits them perfectly into the harmony, making all things ready for the fulfillment of his promise.
And all the while, his focus on the individual person has not diminished. He sees every injustice. He hears every prayer. He knows every need. He feels the sorrow and the longing in the heart of each of his children. Each person that God has created is like a perfect note in his symphony; each one is needed to make the melody complete.
As we mentioned previously, the nation of Judah was sentenced to 70 years in captivity. Therefore, according to the promise of God, they could expect to return home in 538 BC. History proves that God did as he promised. The Medes and the Persians defeated Babylon in 539 BC, one year before the promise was to be fulfilled.
Here is an interesting question – who was king of Babylon when it fell to the Medes and Persians? According to Daniel chapter 5, it was Belshazzar, the same king who saw the supernatural handwriting on the wall that was interpreted by Daniel (again, the same Daniel who was previously thrown into the lion’s den)!
We would expect that Daniel would come into contact with Cyrus. We would also expect Daniel to share the ancient prophesies that mentioned Cyrus by name. Particularly, this one:
Isaiah 44:28 – [God] who says of Cyrus, ‘he is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built’, and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid’.
So, one year later or exactly 70 years since the captivity, Cyrus made a decree that the people of Israel were free to go home and rebuild the temple of God!
Ezra 1:2-3 – Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem.
At that point, any Jew who wished to return home was free to do so and more than 42 thousand did just that!
Ezra 2:64-65 – The whole assembly together was 42,360 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337 and they had 200 male and female singers.
One of the people in that group was our man Zerubbabel the son and/or heir of Shealtiel. Not only was he part of that first wave of Israelites to go back to the Promised Land, he was their leader!
What inspired him to undertake such a monumental task? Well, Zerubbabel had not forgotten what God promised. He meditated on that promise. He allowed it to burn within his heart and mind. He did not settle for life in Babylon, even though that would have been much easier in some respects. He was ready to claim the promise of God and move on to a place of victory. He wanted all that God had in store for him – and (spoiler alert) he got it!
After the long journey to arrive in Judah, the settlers immediately built an altar and re-established the sacrifices to the Lord. How good that victory must have felt to the returning settlers! But there was more to be done. In the second year, the foundation of the new temple was laid. What a reason for rejoicing! Yet, there was still more to be done.
It was at this point that their adversaries came against them. They pretended to be interested in helping to build the temple, but Zerubbabel, knowing what was in their hearts, refused to allow them to help. This refusal was the first step in a very protracted legal battle, which at times forced a work stoppage.
For fifteen years, the battle raged on. Sometimes, Zerubbabel and company gained ground. Sometimes their enemies were temporarily victorious. Sometimes, they became a bit complacent, and work stopped.
During those times, God sent words of encouragement (and sometimes rebuke) to Zerubbabel through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. In fact, God sends a very profound and important message to Zerubbabel through the prophet Zechariah.
Zechariah 4:6 – Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.
What an amazing truth! Zerubbabel was going to be victorious, but not because of his own power or military might orlegal maneuvering. The promises of God would be fulfilled by the Spirit of God! Victory was assured!
Just to make things very, very clear God also prophesied this through Zechariah:
Zechariah 4:9 – The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it.
Sure enough, Zerubbabel completes his task – the temple is rebuilt. The government who opposed him was ordered to provide all the animals needed for the daily sacrifice. Two more waves of settlers return to the Promised Land. The walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt and its gates are replaced. God performed many more miracles on behalf of his people. In short, God fulfilled every promise that he made to Israel!
If we could speak with Zerubbabel today, what do you think he would want us to understand?
First and foremost, God always keeps his promises. Remember, God watches over his word to perform it. He did it back in the day of Zerubbabel and he is still doing it today.
So, what promises can you lay claim to? Did you have a word of prophesy spoken over your life at some point? Perhaps God dropped a promise into your heart through the Holy Spirit. Perhaps he is stirring you up to do a work for him, just the same as he did with Zerubbabel. Maybe you read a promise in the scriptures and as soon as you did, it started taking root in your heart.
What has happened to these promises? Have they been fulfilled? If not, why?
As we studied, the majority of the Israelites settled for life in Babylon. They allowed the immediate needs of the day to crowd out the promise of restoration. They missed out on having the presence of God in their midst. I encourage you not to make the same choice. Don’t let the immediate and overwhelming tasks of your day crowd out the promises of God. They are worth fighting for! Make room for them.
I encourage you to take a second look at your promises. Write them down or put them in your phone, if you haven’t already. Look at them in the morning or before you go to bed at night. Allow the Holy Spirit to reignite a fire in your heart.
If you do, I am sure that God will open a door for you, just as he did for Zerubbabel and the other 42 thousand people who were looking for fulfillment of the promise. Then, by faith, walk through that door.
Make no mistake – when you answer that call and walk through that door, it will be a step of faith. You won’t have all the answers when you begin. The settlers did not know what awaited them on the journey to Jerusalem. They did not know how they would make a living when they arrived. They did not know if they would be welcomed or ostracized. There was no exact or complete plan for rebuilding the temple. They gave up a life of certainty for a life of faith. If you want to claim the promises of God in your life, you also must take a step of faith.
The good news is that God has an amazing, 100% track record of faithfulness (Think of it this way: He has 5 full stars after billions of reviews). If you step out, he will show up and keep his promises to you.
I think Zerubbabel would also like us to know that when we face opposition to our promises, God intervenes with strength and power. I bet that Zerubbabel stayed awake some nights worrying (I don’t know that for certain, but it would be human nature to do so). He probably wondered what his next legal move should be. He may have fretted over the strength of his enemies or the size of the opposition. I bet it seemed like it was taking forever to get anything done. But in the midst of that, God sent Zechariah to encourage Zerubbabel in his work. Remember, God declares that the victory is won by the power of the Holy Spirit, not the strength or determination of man.
Whew! What a relief for us all! If we will do our part – take that step of faith and diligently do all that we know to do, the Holy Spirit will make the rest happen. Does that mean that all will be smooth sailing? Ha! No way! When we step out to do something for God, there will always be opposition from our enemy, Satan. The good news is that we don’t have to rely on our own strength or intelligence or power to fight him. The Spirit of God will take care of that for us! He is right by our side, watching over our progress, ensuring victory.
Romans 8:31 – If God be for us, who can be against us?
This brings up another point – how close is your relationship to the Holy Spirit? If you are struggling to claim your promises, you might want to seek a fresh infilling of the Spirit. Ask him to equip you and give you strength for the task. Ask him for a new spiritual gift. He will bring you supernatural wisdom and understanding. He will be with you as your promise is fulfilled!
Let me give you some encouragement: Don’t let your promises slip away under the burden of your everyday life. Put some of that stuff aside, and reacquaint yourself with the things God wants to do through you!
Let me offer you some relief: It’s not your power, your might or your resources that will get the job done. Don’t try to do God’s part for him. He already has that covered.
Let me offer you some strength: Seek the Holy Spirit. He is standing by to comfort, lead, guide, open doors and bring provision. He will stay with you as you claim that promise! Then, testify about your victory to encourage others!