Religious renewal is never hurdle free. More often than not, such renewal comes at great cost.
My wife and I lived in Oxford, England, for one memory-filled year. I experienced my first teaching post during this year. Our first child arrived in Oxford. We had a great flat in the section of town called Jericho, only a stone’s throw from Oxford University Press, a great French bakery, and the famed Eagle and Child pub (C. S. Lewis’s stomping ground).
We also lived near the Martyrs’ Memorial in the heart of Oxford [right], a three dimensional reminder of Bishops Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer’s ultimate sacrifice for their Protestant convictions. I could never escape the weight of that memorial and the cemented bricks marking the location where they were burned at the stake. A simple jaunt to Blackwell’s Bookshop on Broad Street necessitated an encounter with faith’s ultimate commitments. Renewal comes at great cost.
So too with ancient Judah. On the far side of the Babylonian exile and under the tolerant religious policies of the Persians, Judah’s exiles were allowed to return home, build their walls (Nehemiah), and build their Temple (Ezra and Haggai). The renewal of Judah’s worshipping life in Jerusalem, the epicenter of their political and religious existence, came at great costs and presented seemingly insurmountable hurdles.
Haggai complains that the leaders’ concern for the building of their own homes has eclipsed their concern for the rebuilding of God’s home, his Temple. The rebuilding of the Temple was a holy task and required holy people to attend to it. And here is the problem of Ezra 10. The people had no longer followed God’s laws. The resulting scene in Ezra 10 is nothing short of awful. Sin’s consequences always are. But steps towards repentance are taken, despite the searing pain of loss.
In the midst of all this renewal, repentance, and pain sits Zerubbabel on his throne. Haggai’s praise of Zerubbabel is unqualified and lavish. If we were asked to list some of the more important “kings” (perhaps in this case “governor” is better, given Persia’s oversight) of Judah’s history, I imagine Zerubbabel might not top the chart or even make the chart. But this grandson of Jehoiachin is a direct descendant of David.
Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel): Zerubbabel – Abiud – Eliakim
This significance of a Davidic figure sitting on the throne after Judah’s great exile cannot be overemphasized. Part of God’s promise in Jeremiah for God’s future mercy toward his people was a Davidic ruler on the throne. And here he is. Moreover, Zerubbabel’s place on the throne is a micro-fulfillment, we might say, of God’s macro-fulfillment to come in the fullness of time. Then God will place his own Son, from the seed of David, on the throne forever. Zerubbabel’s place on the throne exhibits God’s gracious determination to fulfill the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7. He also casts a long shadow forward that in time leads to the person and work of Jesus Christ.