“And on that day” – this is God’s Message – “I will take you, O Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, as my personal servant and I will set you as a signet ring, the sign of my sovereign presence and authority. I’ve looked over the field and chosen you for this work.” The Message of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
There have been numerous writings and orations and sermons about this text. The identity and responsibility of this charge by God to Zerubbabel is amazing and weighty. Eugene Peterson’s “Message” translates this passage beautifully and explicitly, giving it girth and strength. But despite all of the ground that has been covered, I was struck by a unique reality when I read this text again.
Just prior to this specific word God speaks through Haggai to Zerubbabel, the prophet has been in a confrontation with the priests regarding the fundamental nature of holiness. He asked the priests if something deemed “holy” in the temple could make something else holy by making physical contact with it. They, obviously, said no, that’s not the way it works. Haggai then put the other side of that coin to them and asked them if something defiled, or unholy, came into physical contact with something did that make both things unholy. The priests answered yes. In the Law there were explicit rules about keeping defiled things separate from clean things. In a broken world we find very clearly that dirty things make clean things dirty, but the opposite is not true. Chuck Swindoll uses an illustration where he refers to a white glove and a mud puddle. He says that the mud puddle will certainly and without trouble make the glove “muddy”, but there isn’t a shred of evidence to lead us to believe that the puddle gets the least bit “glovey”.
I refer to this earlier text because Haggai was telling the priests, among other things, that holiness is not something that is acquired by effort or osmosis, but it is something that it bestowed by a holy authority. There is no holiness, no “other-ness”, apart from God making something holy by way of divine decree and blessing. So when He makes Zerubbabel the physical evidence of His presence and work He is attaching Zerubbabel to the idea of holiness. Zerubbabel has been named the evidence of God’s holiness, the stamp of the Almighty’s holy works and dealings with mankind.
There’s another text, in the New Testament, that rings wonderfully similar to the pronouncement made to Zerubbabel:
1 Peter 2:9-10
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you – from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.
Again quoting from Peterson’s rendering of the text (The Message), we see a similar charge placed upon the entire community of believers and disciples as was uniquely set upon Zerubbabel. But I do not think that it is the broadened scope, or the inclusive nature, of this call that singularly makes it unique. Peter is writing to a people who have been born out of an unprecedented series of events: the Crucifixion. Resurrection, and Ascension. This is not the same priesthood that Haggai bantered with, and this is not the same perspective of God that Zerubbabel had when he became God’s signature on earth.
The image of the hand of God can’t be overlooked. After all, it was God who brought it up. He used the illustration of the ring. The hand of God is the mighty and enormous appendage that slung the stars, planets, and universe into whatever existence was made of prior to our world’s beginnings. Those hands drew the horizon lines and pushed the shores in such a way as to stop the oceans from creeping too far. Those fingers carved the Himalayas, Alps, and Grand Canyon with creative ease and beauty. Those finger tips placed the liquid hot rocky core into our planet like a doctor inserting a heart into a transplant patient to make this place inhabitable for us.
On the sixth day of Creation those hands willfully limited themselves in size so they could take the dust that they had already made and begin to shape and sculpt with the deft skill of a Master the crown jewel of creation. They formed and wiped and smoothed and trimmed the first human being, Adam, and then they took a piece of the machinery and made the second human being, Eve. These hands could make anything, they could do anything. We find that as injustice and sinfulness required punishment and purging those hands levied judgment upon the earth in myriad forms. Those hands carried out the righteous purposes of God to humanity’s pleasure and chagrin. Those hands both struck Moses on his way to Egypt and held back the impossible walls of water at the Red Sea to let him and all of his kinfolk walk across. His hands shook the foundation of the earth causing Jericho’s mighty walls to collapse and they brushed the famine away from Bethlehem to feed Ruth and Naomi from Boaz’s fields. His hands guided the stone from a mouthy teenager’s sling and won one of the most celebrated battles in history, and they struck down that same man’s illegitimate child as a price for the blood he had murderously shed.
On and on we could walk through history seeing what the Psalmist calls “the work of Thy hands”. But there is a scene further into the story that defines for us this passage in Peter’s letter as it correlates to Haggai’s message to Zerubbabel. Because it was literally the hands of God that, after they had touched the leper’s ghost-like skin, the blind man’s darkened windows, the lame man’s uncooperative legs, and the prostitute’s seedy fingers…after these things, these same hands of God were forcibly stretched out, tied to a beam of wood, pierced with spikes by merciless professionals, and then these hands were asked to support the weight of God, hope, love, and all of the sins that mankind would ever commit. It was the canyon carving, celestial creating hands that threatened to tear through as they supported the weight of the entire world that, ironically, they had created. This was the fate of those hands fully realized as Jesus hung on that Friday.
But Peter, in a beautifully understated way, gives us this promise in his popular declaration of our spiritual priesthood. He says that we are chosen, just like Zerubbabel, to be the signet rings on God’s hands. But not just any hands, and no longer just the hands that carved the world; but we are rings on the same hands that have a distinct feature that will be singular in heaven throughout all eternity. Those hands have the holes marked by the nails of the cross. On the hands that featured the same holes that Thomas put his finger into in disbelief, he became the ring that marked the presence of those hands in the world. And it is those same holey hands that declare us holy. We are the sign-posts of the holy work of God on earth. Incredibly, almost unbelievably, but truly. We are the evidence of grace. We are the proof of compassion. We are the cry of love in an unlovable world.
Today we will have the choice to make much of ourselves, to tout our accomplishments, to pursue our glory. Or, we can embrace our role as a symbol of the presence of the hands of love, sacrifice, and eternal victory as we mark the places where the Kingdom of God is pushing the darkness back with its marvelous light. What will we do?