Sometimes God’s ownership of a project is only recognised after our best efforts have failed. It is dangerous to think of God as responsible for the insignificant details while we take charge of the larger aspects of a project. Instead, it is God who is in control, and we only play a part in his overall plan. When God gives us important jobs to do, it isn’t because he needs our help. Zerubbabel learned this lesson.
God’s people had been exiled in Babylon for many years. Many had settled into comfortable lifestyles there and wanted to stay. There were, however, almost 60,000 who had not forgotten Judah. When Babylon was defeated in 539 B.C., the Persian ruler, Cyrus, allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. Zerubbabel led the first and largest group back to the promised land.
Zerubbabel’s leadership was by right and recognition. Not only was he a descendant of David, he also had personal leadership qualities. When the people arrived in Judah, they were given time to establish living quarters, and then were called to begin the work. They began not by laying the city walls or constructing government buildings, but by rebuilding the altar, worshipping God together, and celebrating a feast. Under Zerubbabel’s leadership, they established a spiritual foundation for their building efforts.
The temple foundation was then quickly completed, and another round of celebration followed. But soon, two problems arose. A few old men remembered Solomon’s glorious temple and were saddened by how much smaller and less glorious this one was. Also, some enemies of the Jews tried to infiltrate the workforce and stop the building with political pressure. Fear caused the work to grind to a halt. The people went to their homes, and 16 years passed.
We do not know what Zerubbabel did during this time. His discouragement, following those first months of excitement and accomplishment, must have been deep. Those Zechariah to be Zerubbabel’s encouraging companions. They confronted the people’s reluctance and comforted their fears. The work began once again with renewed energy and was completed in four years.
Zerubbabel, like many of us, knew how to start well but found it hard to keep going. His successes depended on the quality of encouragement he received. Zerubbabel let discouragement get the better of him. But when he let God take control, the work was finished. God is always in control. We must not let circumstances or lack of encouragement deter us from doing the tasks God has given us.
Strengths and accomplishments:
- Led the first group of Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem from Babylon
- Completed the rebuilding of God’s temple
- Demonstrated wisdom in the help he accepted and refused
- Started his building project with worship as the focal point
Weaknesses and mistakes:
- Needed constant encouragement
- Allowed problems and resistance to stop the rebuilding work
Lessons from his life:
- A leader needs to provide not only the initial motivation for a project, but the continued encouragement necessary to keep the project going
- A leader must find his/her own dependable source of encouragement
- God’s faithfulness is shown in the way he preserved David’s line
- Where: Babylon, Jerusalem
- Occupation: Recognised leader of the exiles
- Relatives: Father: Shealtiel. Grandfather: Jehoiachin
- Contemporaries: Cyrus, Darius, Zechariah, Haggai
“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of “God bless it! God bless it!” ‘ “ (Zechariah 4:6, 7).
Zerubbabel’s story is told in Ezra 2:2-5:2. He is also mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19; Nehemiah 7:7; 12:1, 47; Haggai 1:1, 12, 14; 2:4, 21, 23; Zechariah 4:6-10; Matthew 1:12, 13; Luke 3:27.