“Ezra” series: (post #4)
It’s been said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” So, with this in mind, who was God’s man to lead the remnant of Jews out of Babylon and back to Judah for the purpose of building a new temple in Jerusalem? His name was Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel was the son of Shealtiel (Ezra 3:2) and the grandson of Jehoiachin. Jehoiachin, whom the Bible sometimes lists him under his variant names “Jeconiah” (1 Chronicles 3:16-17) and “Coniah” (Jeremiah 22:24-28; 37:1), was the next-to-last king of Judah. He reigned in Jerusalem for only three months before Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar captured him, took him to Babylon, and replaced him with Zedekiah, Judah’s last king (2 Kings 24:8-12; Ezekiel 17:11-14). The point is that Zerubbabel was a full-fledged descendant of Judah’s royal bloodline, a bloodline that could be traced back to David. In a perfect world, he would probably have been Judah’s king sometime in his life. He is even named as being a link in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:12-13; Luke 3:27).
While Zerubbabel was the civil leader of the remnant, their spiritual leader was a priest named Jeshua (Ezra 2:6; Nehemiah 7:11). He was the High Priest of the group of priests who would restore the worship practices of the Jewish people once the new temple was built. The name Jeshua is a variant of the name “Joshua,” which explains why the Bible also refers to him as “Joshua” (Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 3:1-3).
One interpretive difficulty that arises from the book of Ezra is the identity of the man named Sheshbazzar, who is called “the prince of Judah” (Ezra 1:8). In post #2 from this series, I talked about the 5,400 articles of silver and gold that Cyrus the Great returned to the Jews as part of Cyrus sanctioning the Jewish return to Judah. Those articles had all been a part of the decor of the Jews’ original temple, the temple of Solomon, that had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Well, according to Ezra 1:7-11, the man to whom Cyrus counted out those 5,400 articles, and the man who took those items back to Jerusalem, was Sheshbazzar.
Who, then, was this Sheshbazzar? While there are some excellent scholars and commentators who contend that he was a Persian official appointed by Cyrus to oversee the returning exiles, it doesn’t seem likely that an appointed Persian official would have been described as “the prince of Judah.” This is one reason why many students of the Bible believe that “Sheshbazzar” was simply another name for “Zerubbabel.” Just as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were given the Babylonian names “Belteshazzar,” “Shadrach,” “Meshach,” and “Abed-Nego” (Daniel 1:6-7), perhaps “Shesbazzar” was either the Babylonian name or the Persian name for Zerubbabel.
I myself favor the interpretation that Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel were the same man. My reasons are numerous. First, no mention is made of Sheshbazzar in scripture other than the book of Ezra (Ezra 1:8,11; 5:14,16), but Zerubbabel is frequently mentioned as being the civil leader of that remnant who left Babylon and returned to Judah. Second, even though Ezra 5:16 says that Sheshbazzar laid the foundation of the new temple, Ezra 3:8-13 says that Zerubbabel led that work, and Zechariah 4:9 specifically says that it was Zerubbabel who laid that foundation. Third, whereas Sheshbazzar carries the title “governor” in Ezra 5:14, Zerubbabel carries it in Haggai 1:1 and 2:2. Fourth, Zerubbabel could indeed legitimately be called “the prince of Judah,” his grandfather having been the king before the Babylonians started running things in Judah. Based upon these four reasons, I feel reasonably confident in saying that “Sheshbazzar” was another name for Zerubbabel.
In closing, let me say that godly leadership should always be appreciated. Whether that leadership be in regards to civil matters (as was the case with Zerubbabel) or spiritual matters (as was the case with Jeshua), godly leadership is usually very scarce in this fallen world in which we live. The plain truth is that leaders such as Zerubbabel and Jeshua don’t grow on trees and we should always appreciate the ones we have. I suppose that Proverbs 29:2 says it better than I ever could, and so I’ll offer that verse as the conclusion to this post. In the blunt beauty that is so typical of the book of Proverbs, the verse says:
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan. (N.K.J.V.)