Messianism, roots 5: Zerubbabel

Messiah (mâšîah, "the anointed one"): Jewish religious concept, a future savior who will, in some sense, come to restore Israel. Both the nature of the Messiah and the restoration were matters of debate.

Roots of the concept: Zerubbabel

When the Persian king Cyrus the Great had allowed the Jews to return home from their exile in Babylonia (after 539 BCE), one of their leaders was the governor Zerubbabel, a grandson of Jehoiachin, one of the last Davidic kings of Judah. After the eventful years 522-520, when two coups were staged in the Achaemenid empire and nearly all subject countries revolted, the prophet Haggai received a vision. It can be dated on December 18, 520.

The word of the Lord came to Haggai [...]: "Tell Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, that I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.
   On that day [...] I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, [...] and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you," declares the Lord Almighty.note

As we have seen above, the expression "servant" had already been used by Ezekiel to describe a descendant of David; the expression "I have chosen you" may be inspired by the story about David's election (above).

The image of the servant was also used in another text, a vision of a contemporary of Haggai, the prophet Zechariah. In this vision, which can be dated on February 15, 519, he saw how an angel spoke to the high priest Joshua; the "branch" note refers to Zerubbabel.

This is what the Lord almighty says: [...] "Listen, O high-priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch."note

In another vision, Zechariah saw how the high-priest Joshua was crowned and ruled jointly with governor Zerubbabel. God ordered the prophet to say:

"Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two."note

This text is very interesting because it shows a kind of dual leadership: the governor and the high priest, who have become remarkably similar, because the high priest wears a crown and the governor behaves like a priest. This dual leadership was to become an important aspect of the messianology of the sect at Qumran.

Conclusion

Up till now, we have seen several motifs. We cannot define what a Messiah is, but it is obvious that the saviors in this table share some family resemblances.

 
Psalms
Micah
Isaiah
Ezekiel
2. Isa.
Haggai
Zech.
Davidic descent
+
+
+
+
-
+
+
King, prince
+
+
+
+
+
-
-
Ruler of the world
+
+
?
-
+
-
-
Defeat of enemies
+
+
+
-
+
?
-
Priest
+
-
-
-
-
-
+
Restoration of Israel
-
+
+
+
+
+
+
Cultic reforms
-
-
-
+
+
+
+
Age of peace
-
+
+
+
+
-
-
Servant
-
-
-
+
-
+
+
Anointment
+
-
-
-
+
-
-

The authors of these texts all describe some kind of ideal ruler.  Except for Second Isaiah, they expect him to come  from the house of David; except for the authors of the Psalms, they all connect this special ruler with the restoration of Israel. But there are also important differences. Most authors describe the descendant of David as a successful commander, an element that is absent from Ezekiel, Zechariah and (probably) Haggai. Some prophets speak about an age of peace, others don't. The image of the servant is an innovation that may have been a reaction to the failure of Josiah. An interesting difference is also that the prophets who lived after Josiah were interested in the pure cult in the Temple, something that earlier authors had ignored. 

However, it is obvious that all authors shared the hope for a Davidic savior who was to restore Israel. They may differ on many points of detail, but it is clear that the redeemers they portray show some family resemblance. And almost none of these writers calls the savior "Messiah": the Psalms and the prophecy of Second Isaiah are the only texts which use this word. It was not necessary to use the word: after all, a king was always annointed.