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This is the word of the Lord to Zerub′babel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zech. 4:6)

The word חַיִל is usually translated as "might" here. But more often it means "army," by a count of 56x to 6x in the KJV. This leads to the question of whether Zerubbabel is being warned against the use of force.

Arguing against this is the context of the verse, which has to do with Zerubbabel's role in rebuilding the Temple. The next verse states: "What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerub′babel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’”

The military interpretation of the verse, however, is supported by two other factors: Zerubbabel's later history and the prophecy about him in Haggai 2. In Ezra 4, we learn that Zerubbabel's position was undermined by opponents whom he had excluded from the rebuilding process:

“To Ar-ta-xerx′es the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city; they are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations... We make known to the king that, if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River.” (Ezra 4:11-16)

Thus, Zerubbabel's activities were characterized by his detractors as rebellious, with the implication that he would soon restore Judah's independence. This image may have been strengthened by the prophecy of Haggai:

Speak to Zerub′babel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders; and the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his fellow. On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerub′babel my servant, the son of She-al′ti-el, says the Lord, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:221-23)

To answer the main question, several factors may be considered: Considering Haggai's prophecy, were Zerubbabel's detractors correct in their view that he was planning to make Judah independent of Persia? Was the prophecy of Zechariah ("not by might/army") a warning to Zerubbabel to avoid any hint of reconstituting Judah's military strength, or was it a poetic way to emphasize spiritual matters (the Temple) and thus encourage Zerubbabel to finish the building work? Finally, what happened to Zerubbabel; and is his disappearance from the biblical record related to his detractors raising suspicions about him in the Persian court?

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First of all, had the Lord promised the remnants formed a new Israelite Kingdom after the exile? No, not at all. The Lord only promise they would be restored and repossess the Land. Jeremiah 30:3 read

3 The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess,’ says the Lord.” (NIV)

In modern term, even though the Israelites had autonomy in their land, still not equal to they were independent and had their own Kingdom.

The prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 about life and death; prosperity and destruction, had completed since the days of David's Kingdom to its final destruction in 586BC. From then onward, the salvation is no longer abide by the law, but by grace through our faith to Jesus Christ.

Whether the word חַיִל translated as "might" or "army", it really doesn't matter. Note Zech 4:6 is constituted in two parts. The first "might/army" & "power" refers to human strength. The second "my spirit" refers to the Lord's almighty. What it says is "relying on the Lord rather then yourself".

The prophecy of Haggai 2, is about the new Temple and its glory in the future, that some interpreted it was an allusion of Jesus, though this interpretation still controversial.

Now let's review the question where it quotes Haggai 2:21-23

21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth.

22 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.

23 “‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” (NIV)

Verses 21 and 22 has no indication that the Lord shake the heavens and the earth, overturn royal thrones and shatter the kingdoms, was to make Zerubbabel a new king. It actually echoes to Zech 4:6; "Not by might/army, nor by power, but by my Spirit".

Understand verse 23 may be a little more challenging. What is meant by "signet ring" that the Lord chosen? When we read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, we'll find that Zerubbabel was a common ancestor of both Mary and Joseph. From Zerubbabel, the generations split and reunited on Jesus, and Jesus is the King of kings.

Surely the accusation of the detractors were unsuccessful. Ezra 6 described the Persian King Darius recovered the King Cyrus scroll in the archives, and immediately order a decree for the construction of the Temple, with resources paid by the royal treasury (Ezra 6:3-5). The decree also required the governor and other officials of the province, stay away and must not interfere with the work of this temple of God (Ezra 6:6-7).

We must not confused with the rebuilt of the 2nd Temple and the wall of Jerusalem. Zerubbabel rebuilt the 2nd Temple, but the wall was not finished until Nehemiah, about 70 years after the completion of the 2nd Temple. The 2nd Temple completed in 516BC, fulfilled the 70 years prophecy of Jeremiah, Zerubbabel legacy was completed, but remained his name in the Genealogy of Jesus, fulfilling the prophecy of Haggai 2:23.

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  • I suppose that since the Israelites were just 2 generations away from having an independent kingdom, [Zerubbabel was a grandson of one of the Davidic kings] they would not need a promise from God to desire its restoration, any more than East Europeans would to fight from freedom from the Soviet Union. But in fact this promise did exist. The most prominent example is Is. 9:7 "Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,...." Christians believe this relates to the Second Coming but Jews did not. Oct 7, 2022 at 18:14
  • You bring up a good point about Jerusalem's wall. My reading infers that the reason the wall was not finished might have been that Zerubbabel's opponents succeeded in getting the construction stopped by warning the Persian's of his supposed plans to rebel. Oct 7, 2022 at 18:21
  • Also, Darius was not the recipient of the letter accusing Zerubbabel. It was his predecessor, Ataxerxes. (Ezra 4:7) So it seems to be Z's detractors were indeed successful, but only until Ezra and Nehemiah were sent as more reliable rulers on behalf of the Persian government. Oct 7, 2022 at 18:28
  • @Dan - After the destruction of the Judah kingdom in 586BC, there would not have another Israelite kingdom, that GOD DWELL IN. Therefore the present Israel is not a fulfillment of the prophecy. This is my reason, for the Lord will not fail a 2nd time, when the 1st time His words was fulfilled. As long as an earthly kingdom is governed by man, it will fail. Isaiah 9:7 is surely referring to Jesus, otherwise it could not be described as "justice and righteousness from that time on and forever". No human live forever. A good king cannot guarantee his good deeds can pass on to next generation. Oct 7, 2022 at 18:42
  • @Dan - The foundation of the 2nd Temple was laid by Zerubbabel in 536BC, then it had been laid desolated until 520BC. From Haggai ch1, apparently the reason was the Israelites took priority of building their house, instead of the house of the Lord. So it was personal matter in priority of public affair. I found no support in scripture that Zerubbabel had intention to build the city wall. Ezra 4:1-5 described the opposition against the 2nd temple, from Samaritans I assumed. Ezra 4:6-23 and 4:24 had a chronological issue. Xerxes and Artaxerxes were kings after 486BC, way beyond Zerubbabel. Oct 7, 2022 at 19:04

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