Question: "What does it mean that Zerubbabel was the LORD's signet ring (Haggai 2:23)?"
Answer: In Haggai 2:23 we read, “‘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.’” What did God mean when He said Zerubbabel was His signet ring?
Ancient kings used signet rings to designate authority, honor, or ownership. A signet contained an emblem unique to the king. Official documents were sealed with a dollop of soft wax impressed with the king’s signet, usually kept on a ring on his finger. Such a seal certified the document as genuine, much like a notary public’s stamp today. In 1 Kings 21:8, the evil Queen Jezebel took King Ahab’s signet ring and “wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal.” The ring’s stamp gave her letters the king’s authority. In Daniel 6:17, a signet ring was used to seal a stone covering a lions’ den: “A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel.” A royal signet ring is also featured in Genesis 41:41-43 and Esther 8:8.
It is important to understand who Zerubbabel is. He is the governor of the rebuilt Jerusalem and is himself of royal blood, being a descendant of David and the grandson of Judah’s King Jehoiachin. Years earlier, Jehoiachin had lost his throne when he was deported to Babylon; in fact, God pictured Jehoiachin as a signet ring being removed from God’s finger (Jeremiah 22:24). Now, God calls Zerubbabel the “signet ring,” but this time it won’t be removed.
In Haggai’s prophecy, God is giving Zerubbabel encouragement and hope. The governor is “chosen” for a unique and noble purpose. As God’s signet ring, Zerubbabel is given a place of honor and authority. God is reinstating the Davidic line and renewing His covenant with David. Judah still has a future as they look forward to the coming Son of David, the Messiah, who would one day “overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms” (Haggai 2:22).
Zerubbabel is also called “my servant.” This title was often a Messianic reference in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 3:18; 1 Kings 11:34; Isaiah 42:1–9; 49:1–13; 50:4–11; 52:13—53:12; Ezekiel 34:23–24; 37:24–25). The triad of servant, son, and signet ring created a special combination of encouragement for Zerubbabel in his important and difficult task of reconstructing the Jewish temple. As God’s “signet ring,” Zerubbabel becomes a picture of the future Messiah, Jesus Christ, who will establish His people in the Promised Land, construct an even grander temple (Zechariah 6:12–13), and lead the righteous in never-ending worship.