Key people



Sometimes God’s ownership of a project is recognized only after our best efforts have failed. It is dangerous to think that God is responsible for only insignificant details of a project while we take charge of the larger aspects. 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 need 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, worshiping 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 at 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 these first months of excitement and accomplishment, must have been deep. Those feeling eventually hardened into hopelessness. So God sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to be Zerubbabel’s encouraging companions. They confronted the people’s reluctance and conforted their fears. The work began once again with renewed energy and was completed in four years.

Zerubbabel, like many of us, knew hot 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 slow 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 need to provide not only the initial motivations 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

Vital statistics

    • Where: Babylon, Jerusalem

    • Occupation: Recognized leader of the exiles

    • Relatives: Father: Shealtiel. Grandfather: Jehoiachin

    • Contemporaries: Cyrus, Darius, Zechariah, Haggai

Key verses

    • “Then he said to me. ‘This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: it is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s ways; it will become a level plain before him’ And when Zerubbabel sets the final stone of the Temple in place, the people will shout: “ May God bless it! May 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.


It is not personal achievement but personal commitment to live for God that is important. Achievements are simply examples of what God can do through someone’s life. The most effective leaders spoken of in the Bible had little awareness of the impact their lives had on others. They were too busy obeying God to keep track of their successes. Ezra fits that description.

About 80 years after the rebuilding of the Temple under Zerubbabel. Ezra returned to Judah with about 2,000 men and their families. He was given a letter from Artaxerxes instructing him to carry out a program of religious education. Along with the letter came significant power. But long before Ezra’s mission began, God had shaped him in three important ways so that he would use the power well. First, as a scribe, Ezra dedicated himself to carefully studying God’s Word, Second, he intended to apply personally the commands he discovered in God’s Word. Third, he was committed to teaching others God’s Word and its application.

Knowing Ezra’s priorities, it is not surprising to note his actions when he arrived in Jerusalem. The people had disobeyed God’s command not to marry women of foreign nations. On a cold and rainy day, Ezra addressed the people and made it clear that they had sinned. Because of the sins of many, all were under God’s condemnation. Confession, repentance, and action were needed. He people admitted their sin and devised a plan to deal with the problem.

This initial effort on Ezra’s part set the stage for what Nehemiah would later accomplish. Ezra continued his ministry under Nehemiah, and the two were used by God to start a spiritual movement that swept the nation following the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Ezra achieved great things and made a significant impact because he had the right starting place for his actions and his life: God’s Word. He studied it seriously and applied it faithfully. He taught others what he learned. He is, therefore, a great model for anyone who wants to live for God.

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Committed to study, follow, and teach God’s Word

    • Led the second group of exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem

    • May have written 1 and 2 Chronicles

    • Concerned about keeping the details of God’s commands

    • Sent by king Artaxerxes to Jerusalem to evaluate the situation, set up a religious education system, and return with a firsthand report

    • Worked alongside Nehemiah during the last spiritual awakening recorded in the Old Testament

Lessons from his life

    • A person’s willingness to know and practice God’s Word will have a direct effect on how God uses his or her life

    • The starting place for serving God is a personal commitment to serve him today, even before knowing what that service will be

Vital statistics

    • Where: Babylon, Jerusalem

    • Occupation: Scribe among the exiles in Babylon, king’s envoy teacher

    • Relative: Father: Seraiah

    • Contemporaries: Nehemiah, Artaxerxes

Key verse

    • “Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel” (Ezra 7:10)

Ezra’s story is told in Ezra 7:1-10:16 and Nehemiah 8:1-12:36.