A Descendant Always on the ThroneBy Nathan Mates
"'Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'" [2 Samuel 7:16]
As King David of Israel advanced in age, he desired to build a Temple to God. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case-- as the prophet Nathan came to David with a word from the Lord:
"Now then, tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
"'The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'"
Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation. [2 Samuel 7:8-17]
Solomon succeeded David as King, and Solomon's sins caused a split between Judah (containing Jerusalem, mostly the southern side) and Israel (the 10 tribes north of there). God repeated the promise made originally to David, saying "I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name." [1 Kings 11:36; split details in 1 Kings 11:26-40]
And so, David's kingdom was split between Israel and Judah. David's descendants were on the throne in Judah, reigning from Jerusalem. But, as the kings and the nation rebelled against God's rule, God promised to hand the nation over to the Babylonian invaders-- first Israel, and finally Judah. The prophet Jeremiah gave these words: "Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: "Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon," declares the LORD, "and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years." [Jeremiah 25:8-11]
This promised disaster happened as promised on August 14, 586 B.C. [2 Kings 25 has more details] All of the nobility was taken away as captives to Babylon. Jerusalem lay in ruins for 70 years as its walls were destroyed, and only the poorest people remained behind to work vineyards and fields. There was no king in Jerusalem of David's line, there was no king of any line. There was apparently a break in God's promises-- while caused by human sin, it was still a promise that seemed lacking.
And yet, as promised by Jeremiah, after 70 years, God let his people return. The book of Ezra details their return, and rebuilding of the city walls and temple. Among the returnees was a Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, an important enough man to be mentioned just after the ranking returning priest: "Then Jeshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God." [Ezra 3:2]
The prophet Haggi calls this Zerubbabel by his full title: "In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest:" [Haggai 1:1] So, while not explicitly identified as the governor in Ezra, Zerubbabel was the ranking civil leader.
Back from captivity, the Israelites must have felt discouraged. Their previous King had no descendants-- the Babylonians had killed Zedekiah's sons. No genealogy of Zerubbabel is given in the Old Testament; no identification of where he came from is given. And yet, God had a subtle message of hope to the returning Israelites who looked closely at the facts: Zerubbabel was a descendant of David.
The proof of this is found later in the Bible. Fast forward to Matthew's genealogy of Jesus: "After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel," [Matthew 1:12] God, in his subtle ways, had restored a direct descendant of David to the civil seat of authority in Jerusalem. This was not a permanent position-- generations later, not the governor or king, but a poor carpenter and his wife were the legal parents of a child that would sit in David's throne forever: Jesus. Luke's genealogy of Jesus (commonly believed to be Mary's line, versus Matthew's history of Joseph) lists David, Zerubbabel, and a few other key figures, but the lines do fork out beyond that.
This case is but one of many in the Bible where God's purposes and promises seem to have gone awry, but if you take the time to dig for the truth of the situation, it's clear that God's in control and saying "I still remember that promise." In our own lives as well, when things seem to go wrong, there are often cases just like this where God's still in control and if you dig for the signs of that, you'll see them.