(born at Babel, i.e. Babylon), the head of the tribe of Judah at the time of the return from the Babylonish captivity in the first year of Cyrus. The history of Zerabbabel in the scriptures is as follows: In the first year of Cyrus he was living at Babylon and was the recognized prince of Judah in the captivity—what in later times was called “the prince of the captivity” or “the prince.” On the issuing of Cyrus’ decree he immediately availed himself of it and placed himself at the head of those of his countrymen “whose spirit God had raised to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.” It is probable that he was in the king of Babylon’s service, both from his having, like Daniel and the three children, received a Chaldee name, Sheshbazzar, and from the fact that he was appointed by the Persian king to the office of governor of Judea. On arriving at Jerusalem, Zerubbabel’s great work, which he set about immediately, was the rebuilding of the temple. In the second month of the second year of the return the foundation was laid with all the pomp which could be commanded. The efforts of the Samaritans were successful in putting a stop to the work during the seven remaining years of the reign of Cyrus and through the eight years of Cambyses and Smerdis, nor does Zerubbabel appear quite blameless for this long delay. The difficulties in the way of building the temple were not such as need have stopped the work, and during this long suspension of sixteen years Zerubbabel and the rest of the people had been busy in building costly houses for themselves. But in the second year of Darius, light dawned upon the darkness of the colony from Babylon. In that year—it was the most memorable event in Zerabbabel’s life—the spirit of prophecy suddenly blazed up with a most brilliant light among the returned captives. Their words fell like sparks upon tinder. In a moment Zerubbabel roused from his apathy and threw his whole strength into the work. After much opposition (see the Book of Nehemiah) and many hindrances and delays, the temple was at length finished, in the sixth year of Darius, and was dedicated with much pomp and rejoicing. The only other works of Zerubbabel of which we learn from scripture are the restoration of the courses of priests and Levites and of the provision for their maintenance, according to the institution of David (Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 12:47); the registering the returned captives according to their genealogies (Nehemiah 7:5); and the keeping of a Passover in the seventh year of Darius, with which last event ends all that we know of the life of Zerubbabel. His apocryphal history is told in 1 Esdras 3-7. The exact parentage of Zerubbabel is a little obscure, from his being always called the son of Shealtiel (Ezra 3:2, 8; 5:2, etc.; Haggai 1:1, 12, 14, etc.) and appearing as such in the genealogies of Christ (Matthew 1:12; Luke 3:27), whereas in 1 Chronicles 3:19 he is represented as the son of Pedaiah, Shealtiel or Salathiel’s brother, and consequently as Salathiel’s nephew. Zerubbabel was the legal successor and heir of Jeconiah’s royal estate, the grandson of Neri, and the lineal descendant of Nathan the son of David. In the New Testament the name appears in the Greek form of Zorobabel.
Smith's Bible Names Dictionary (1866).