Riding on a Donkey

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
[Zechariah 9:9]


Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, c. 1450, woodcut in light brown, hand-colored in red lake, green, black, tan, orange, and yellow, Rosenwald Collection.

Just as we see today, the ancient world had no shortage of triumphant rulers, but they didn’t always last. Almost 600 years before the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem stable, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar besieged and conquered Jerusalem. He commanded its complete destruction, including the Temple built by King Solomon, and took the surviving Israelites captive to Babylon.

Seventy years later, Babylon was conquered by Persia, and Cyrus the Great of Persia allowed the Israelites to return to their devastated homeland.  Going home would have been a brave choice given the ransacked shambles they had left 70 years earlier. Still, according to the Book of Nehemiah, the future priest and prophet Zechariah was among one of the first groups allowed to return to Jerusalem.

As a young man, Zechariah preached to a poor, discouraged, and frightened people, struggling to survive and make ends meet, and he pleaded with them to rebuild the Temple. Zechariah sought to encourage those who had returned from exile by focusing them on God’s promises of redemption and renewal through a future savior and king from the line of David. In doing so, Zechariah saw the successful rebuilding of the Temple. He gave subsequent readers remarkable visions of a very different kind of king.

The Book of Zechariah is important because it contains the clearest and largest number of messianic passages among the Minor Prophets, and it is quoted or mentioned often in the New Testament. But it is a challenging book, containing eight visions or dreams, four messages and two dissertations delivered by unnamed oracles. The amazing visions, including a golden lampstand, a flying scroll, and four chariots, are often difficult to interpret.

Fortunately, we have help from the Gospel writers, all of whom allude to or repeat the poetic verses of Zechariah 9:9. Matthew, after recounting Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday,  explicitly states that “This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet,” confirming that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah foretold by the prophet Zechariah.

Jesus is the king that Zechariah promised, both to the Jewish returnees and to us, but He is a very different kind of king than the Babylonian and Persian kings with their vast armies. This is a king of peace riding on a borrowed donkey. In contrast to Nebuchadnezzar, this is not a haughty, boastful king that comes to destroy, but a humble, gentle king that comes to save and restore. His triumph and victory comes not by subjugating and enslaving others by force, but by drawing all people to Himself by love. Just as the Jewish repatriates were renewed and able to rebuild the Temple encouraged by the promise of a Messiah restoring the house of David, we can look forward at Christmastide to celebrating the advent of Jesus Christ with hope in Him for redemption, renewal, and rebuilding in our personal lives.




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