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A Prophecy, a Donkey, a Psalm

Zechariah’s Messiah prophecy about a donkey is one of those prophetic rarities that is so specific, there is no way to explain it away – it either happens or it doesn’t.[1] It could only be seconded by Micah’s prophecy that the future Ruler of Israel would be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah.[2]

Zech 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”(NKJV) 

Riding on a lowly donkey, not just any donkey – a colt which is a male; a foal which is under a year old – that was unridden, unbroken. Donkeys are known for their unruly and difficult behavior especially in unfamiliar and frightening scenarios, yet the King bringing salvation to Jerusalem was prophesied to ride one such unbroken donkey colt.[3]

Written between 520 – 518 BC, the prophecy was issued about 80 years after the last king of Israel, Jeconiah, sat on the Throne of David that ended when he was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 597 BC.[4] The king was deported to Babylon along with “the most distinguished men of the land, and the most valuable treasures of the Temple and the palace.”[5]

Decrees  issued by Persian rulers Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem is the Hebrew history backdrop when the prophecy was issued by Zachariah.[6] His prophecy, based on the timing, could only be referencing a future King who would bring salvation to Israel.

Scrolling forward 550 years sets the stage when Jesus of Nazareth was reaching the end of his 3-year ministry. Outside of Jerusalem, oddly some Pharisees warned Jesus that Tetrarch Herod wanted to kill him. Jesus brushed off the warning saying that surely no prophet is killed outside of Jerusalem referring to its historical reputation for killing or trying to kill prophets of God.[7]

Telling the Pharisees to send a message back to Herod implying he wasn’t worried, Jesus said he would be busy for the next three days healing and casting out demons, but then…  Jesus predicted the next time they would see him, it would be under special circumstances:[8]

LK 13:35 “… I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”(NKJV)

If Jesus was to fulfill Zechariah’s specific Messiah prophecy saying the King would arrive on a male donkey foal, he just made the prophetic event even more specific and challenging to fulfill. Quoting from Psalms 118:26, Jesus prophesied the next time he came to Jerusalem the people would be rejoicing:

PS .118:26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.”(NKJV)

Psalms 118 is one of several referencing salvation.[9] Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi’s commentary of Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy refers to the Psalm saying it is written about: “the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): ‘The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.’”[10] Ironically, the Rabbi omits the Messiah reference in his direct commentary of Psalms 118.[11]

A few days later before entering Jerusalem while approaching the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples into the village ahead telling them they would find a tethered donkey colt with its mother that had never been ridden and to bring it back to him.[12] If anyone were to ask why they were taking the donkeys, they were to say “the Lord has need of it.”[13] Not knowing where to look nor the owner’s identify, they found the colt with its mother and its owner who asked the question just as predicted.

Sunday beginning Passover week, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time. Matthew and Luke wrote about Jesus riding on the donkey colt. All four Gospel authors write about that day, known as Palm Sunday, of which the eyewitness, John, wrote:[14]

JN 12:12-13  “The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:

“Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!””(NKJV)

Shouting “Hosanna!” people of the crowd quoted Psalms 118:26 praising Jesus, laying down their outer garments and placed palm branches in his path.[15] In its reference article entitled “Hosanna,” the JewishEncyclopedia.com cites the Gospel of John and references Matthew 21:42 which quotes Psalms 118:22-23: 

“According to John xii. 13…which has the story preserved in its original form, the same cry was raised by the multitude on the occasion of Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem. They “took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”—that is, the verse following “Anna Adonai hoshi’ah-nna” in the Hallel psalm— and then called him “the King of Israel.” … The Psalm verses recited have been interpreted by the Rabbis also as referring to the advent of the Messiah (see Midr. Teh. to Ps. cxviii. 17, 21, 22; comp. Matt. xxi. 42).”[16]

“Hosanna” is a shortened version of the Hebrew saying “Anna Adonai hoshi-‘ah-nna.” The word is a customary cry of joyful celebration tracing to ancient times when a marching procession would wave branches of palm, myrtle and willow each day of the Sukkot festival.[17]

Last of the three annual Hebrew pilgrimage feasts, Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths – is a dual celebration of the harvest festival and the Hebrews emerging from 40 years in the wilderness after Sinai when God temporarily dwelled in the Tabernacle tent.[18] Seventh day of the festival called “Hoshaana Rabbah” meaning “Great Salvation” closes the period of judgment which began during the festival on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.[19]

Coming full circle back to the prophecies of Zechariah and by Jesus days earlier, riding into Jerusalem on the back of an unbroken male donkey foal, people hailed Jesus as their King of salvation quoting from Psalms 118. Was this no more than a multi-faceted coincidence – or was Palm Sunday the multiple fulfillment of Messiah prophecies?

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References:

[1]  Bugg, Michael. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.”  Hebrew Root. n.d.  <http://www.hebrewroot.com/Articles/prophetic_types.htm
Brooks, Carol. “Prophecy.” InPlainSite.org. <http://www.inplainsite.org/html/old_testament_prophecy.html
> Micah 5:2 (Jewish Bible Michah v.1).
[3] “Understanding Donkey Behavior.” The Donkey Sanctuary. 2018. <https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/sites/sanctuary/files/document/142-1404405754-donkey_health_and_welfare_19.pdf>
[4] Ryrie Study Bible.  Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “Introduction to the Book of Zechariah.”
 
[5] Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  “Captivity, or Exile, Babylonian.” <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4012-captivity
[6] Ezra 1:1-3, 4:4-6, 6:14-15; Nehemiah 6:15; 12:45. Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. 1850. Book XI, Chapter II. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. & commentary by William Whitson.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Cyrus the Great.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018.  <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cyrus-the-Great> “Darius I.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018.  <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-I>
[7] Matthew 23:19-39. Luke 13:31-35.  I Kings 18:13-15; 19:14. 2 Chronicles 24:19-22; Jeremiah 26:7-16, 18-19, 20-23; 38:1-13.
[8] Matthew 23:37-39. Luke 13:31-35.
[9] “Salvation.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13051-salvation>
[10] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. “Michah – Micah – Chapter 5.” v1. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16191#showrashi=true>
[11] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. “Tehillim – Psalms – Chapter 118.” v122. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16339#showrashi=true>
[12] Luke 19:28-37. CR Matthew 21:1-7.
[13] NASB, NKJV.
[14] Matthew 21:2-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16.
[15] Matthew 21:8; Luke 19.36.
[16] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7893-hosanna>
[17] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. 
[18] Rich, Tracey R. “Sukkot.”  JewFAQ.org. n.d.  <http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm>
[19] “What is Sukkot.”  Chabad.org. 2014. <http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/4784/jewish/What-is-Sukkot.htm>

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