Zechariah’s Donkey Prophecy

Zechariah’s Messiah prophecy focused on a donkey is one of those prophetic rarities that is so unambiguous, there can be no other explanation other than exactly what it foretells. It is more precise even than the Micah prophecy foretelling the future Ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem Ephrathah.[1]

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)

Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi commented, as it appears in the Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary:  “It is impossible to interpret this except as referring to the King Messiah.”[2]

Not just any lowly donkey, it was prophesied to be a colt, a foal which is a male under a year old. At that age, the colt foal would be unridden, unbroken. Donkeys have a reputation for their unruly and difficult behavior, even when broken, especially when they are in unfamiliar or frightening scenarios.[3] Yet the future King of Israel was prophesied to bring salvation to Jerusalem riding one such donkey colt.

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. The Davidic royal dynasty ended when Jeconiah was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 597 BC.[4] The last Jewish 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 successors of the Babylonian empire, Persian rulers Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great each instructed the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem; the backdrop when Zachariah issued the prophecy.[6] Based on the historical timing, the prophecy could only be about a future King who would bring salvation to Israel.

Scrolling forward 550 years sets the stage when Jesus of Nazareth had reached the end of his 3-year ministry.[7] Saturday night before entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus attended a dinner event at the home of Simon the leper in Bethany. In attendance were siblings Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and the 12 Disciples.[8]

Sunday, the next day, began the shortened week that ended with a special Passover celebration. This particular year, Passover fell that next weekend on the day before the weekly Saturday Sabbath thereby doubling the efforts for Preparation Day to accommodate the back-to-back, work-restricted observances. John refers to this Passover as a “high,” or “special” Sabbath, depending on the translation.[9]

One of the Disciples asked Jesus where they would be eating the upcoming Passover meal in Jerusalem? He did not answer the question directly and gave no specific information, just a clue.

Matthew and John Gospel accounts say that Jesus had instructed Peter and John to go into Jerusalem to find a mother donkey with its colt and bring them both back. From an investigative viewpoint, if Jesus wanted just a donkey to ride, he would have been expected to instruct the pair to simply find a donkey. Finding a mother donkey with a foal colt made the search much more difficult.

Aimlessly entering the big city looking for the clue Jesus had given to them, the two Disciples found a tethered mother donkey with its colt.[10] Jesus had instructed them that if anyone were to ask why they were taking the donkeys, they were to say, “The Lord has need of it.”[11]

As they untied the mother donkey with a coat, indeed, Peter and John were asked what they were doing taking his donkeys? Answering as instructed, they were led by the man with the donkeys to a house with an upper room prepared for the Passover. After they viewed the room, the owner allowed the two Disciples to take the two donkeys back to Jesus.

Entering Jerusalem for the last time, all four Gospel authors wrote about that Sunday when Jesus rode into the city seated on a donkey colt.[12] In Christianity, the Sunday event before Easter is celebrated as “Palm Sunday”:[13]

MT 21:6-9 “The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”(NIV)

Most translations of Matthew 21:7 say that Jesus sat on “them” although it is highly unlikely he sat on two donkeys of different heights at the same time. Mark and Luke are more specific referring to the unbroken colt ridden by Jesus.

Less than a week before his crucifixion, Jesus made his final entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey colt matching the Zechariah 9:9 Messiah prophecy.[14] If Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey colt, but was not the Messiah, then the Zechariah Messiah prophecy was not fulfilled.

Was the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem sitting on an donkey colt merely a coincidence – or was the Palm Sunday event a fulfillment of Zechariah’s Messiah prophecy?

 

Updated October 15, 2021.

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REFERENCES:

[1] CR Micah 5:1(2).
[2] Zechariah 9:9. Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Chabad.org. 2021. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16213/showrashi/true
[3] Luke 19:35. “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] “Captivity, or Exile, Babylonian.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. < 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. 2021. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-I>
[7] CR 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] John 12:1-2, 4. CR Matthew 26:6; Mark 11:1, 14:3; Luke 10:38-39, 19:29.
[10] John 19:31. BibleHub.com. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/john/19-31.htm>  CR Mark 15:42.
[11] Luke 19:28-37. CR Matthew 21:1-7.
[12] NASB, NKJV.
[13] Matthew 21:7; Mark 11:7; Luke 19:28; John 12:1.
[14] “Palm Sunday.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2021.  <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Palm-Sunday>