Zechariah’s Specific Messiah Prophecies

Zechariah is considered as a “Minor Prophet” in the Old Testament and Tenakh Bibles, yet the Book bearing his name holds some of the most specific details of any of the prophetic books.[1] Zechariah’s book also serves to substantiate the lineage of Jesus of Nazareth that appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

On the timeline of history, the Book of Zechariah was written during the Persian Empire under the reign of King Darius reckoned to 522–486 BC.[2] It was during a time when the Jews were receiving back their freedoms taken away during their captivity under the rule of Babylon.[3]

Progress on the decree previously issued by Persian King Cyrus to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple, destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army, had been hindered for years by troublesome political enemies of the Jews.[4] King Darius was compelled to issue another decree to complete the rebuilding of the Temple:[5]

EZ 6:7, 12 “Leave this work on the house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site…”May the God who has caused His name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who attempts to change it, so as to destroy this house of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, have issued this decree, let it be carried out with all diligence!” (NASB)

Genealogies in Matthew and Luke list the descent of Jesus of Nazareth in the lineage of King David that included Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, son of Jeconiah, who was the last sitting king of Israel. Substantiating the Gospels’ lineage, Zechariah predicted that Zerubbabel would lay the foundation for the rebuilding of the Temple.[6] The Biblical Books of Ezra and Haggai provide extensive details of Zerubbabel’s efforts to rebuild the Temple.[7]

Messiah prophecies built upon each other over time revealing more specifics. From Abraham to Moses to David and the many prophets thereafter, the prophecies over the course of the previous 1500 years came in the form of a blessing, visions, trances, parables, dreams and even to Moses at Mt. Sinai.[8]

Prophecies of Zechariah came in the form of visions and oracles, some very straightforward and specific, others more challenging to interpret. In one of the most specific, straightforward of any Messiah prophecy, Zechariah foretold how the Messiah would come to Jerusalem riding on a colt foal donkey , an unridden male under a year old:[9]

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) [10]

Branch prophecies were issued by three prophets during the span of over 200 years. Before the Jewish Captivity of King Nebuchadnezzar, Isaiah issued a Branch prophecy. During the Babylonian Captivity, Jeremiah delivered two more Branch prophecies. After the Babylonian captivity during rule of the Persian Empire, twice Zechariah issued Branch prophecies and confirmed the identity of “My Servant” in Isaiah’s parashah prophecy:

Zech 3:8 “…For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH.”(NKJV)

Zech 6:12-13 “…Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: ‘Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD; Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.’” (NKJV)

Christianity views these Branch prophecies to be foretelling the Messiah; however, in Judaism there is a split on their meaning. Jewish sage Rabbi Maimonides viewed the Branch prophecies to be about the Messiah.[11] Rabbi Rashi viewed them to be prophecies about Zerubbabel while acknowledging others view them to be about the Messiah.[12]

Jewish and Christian authorities alike recognize Zechariah 12:10 as a Messiah prophecy with nearly unanimous consensus that the Messiah would be killed. Differing views on how he would be killed centers squarely on the meaning of one Hebrew word, daqar, translated in essentially two ways:  “pierced” or “thrust through.”

Debate in the Babylonian Talmud Gemara took place in Sukkah 52a over the meaning of the Zechariah 12:10 prophecy. One faction viewed it as referring to the death of the “Evil Inclination” and the other side believed the prophecy to be referring to the death of the Messiah. Jewish Bibles translate daqar as “thrust him through.”

Zech 12:10 “…and they shall look unto Me because they have thrust him through; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.” (Jewish Publication Society)

Traditional Christian Bibles translate daqar as “pierced,” but it is not unanimous. Contemporary, simplified Bible translations are more closely aligned with the Jewish Bibles’ interpretation of daqar as stabbed or thrust through with a spear.[13]

“… then they will look on Me whom they pierced.”(New King James Version)

“They will look at me, whom they have stabbed.” (God’s Word Translation)

“They’ll then be able to recognize me as the One they so grievously wounded–that piercing spear-thrust!” (Message)

Language analysis reveals the Hebrew word, daqar, appears in the Tenakh or Old Testament nine other times – eight different Books plus one other use by the prophet Zechariah.[14] In all instances, the word is always used in the context of wounds inflicted by a type of weapon such as a sword or spear.

Zechariah’s prophecies may be fewer in number, but some are very specific and have major implications to the prophetic life and death of the Messiah. Were his prophecies fulfilled by the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

Updated March 10, 2022.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation. 1917. Benyamin Pilant. 1997. <http://www.breslov.com/bibleNET Bible (NET) translation.  <https://net.bible.org>
[2] Zechariah 1:1. NetBible.org. Footnote #2. <http://classic.net.bible.org/bible.php?book=Zec&chapter=1#n2> “Darius I.” EncyclopediaBrittanica. 2022. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-I>
[3] Zechariah 1:1.
[4] Ezra 1:2-3.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4. 1883. Philogos.org. <https://philologos.org/__eb-lat>
[5] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. and commentary.  William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book XI, Chapter III.8 and IV.1-2, 7. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[6] I Chronicles 3:17-19; Zechariah 4:6-10; Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38.  CR Ezra 3:2, 8, 4:2-3, 5:2; Haggai 1:1, 14, 2:20-23. Dolphin, Lambert.  “The Genealogy from Adam to Jesus Christ” Idolphin.org. 2011. <http://ldolphin.org/2adams.html>
[7] Ezra 3-5; Haggai 1-2.
[8] Genesis 41:1-14; Numbers 24:15-17; 2 Samuel 12:1-13; 1 Kings 20:35-42; Psalms 78:1-3; Daniel 2:27-28, 4:4-10, chapters 8 & 10; Isaiah chapter 5; Hosea 12:10.
[9] Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi commentary. Zechariah 9:9. Rash commentary. https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16213/showrashi/true>  “Understanding Donkey Behavior.” The Donkey Sanctuary. 2018. <https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/sites/sanctuary/files/document/142-1404405754-donkey_health_and_welfare_19.pdf>
[10] Matthew 21:1-8; Luke 19:29-36; John 12:12-16. “Zechariah Texts Quoted in the New Testament Regarding Jesus’ Ministry.” ESV.org. 2020. <https://www.esv.org/resources/esv-global-study-bible/chart-38-01>
[11] Maimonides, “Letter to the South (Yemen)”. p 374.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1&hl=en#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false>   
[12] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Zechariah 6:12 Rashi commentary. <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm>  Plaut, Gunther. “Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: Back in the Land.” MyJewishLearning.com. n.d. <http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Bible/Prophets/Latter_Prophets/The_12_Minor_Prophets/Haggai_Zechariah_Malachi.shtml>
[13] Contemporary English Verson; Good News Translation; God’s Word translation; Zechariah 12:10. BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/zechariah/12-10.htm>  The Message; Bible in Basic English. Zechariah 12:10. NetBible.org. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Zec&chapter=12&verse=10>
[14] “daqar.” Net.bible.org. Hebrew text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/search.php?search=hebrew_strict_index:01856> Sapir, Avinoam. LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation, Inc. n.d. <http://www.lsiscan.com/index.htm>  “SCAN – Scientific Content Analysis (Statement Analysis).” Advanced Polygraph. 2011. <http://www.advancedpolygraph.com.au/scan.htm> “Introduction to Text Analysis: About Text Analysis.”  Duke University | Libraries. 2017. <https://guides.library.duke.edu/text_analysis>  “What Is the Definition of Textual Analysis?” Reference.com. 2018. <https://www.reference.com/education/definition-textual-analysis-a95087916fcb24cb> Pfarrer, Mike “What is content analysis?” University of Georgia | Terry College of Business. 2012. <http://www.terry.uga.edu/management/contentanalysis>

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.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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>