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The Donkey Prophecy

Zechariah’s Messiah prophecy about a donkey is one of those prophetic rarities that is so unambiguous, there can be no other explanation other than exactly what it foretells. 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)

Not just any lowly donkey, it was prophesied to be a colt, a male; a foal, under a year old. At that age, the colt would be unridden, unbroken. Donkeys are known for their unruly and difficult behavior especially in unfamiliar and frightening scenarios.[2] Yet the future King of Israel was prophesied to bring salvation to Jerusalem riding one such unbroken 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.[3]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.”[4]

Decrees  issued by Persian rulers Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem is the Hebrew history backdrop when Zachariah issued the prophecy.[5] Based on the historical timing, the prophecy could only be  about a future King who would bring salvation to Israel.

Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi agreed that the Zechariah donkey prophecy refers directly to the prophesied Messiah. In the Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commenary the Rabbi’s commented, “It is impossible to interpret this except as referring to the King Messiah.”[6]

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.

Brushing off the warning, Jesus replied that no prophet is killed outside of Jerusalem. The comment referred to the historical reputation of Jerusalem being known for killing the prophets sent by God.[7] It was an indicting condemnation of the Jewish religious leaders now primarily represented by the Pharisees.

One final comment by Jesus to the Pharisees included a prediction. The next time they would see him a well-known Jewish praise of salvation would be shouted, quoting from Psalms 118:16.[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)

Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi in his commentary of the Micah 5:1(2) interpreted the Bethlehem prophecy to be about the Messiah. Quoting from Psalms 118:22, “The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone,” the Rabbi expounded that the verse refers to “the Messiah, son of David.”

Saturday night before entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus was at a dinner event in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper. In attendance were siblings Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and the 12 Disciples.[9]

Sunday, the next day, began the week that held a special Passover celebration. This particular year, Passover fell the day before the Sabbath causing a doubling of efforts on Preparation Day, now a day earlier, to accommodate the back-to-back work-restricted observances. John referred to this as a “high,” or “special” Sabbath, depending on the translation.[10]

One of the Disciples asked where they would be eating the Passover meal in Jerusalem? Jesus did not answer the question directly. Instead, he sent Peter and John ahead into Jerusalem to find both a donkey with its colt and a room where they could eat the Passover meal. No specific information was given, only clues.

Aimlessly entering the city looking for the clues Jesus had given to them, they found a tethered mother donkey with its colt.[11] If anyone were to ask why they were taking the donkeys, they were to say, “The Lord has need of it.”[12]

Peter and John found the mother donkey with its colt and were led by the man with the donkeys to a house with a an upper room prepared for the Passover. The owner allowed the Disciples to take the donkeys back to Jesus.

Entering Jerusalem for the last time, all four Gospel authors write about that Sunday when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem.[13] The Sunday before Easter, it is known as “Palm Sunday” in Christianity.[14]

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 Christian 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. The original King James Version translates the Greek text more succinctly:

MT 21:7 “And brought the ass and the colt, and put on them their clothes and they set [him] thereon.” (KJV)

Matthew and John Gospel accounts both say that Jesus had asked them to find a mother donkey with its colt – if Jesus only wanted a donkey to ride, then he would have been expected to instruct the two Disciples to simply find a donkey. Instead, he told the two Disciples to find only a mother donkey with a colt and bring back both.

While neither of the Gospel accounts expressly state that Jesus sat on the colt rather than the mother donkey, logic further dictates that if the colt was not intended to be ridden, then no coats would be thrown of its back.

Both Gospels make reference to the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilling the Zechariah 9:9 Messiah prophecy that explicitly states it would be a foal colt donkey.[15] If Jesus was not sitting on the colt, then the Zechariah prophecy was not fulfilled.

Riding on the back of a foal colt donkey into Jerusalem matched the Zechariah 9:9 Messiah prophecy. The prediction Jesus made a few days earlier also came to pass when Jesus entered Jerusalem and people shouted “”Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!”[16]

Was this triumphal entry to Jerusalem no more than a two-fold coincidence – or was the Palm Sunday event the dual fulfillment of Messiah prophecies?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] CR Micah 5:1(2).
[2] “Understanding Donkey Behavior.” The Donkey Sanctuary. 2018. <https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/sites/sanctuary/files/document/142-1404405754-donkey_health_and_welfare_19.pdf>
 [3] Ryrie Study Bible. Ed. Ryrie Charles C. Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “Introduction to the Book of Zechariah.”
[4] “Captivity, or Exile, Babylonian.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. < http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4012-captivity>
[5] 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>
[6] Zechariah 9:9. Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Chabad.org. 2021. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16213/showrashi/true
[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>
[15] Matthew 21:5; John 12:15.
[16] Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9; Luke 19:38; John 12:13.

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