The King Comes on a Donkey
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (v. 9).- Zechariah 9:9-17
Judah went into exile in Babylon after centuries of suffering at the hands of Assyria, Egypt, and other foreign enemies. One of the great blessings of Judah’s return from exile was supposed to be safety from all of the nation’s foes (Deut. 30:1–10). However, this did not happen at once in the sixth century BC when the Judahites returned to their land. Many of the surrounding powers opposed the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 3). When Nehemiah arrived in the land, Samaria and other foreign powers attempted to thwart the efforts to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall (Neh. 4:1–14). Such problems demonstrated that Daniel was correct when he foresaw the extension of the conditions of exile past 538 BC (Dan. 9).
Although the Judahites had certainly merited the continuation of the exile, the Lord in His grace did not intend for this to last forever. Thus, during the ministry of Zechariah, God gave the prophet visions of the end of the exile. Zechariah 9:1–8 describes this in terms of the defeat of Judah’s enemies. Verses 9–17 view the end of exile in terms of the return of the Davidic king to Zion. We read that this king would enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey. The Davidic king’s riding on a humble beast of burden has precedent, for Solomon was presented as David’s rightful successor by being placed on David’s mule (1 Kings 1:33). In any case, the image is one of humility. Final salvation would not come to the people of God through the traditional route of a conquering king on a noble horse. Instead, it would be achieved in an unexpected way through what men typically regard as weak and despised.
In the day of salvation, Ephraim and Jerusalem would no longer trust the war horse and chariot (Zech. 9:10). The prophet is speaking of the reunited kingdom of Israel and pointing out that the salvation achieved by the humble Davidic king would convince the people of God to rest in Him alone and not in the idols of human might that the old covenant community often relied upon (Isa. 31:1; Jer. 42:19).
These promises would be fulfilled because of the blood of the covenant (Zech. 9:11). Once more we see the unconditional nature of salvation—God has committed Himself to redeeming His people despite their unfaithfulness. The “blood of the covenant” likely refers to the covenant of salvation the Lord made with Abraham in which God made a promise to save the patriarch’s children and ratified it with the shedding of blood (Gen. 15). Because of this oath, the Lord would not fail to save His own.
Note again that God’s covenant of salvation is unconditional in the sense that the Lord Himself guarantees that He will enact it—He will certainly save a people for Himself. That does not mean, however, that this covenant of salvation has no conditions. The Lord will save a people, but one cannot be a part of this people apart from repentance and faith in Christ. These conditions are not met only at conversion, but we must grow in faith and repentance throughout out lives.
Passages for Further Study