“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.” (Zechariah 9:9)
You’ll probably recognize this as the prophecy fulfilled in Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. The tepmtation that sits before us, the highly educated Greek-thinkers, is to look at this verse and file it away under “A” for apologetics. We might note that it’s cool that Jesus fulfilled the whole riding on a donkey thing, and then just keep going. I think that’s generally what I’ve done with it in the past. But this is a tremendously rich verse that has been tugging on my heart for several days now.
First, it’s worth taking note that God tells His people to “Rejoice greatly” and “shout”. There is nothing stoic about this prophecy, or about this coming King. This is not merely the rising and falling of yet another ruler in the history of Israel. There is something about this King that is particularly worth rejoicing about. The coming of this King is good news… very good news.
The reason? This is a king unlike any other. Think about the history of kings of the earth. When Israel was tired of the rule of God, and demanded their own King, Samuel warned Israel what they were asking for…
So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”
Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations…” (1 Samuel 8:10-20a)
Despite all of Samuel’s warnings, Israel chose the worldly king anyway. They wanted to be just like all the other nations, apparently not taking into account what shambles all the other nations were in. Be careful what you wish for, because eventually God gives it to you.
Looking over the kings of Israel and Judah, it’s a pretty bleak picture overall. There are a few bright spots in David, Josiah, etc., but the vast majority of the kings of Israel were nothing short of horrifying… just like all the Gentile nations. Even Saul, the first in line, blatantly rebelled against God, and ended his life consumed with protecting his own throne. Jeroboam built golden calves to keep people from worshipping the true God in Jerusalem. Ahab not only adopted the worship of the calves, but he added to it the worship of Baal, pettily murdered a man for his vineyard, and refused to heed the words of Elijah. Manasseh engaged in many forms of idolatry (even doing so within the temple of God), sacrificed his own son to pagan gods, practiced witchcraft, and “shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to the other” (2Kings 21:16).
The history of Israel’s kings is an unhappy one indeed.
Yet this King described in Zechariah 9 is different. Jesus is the one Man in history who has not fulfilled at least a little bit of the warnings of Samuel. He is the one who resisted the pull of sin through His entire life. Even great kings like David had their moments of failure in the areas of pride and injustice. But not Jesus. Not even once.
This is precisely what Zechariah highlights as being so unique. “Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey…”
Jesus is not at all like all the other kings of all the other nations. He is the very embodiment of what it means when God, in His mercy, does not give us what we deserve. Jesus is a King who can be trusted. He is a King who can be loved. You will never find Him clamoring to protect His throne or to prove just how much greater He is than anyone else. You will never find Him in fits of rage or arbitrary power trips. He is a King who can be safely followed to the ends of the earth, because He is the only one who is unremittingly just and who is truly, completely humble. He is the Ruler over the kings of the earth (Rev 1:5) and is also the Servant of rulers (Isa 49:7). He leads by serving. This is a King who washes feet. And this is the One Israel is to look to for salvation.
Behold, your King is coming. He is humble. He is just. He has salvation. And that is a reason for great rejoicing.