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Matthew (21:4-5) and John (12:14-15) point to a prophetic fulfillment of Zachariah 9:9,

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.

But is displaying humility and fulfilling prophesy the only reasons?

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It depends on what one sees as the point of fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies. If you mean "is the only reason to ride a donkey because it matches the prophecy" as being a formulaic fulfillment then perhaps one has to expand the understanding of why the prophecy exists.

The prophecy doesn't just identify the mode of transport, it also says something. The prophecy points to a donkey which contrasts with the idea of warhorses and military pomp.

This contrast, I think is found in Zechariah 9 in the seeing the Messianic king "humble and mounted on a donkey" [v9, ESV] and the declaration of "I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem" [v10, ESV] which characterises the success of the ungodly conquerors.

What I take from a commentary on Zechariah 9:

"The horse was the usual mount for princes, according to the Barkal stela erected by Thut-mose III (c. 1490–1437 BC), who wrote of 330 princes taken prisoner near Megiddo, ‘They all went on donkey (back), so that I might take their horses.’ In the Persian period we know that a horse was mount for the Persian king, Ahasuerus (Esth. 6:8), but prophetic scorn of trust in war-horses (verse 10, cf. Isa. 2:7; 31:1; Mic. 5:10; Hag. 2:22) may have favoured the use of asses in Israel. The ass was an appropriate mount for one who came on a mission of peace."

[Baldwin, J. G. (1972). Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 28, p. 179). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

So the choice of a donkey is not just to match the prophetic vehicle, but to fulfill the prophetic promise of a type of messianic king. It's like driving up in a red car, not only because a red car was prophesied, but also because a red car is not a tank.

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  • Is there some evidence that a donkey is meant to be contrasted with a horse? I've heard people say this and it's plausible but I've never seen any concrete evidence from scripture or the culture. If you this evidence could you add it to your post. – Matthew Miller Mar 2 '15 at 15:16
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    An excellent question! I must say I trusted, somewhat, the words of commentators without checking my sources much more than that. But what I have I'll add. – Dave Alger Mar 5 '15 at 9:04
  • @MatthewMiller The introduction to The Last Week by Crossan and Borg talks about Jesus' entry to Jerusalem on a donkey as well as Pilate's annual entry to Jerusalem on a war horse followed by a host of Roman soldiers. The contrast would have been blatantly obvious to those living at the time. – Bruce Alderman Mar 5 '15 at 16:17
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In entering into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus was publicly declaring himself to be the "son of David" and the rightful king of Israel. But there’s an even bigger reason to connect Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem with his claim to be king than Zachariah 9.

We know that the act of riding a mule into Jerusalem was the sign by which Solomon was proclaimed king of Israel. This event is found in 1 Kings 1. The ride on David’s mule is there emphasized, being repeated three times.

In 1 Kings 1 David's eldest son, Adonijah, takes advantage of his father’s weakness to unite publically with his Father's men, declaring his intentions to the throne.

But some are troubled by his plan. Bathsheba being one of them. She goes to David and reminds him of the promise he made to her and her son.

David instructs them on what to do.

set Solomon my son on my own mule and take him down to the Gihon. There have Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel. Blow the trumpet and shout, ‘Long live King Solomon!’

And they do as he said.

Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon. And all the people went up after him, playing flutes and rejoicing greatly, so that the ground shook with the sound.

But of course the news doesn't make everyone glad. Adonijah and his supporters flee from their feast in fear.

This is a particularly crucial event in Israel’s history. It’s Israel’s first dynastic succession. Though Saul had been the first king of Israel, he had no successor. He and his sons were killed and the rule passed to a new line of David. It’s not until Solomon’s coronation in 1 Kings 1, however, that we find David’s royal linage established. And it’s established in none other than Solomon’s ride into Jerusalem on David’s mule.

Given this events historical and symbolic importance, Its likely that it was repeated in all subsequent coronation ceremonies. In the same way George Washington’s personal decision to swear on a Bible has been repeated in all subsequent presidential inaugurations, so the riding into Jerusalem on a mule formed the basis for future coronations. Jesus, by entering Jerusalem on a donkey, appears to be acting out a royal coronation ceremony which the people recognized.

In this one act Jesus symbolically proclaimed himself the "Son of David" and the restoration of the fallen house of David. The people clearly recognized this. In each of the four Gospels they shout with joy at the coming kingdom. Their use of palm branches also pointed to Jesus as the coming King. This was how the Macabees were celebrated as they entered Jerusalem after defeating the Seleucid king.

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    It's interesting when Jehu is anointed king, people spread their cloaks out before him; but he seems to be on foot as best I can tell. – Soldarnal Mar 3 '15 at 23:33
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    That is interesting. 2 Kings 9:13. My total speculation is that the "mule" was only a part of the corination of the davidic Kings. But this detail certainly lends weight to the idea that this is a coronation ceremony. – Matthew Miller Mar 3 '15 at 23:49
  • Saul did have a surviving grandson. – Belinda Feb 21 '16 at 14:53
  • @Belinda by successor, I mean no successor who sat on the throne. Saul may have had offspring but he had no dynasty. – Matthew Miller Feb 21 '16 at 16:55
  • @MatthewMiller, now that I see what you are trying to say I agree, but I do think that the phrasing is unclear, especially as you mention that Saul's sons died also and given the ages of some Kings, I assume that if God had not rejected him his grandson would have been King. – Belinda Feb 21 '16 at 17:41
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Jesus had walked all the way from Galilee and could indeed walk the final few hours into Jerusalem, but is shown as making a triumphant entry, riding on a donkey. This provides a dramatic introduction to the final stage of Jesus' mission:

  • Jesus' very knowledge that there was a young colt awaiting him in a nearby village, demonstrates his powers (Mark 11:2).
  • There was the re-enactment of Zechariah 9:9:

    Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

  • The people waved leafy branches as he road into Jerusalem on his donkey, which introduces the imagery of the Festival of the Booths, known as Sukkoth, although this was actually held much later in the year. John Shelby Spong puts it this way, in Jesus for the NonReligious (page 113):

    In the observance of Sukkoth, worshippers processed through Jerusalem and in the Temple, waving a bunch of leafy branches made of willow, myrtle and palm. As they waved these branches in that procession, the worshippers recited words from Psalm 118, the psalm normally used at Sukkoth. Among these words were 'Save us, we beseech you, O Lord.' Save us in Hebrew is hosianna or 'hosanna'. This is typically followed by 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. (Psalm 118:25-6)'.

    Bruce Feiler, in Abraham, page 89, cites Yair Zakovitch, dean of humanities at Hebrew University:

    Look, the Gospels are a very good piece of Jewish literature, and they understand that one cannot have a messianic leader who is not Davidic. If you want to convince the Jews that Jesus is the one, he has to be linked with David. He has to fulfill the prophecies. A messiah king has to be born in Bethlehem, he has to come to Jerusalem. Sure enough, when Jesus enters Jerusalem he enters on a donkey, because that's what we read in Zechariah 9.

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  • Waving palm branches was how the Macabees were celebrated as they entered Jerusalem after defeating the Seleucid king. It's not necessary to claim that gospel writers are untrustworthy on this point. – Matthew Miller Feb 21 '16 at 17:17
  • @MatthewMiller About the Macabees: agreed. But it is the entire context, including Ps 118 that convinced Bishop Spong that this was based on the Sukkoth observance and not simply based on the return of the Maccabees. – Dick Harfield Feb 21 '16 at 19:31
  • Is it necessary to assume that the gospel writers are making this stuff up? All the gospel writers agree that Jesus was condemned by the Romans for claiming to be the king of the Jews. How and when did he publically claim this? He did it by entering Jerusalem on a donkey and cleansing the temple. This was a symbolic act with a political message. It made perfect sense to those who knew Israel's history. Zachariah 9:9, while interesting, isn't really the issue here. The primary allusion is to the coronation of both Solomon and the Macabees and the relationship these kings had to the temple. – Matthew Miller Feb 21 '16 at 23:46
  • @MatthewMiller Please join me in chat. – Dick Harfield Feb 22 '16 at 0:22
  • Sorry I can't join. I've closed my Facebook account and this is how I'm able to log in. – Matthew Miller Feb 22 '16 at 21:03
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The imagery of Genesis 49:10 and Zechariah 9:9 alludes to the eschatological ruler (Jesus Christ) that would bring peace. This fundamental idea (peace) is something that needs mention as it relates to the donkey. Donkey's, within the context of Ancient Near Eastern Culture, was a symbol of peace that was often used as the official envoy of nobility or those who served within the scope of judicial liaison.

It is associated throughout the Bible with peaceful pursuits (Genesis 42:26f; Genesis 22:3; 1 Samuel 16:20; 2 Samuel 19:26; Neh. 13:15), whereas the horse is referred to in connection with war and armies. (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.)

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They are spoken of in connection with the history of Pharaoh (Genesis 12:16), Abraham (Genesis 22:3), Jacob (Genesis 32:5), Moses (Exodus 4:20), Balaam (Numbers 22:21-33), and in fact most of the notable persons mentioned in the OT. There was nothing in any sense degrading in the idea of riding on a donkey, as might perhaps be inferred from Zech. 9:9 (cf. Matthew 21:7). It was the sign of the peaceful mission of Christ. Kings, high priests, judges, and the richest people of ancient and modern times have ridden on donkeys. Many of the donkeys of Damascus, Baghdad, Aleppo, Cairo, Cyprus, and other parts of the East are beautiful animals, easy in gait, and perfectly surefooted. They often cost high prices and are adorned with magnificent trappings.( The New Unger's Bible Dictionary.)

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We must take care not to read our own attitudes toward the donkey into the biblical materials. In Christian tradition the ass is a symbol of absurdity (cf. the motif of the ass musician) and obstinacy, as well as the mount of the demon of sloth; and the red donkey becomes a figure of Satan. But respected rabbis rode asses. Furthermore, Ugaritic sources depict deities on the backs of donkeys, Islamic tradition calls several heroes “donkey-riders” and the early Christian tale Vita Sanctae Pelagiae Meretricis presents as the apex of beauty and sensuality a woman riding on a donkey. Clearly attitudes have differed from place to place and time to time. Not all have consistently thought the donkey “perverse” (Plato) or “the meanest of animals” (Minucius Felix). In the Bible the donkey is a beast of burden (Gen 42:26) and a plower of fields (Is 30:24). But its main function is as a vehicle for rich and poor alike (cf. the popular story of Balaam’s ass in Numbers 22). Despite its widespread use by all, the donkey and the mule were also evidently a staple of ancient Near Eastern royal ceremony. In 1 Kings 1:33-44 Solomon rides David’s mule to Gihon to be anointed king (cf. 2 Sam 13:19; 19:26). Riding on a donkey for ceremonial entry into a city is already an act of kingship in the royal archives of Mari; and in the old Sumerian text “Gilgamesh and Agga,” the sons of kings ride donkeys. (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery).

It is this royal association with donkey's that is behind the imagery of Zechariah 9:9 and the same that is envisioned upon the triumphal entry of Christ into the city. Jesus is the "prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6) who came to usher in a "kingdom of peace" (cf. Jn. 14:27; Matt. 11:29; 5:3; 5:5). Christ was showing what kind of King He was and what kind of kingdom He sought to usher His people into.

Hope this helps! There is so much more that could be said on the subject but I will resist!

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Displaying humility and fulfillment of prophesy is the factual response to this question. Prophesy first does not mean that we have to research on "why prophesy?".

God always uses the least to achieve His purpose. The colt was there - Tied, Not ridden and perhaps Ignored Yet it was used to achieve the Purpose of Praise that is deserved for the one who is worthy. He deserves the glory and praise - "Psalms 115: 1, We don’t deserve praise! The Lord alone deserves all of the praise, because of his love and faithfulness". This is only a part of the answer. There is even more to it... God bless you

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I think there is also significance to be found in the fact That jesus rode an animal That wasnt domesticized, showing how the Lord truly is Lord of all (he calms the waves, he could also calm a donkey).

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