The king is coming (Zechariah 9)

How does Jesus fulfil the promises of Zechariah 9 about dealing with their enemies and restoring divine kingship?

The humble king, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Zechariah 9:9 is an outstanding prophecy, worth exploring in context.

The previous eight verses say that God was opposed to their neighbours to the north (Syrians) and south (Philistines). How does that fit with Jesus? Didn’t the previous chapter promise that the nations would come to seek the Lord? (8:20-23) As always, we need to appreciate the wider context.

The first eight chapters were the word of the Lord for those who had gone into exile, encouraging them to return and rebuild the temple, with the promise that their heavenly sovereign would return to them. Zechariah received these words in the Persian period, some dated to an exact day (1:7; 7:1).

But Chapters 9–14 are undated messages to an unnamed prophet. It’s a different genre, another kind of prophetic oracle (mǎś·śāʾ 9:1; 12:1). It’s a later time when the second temple is up and running, but the other promise God gave Zechariah remains unfulfilled.

There were two symbols of God’s sovereignty over his nation, represented by two people: the high priest in God’s house representing his presence, and the son of David on the throne representing his reign (4:1-14). Joshua the high priest had been restored to his duties (3:1-7), but Zerubbabel the governor was not crowned as king. In fact, the high priest had been crowned with the kingly responsibilities also, functioning as the Branch from David’s line since they could not have a king (6:9-15).

But how long was this interim arrangement to last? The question became more urgent as time passed. Eventually Persia fell to Alexander the Great, so Judea came under Greek control (see 9:13). We’re talking centuries of foreign rule — of not being restored as a kingdom of God.

When would God restore the Davidic kingship? How would God free his people from oppression? When would God reign over them again? Zechariah 9–14 addresses these questions. And these are the chapters that Jesus and the New Testament writers quote most.

Open Zechariah 9 (ESV)

The king is coming

The big question is who rules: their enemies, or God’s anointed king? Far from being separate issues, these are two sides of the same coin. God says he will deal with the problem of their enemies (9:1-8) so their king can return in peace (9:9-17).

The reason they wanted a king in the first place was that they kept getting hammered by their enemies (1 Samuel 8:20). King David subdued their enemies: Philistines to the south, Syrians to the north, and Edomites to the East. His son Solomon reigned in peace (the golden age of the kingdom), but then the kingdom split. Sometimes the two parts fought each other. Eventually both parts fell to the bigger kingdoms to the south (Egypt) and north (Assyria / Babylon).

Now Alexander the Great’s armies have conquered everything from Greece to Persia, so their enemy is Greece (9:13). Without a king to lead them they can never break free, and if they appoint a king he would probably die trying to save them. Chicken-and-egg problem.

The unnamed prophet of Zechariah 9 does not incite Judea to revolt against their enemies and install their own king. His oracle declares that YHWH will deal with their enemies and install his king:

Zechariah 9 (ESV)
1 The oracle of the word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrach and Damascus is its resting place. For the Lord has an eye on mankind and on all the tribes of Israel …
I [the Lord] will take away its blood from its [Philistia’s] mouth, and its abominations from between its teeth …
Then I will encamp at my house as a guard, so that none shall march to and fro;
no oppressor shall again march over them, for now I see with my own eyes.
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.

Hadrach and Damascus were in Syria. Ashkelon, Gaza, and Ashdod were Philistine towns. These were the enemies back in David’s day. The implication is that God will deal with their current enemy (Greece) as he dealt with their enemies in the past, but saying it in a way that is less likely to get the prophet arrested.

The king comes in peace

The answer to the chicken-and-egg problem is this: God will deal with their enemies, so his king will come in peace. He’s not coming on a warhorse with a show of military might, but as a humble leader riding a donkey.

Even the civil conflict between the two houses of Israel (Ephraim vs Jerusalem) is over. God installing his king sends a peace message to the nations:

Zechariah 9 (ESV)
10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
13 For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword.

What guarantee could the prophet give that God would do this? He recalls the covenant God made with them at Sinai after rescuing them from slavery, YHWH’s commitment that he would be their sovereign and they would be his nation, the covenant sealed by sprinkling them with blood and inviting them to a meal in his presence (Exodus 24:8-9).

Zechariah already declared that God would save his people again, sending a new Moses to lead them out of slavery and restore them as his people where he would live among them and lead them (2:7-13). Saving and leading his people is exactly how Jesus understood his kingdom responsibility. His last meal celebrated what was about to take place: covenant faithfulness expressed in his own blood (Matthew 26:28).

Christ as king

When God’s Christ finally arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey to bring the nations to peace under God’s kingship (Matthew 21:1-9), Greece had fallen but the next superpower (Rome) had taken over. Didn’t they still have the same problem addressed in Zechariah 9? Weren’t they still crushed by their enemies, still waiting for God’s anointed king?

Yes, but the problem was even more insidious. His own people were his enemies: his own nation, the Jerusalem leaders, even his own disciples (Matthew 21:14-16). We’ll read more of this in Zechariah: the horror of the shepherd being struck down (10:2-3; 11:3-17; 13:7).

But first, the prophet wants to reassure them of God’s faithfulness. Remember when the Lord committed himself to his nation at Sinai? His authoritative presence appeared like flashes of lightning and sounded like a trumpet (Exodus 20:18-19). That covenant was the basis for their trust that God would save them again:

Zechariah 9:14–17 (ESV)
14 Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning;
the Lord God will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.
15 The Lord of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones, and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine, and be full like a bowl, drenched like the corners of the altar.
16 On that day the Lord their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land.
17 For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women.

Jesus uses the same covenant imagery to describe God restoring the kingship in him. He knows his enemies are among his own people (Matthew 10:36; 13:57), the leaders in Jerusalem (16:21; 20:18; 21:15). To deal with the enemies, God must deal with Jerusalem (23:32 – 24:2) in what will be their worst time ever (24:15-22). But he is convinced that God will still raise up the Son of Man as he has promised — the visible presence of God like lightning (24:27) and a loud trumpet (24:31).

Zechariah’s message was a trumpet call to gather the scattered flock (1:19-21; 2:6; 7:14; 10:8-10; 13:7) back into the leadership of their true shepherd (9:16; 11:3-17; 13:7). Jesus understood this as something God would do: raising him up, and calling the world back under divine kingship through angelic forces (i.e. not through the forces of Israel) (Matthew 24:31).

Isn’t this exactly what David said when he defeated the Philistine with a mere slingstone? I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts … the Lord who saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand (1 Samuel 17:45-47).

Good news of peace

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, acclaimed as the son of David coming to save his people in fulfilment of Zechariah 9. The enemies blocking God’s reign were not the Romans as much as the hypocrites acting as if they were God’s leaders. Through them, the Romans stuck down the Shepherd, the King of the Jews.

But Jesus believed that God would fulfill what he had promised: raising him up, giving him the authority to regather humanity from the four winds back into God’s reign, the king re-establishing earth as a kingdom of heaven through his own blood, God’s covenant faithfulness.

Zechariah 9 gives us much more than the verse on the triumphal entry. Despite his enemies, God has established his covenant with humanity in his Christ, his commitment to bring peace to the earth through his reign.

The installation of God’s anointed king means the end of the war against God’s authority and against each other on earth. He is the end of the in-fighting among God’s people (Ephraim vs Jerusalem). He is God’s declaration of peace to the nations.

The proclamation of his reign is the gospel of peace (Isaiah 52:7; Nahum 1:15; Acts 10:36; Romans 10:15; Ephesians 2:17; 6:15). God solves the twin problems of enemies and kingship in his Messiah:

Zechariah 9:10 (ESV)
10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

What others are saying

Michael H. Floyd, “The MAŚŚĀʾ as a Type of Prophetic Book,” Journal of Biblical Literature 121 (2002), 422:

Prophetic books of the mǎś·śāʾ sort seem to be concerned with reinterpreting prophecies that have over time become problematic in some way. … This presupposes a scribal setting in which prophecies were collected, recorded, and studied, not only in the postexilic but also in at least the late preexilic period. In this scribal setting, moreover, the study of prophecy was not just a matter of antiquarian interest. Reinterpretation of past prophecies served as a basis for making prophetic claims about Yahweh’s present involvement in human affairs.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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