Having just heard a sermon on Palm Sunday for this Holy Week, considering Iain M. Duguid’s exposition of Zechariah 9 in Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi seemed an especially appropriate way to continue my posts reviewing this volume in the EP Study Commentary Series.
In his introduction, Duguid notes the importance of Zechariah for Christian theology with a musing regarding the neglect of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi in Christian preaching and writing:
The last three books of the Old Testament have not always received the attention they deserve from the church. This is in some ways surprising, since the Gospel writers quote Zechariah 9-14 more often than any other biblical source in explaining Christ’s sufferings and death. (pg. 11)
Duguid’s hard work to remedy this situation via this commentary is most welcome.
After surveying the divine judgment that is to come upon Northern Syria, Phoenicia and Philistia (a survey that includes well chosen historical comments allowing non-experts to see the importance of these regions historically and biblically-theologically), Duguid explains the narrative “peak” in the chapter:
This campaign against Israel’s enemies would culminate in the triumphal entry of her ‘king’ to ‘Jerusalem’. (pg. 149)
What is more:
This king is described as ‘righteous’, like the ideal ruler of Psalm 72. Through his personal obedience to the Mosaic covenant, he will ensure God’s blessing on his people, thereby bringing about their ‘salvation’. (pg. 149)
The fact that the coming king comes “humbly” and is “riding a donkey” is often misunderstood. People see the king’s (and Christ’s) entry as marking the utter distinctiveness between the Messianic procession and a typical ancient “kingly” procession (be it Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian or Roman). Yet Duguid makes a refreshingly careful distinction here in noting both the similarity and difference of the Messianic procession:
He is also ‘humble’ and comes riding on ‘a donkey’, the mount of one who comes to bring peace, rather than the standard military mount, a horse. A donkey was not a particularly humble form of transportation in the ancient world: kings and rich people would ride donkeys (see Judg. 12:14), while poor people walked. However, people did not normally ride to war on a donkey. (pg. 149)
Donkey caravans used to travel the ancient trade routes in huge droves, bringing items from afar as part of the international economic network of the ancient Near East. A king riding a donkey would be the equivalent of a modern day leader making a symbolic entrance to a port city standing on the bridge of an oil tanker or container ship. This would be a symbol of economic greatness. Duguid, however, is absolutely right noting how the choice of a donkey fits into an account of war and destruction of enemies:
Through the coming of this king, the Lord will bring an end to Israel’s need for the traditional instruments of war: the ‘chariot’, ‘[war] horse’ and ‘battle bow’. (pg. 149)
Thus the Messanic king does indeed come in royal splendor. His choice of a donkey is not the equivalent of the President of the United States riding in a Smart Car. Yet his arrival as a conqueror is paradoxical. After all, even when the President speaks to soldiers in the field, he usually rides around in a Hum-vee and wears a camouflage coat (obviously as a symbolic gesture of camaraderie). But the Messianic king does indeed come “humbly” (Zech 9.9).
In the next post, we’ll note how Duguid describes the implications of this for Christ’s triumphal entry.