Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.” (Matthew 21:2)
This is the time in the Christian calendar when our thoughts inevitably turn to the events leading up to, and around, the death and resurrection of Jesus. On ‘Palm Sunday’ we remember the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling the Prophecy of Zechariah.
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. (Zechariah 9:9)
I used to feel sorry for Jesus when I read of him riding on a donkey. He deserved better than this! He deserved the best horse that could be found in the whole of Israel. He deserved a retinue of ‘important” people walking ahead of Him, declaring that the King was coming. Instead, he rode on a donkey with a motley crew of men called ‘apostles’, some of whom were poor Galilean fishermen. Not quite the retinue and mode of transport of Kings and dignitaries. But how wrong was I! God Himself orchestrated this triumphant procession: it could not have been more perfect. Let me explain. There are two important points we need to know.
Firstly, in our 21st century mind, we look down on donkeys. After all, they are stubborn and not terribly intelligent, are they not? And they’re not very elegant creatures! Functional, but definitely not elegant. Yet, in Old Testament times, riding on a donkey signified royalty…yes, royalty!
We read of many occasions when royalty and people of significance rode donkeys. For example, King Solomon rode to his coronation as King of Israel on a donkey.
Take your lord’s servants with you and have Solomon my son mount my own mule and take him down to Gihon. There have Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel. Blow the trumpet and shout, ‘Long live King Solomon! (1 Kings 1:33-34)
(I’m not sure I can picture King Charles copying this example on the 6th of May!) We also read of Judges, the leaders of ancient Israel before they had kings, riding on donkeys. One of these was Jair.
After him arose Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years.And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities, called Havvoth-jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. (Judges 10:3-4)
Abraham and King David also rode donkeys.
So, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the crowd recognised the significance of kingship and shouted:
Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9)
The crowd were knowingly quoting from Psalm 118:25,26.
Secondly, in Old Testament times and in Jesus’ day, leaders rode horses if they were riding to war, but donkeys if they came in peace.
If Jesus had rode into Jerusalem, as I had wished for, on a war horse, there would immediately have been a riot. It would have been disastrous! The Romans would have descended upon him with all the force of their military might, quashing, what in their minds was insurrection. No, Jesus didn’t come to make war, he came to bring salvation to all mankind... to you and to me! He needed to ride on a donkey!
Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he. (Zechariah 9:9)
When I read these scriptures now, I no longer feel sorry for Jesus. I know that, in due time He will indeed come forth riding on a war horse but it will be in God’s time and in His plan.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war... On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev 19:11, 16)
Until that day, let us rejoice that Jesus our King and our Prince of Peace, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Pauline Ann Anderson
Your eyes shall see the King in his beauty. (Isaiah 33:17)
In the ancient cultures that surrounded Israel, from Southern Mesopotamia in 2000BC to Rome in 200AD, their views on reality were formed by observing the natural world around them from the stars, to the moon, to the sky, to the dry land, to rivers, trees animals and so on. This led them to conclude that there were many Gods.
This fact is attested by looking at cultures such as Indian, Chinese Roman and Greek, all of whom worshiped deities related to the natural world. In Acts 17, we find the apostle Paul in the city of Athens. In conversation with the people, he addresses them saying:
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god.” (Acts 17:22,23)
However, Israel’s understanding of reality was radically different from that of all other ancient cultures. “How did the Israelites come to their unique concept of reality? Was it not encounters with the true God in actual events of history?” (NLT Study Bible: ‘The Exodus as History’)
A striking examples of this is found in the Book of Exodus in the account of the ten plagues of Egypt. On the surface of this account, you could wonder if God was exerting some kind of creative revenge against the persecutors of His people. However, when we dig below the surface we see not creative vengeance but divine revelation of the magnificent power of the God of Israel. Each plague was a step-by-step dismantling of the entire Egyptian belief system.
For example, Knhum, Hapti Sobek and Taweri were all believed to be ‘gods’ who were linked to the River Nile. As the river ran red with blood, it would seem to the Egyptians that their Gods had been slain.
It’s hard for us to imagine this, but in Ancient Egypt, amongst other things, flies represented tenacity and courage, (yes really!) and eternal life. Stone carvings and amulets shaped as flies were found in ancient Egyptian tombs. To be attacked by the insect they revered would have been a major blow to the Egyptians.
Heket was the Egyptian goddess of fertility and resurrection and was believed to take the form of a frog. She was looked upon as a protector of the people. As a result of this, frogs were revered in the ancient Egyptian culture and it was forbidden to deliberately kill a frog. So, imagine how the people must have felt when their homes and villages were filled with the creature who was meant to protect them!
And so it went on. For two years, the Egyptians faced plagues that targeted each of their Gods. It was a magnificent display of the supremacy, might and power of the God of Israel! As the song goes, ‘Our God is an awesome God”.
Over the millennia, God has been revealing His greatness to the human race. He revealed His greatness to Joseph in Egypt, Joshua on the eve of entering the Promised Land, Daniel in the Lion’s den, through wonders and miracles in Jesus’ earthly ministry, to name only a few. And, the wonderful thing is that the desire in the heart of God to reveal Himself to mankind has not ceased. In spite of our failures and mistakes, God still wants to demonstrate His power to us.
“Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning, our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful, and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.”
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