Reading Time: 6 mins

Old Testament: Zechariah 9:9-12 (Palm Sunday: Series B)

Reading Time: 6 mins

The prophet is clear that this coming King would be different from the common experience of kings, both in Israel and among all the kings of the earth.

Zechariah’s announcement of the coming Davidic king who rides into Jerusalem on a “Covenant Donkey”[1] is part of the messianic expectation of God’s people. The ready and upfront gospel connection for our reading is the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, as seen by His triumphal entry. By riding into Jerusalem on a “Covenant Donkey” just before his crucifixion, Jesus announces Himself as Messiah. He also invites us to read the Old Testament in a way which can help us understand what it is the Messiah has come to do.

Zechariah 9 could have been used to interpret the actions of several rulers, all of which might have been seen as a coming King to Israel. Darius I (522–486 BC), the Persian king who authorized the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, passed through Judah early in his reign to deal with a revolt in Egypt. Rulers mentioned in the text like Greece (verse 13) and the defeat of Tyre (verse 4) could allude to Alexander the Great (333 BC), who supposedly received a wonderful reception in Jerusalem. However, the prophet is clear that this coming King would be different from the common experience of kings, both in Israel and among all the kings of the earth.

The prophet Zechariah calls people who are suffering to trust God will supply His rule and reign which will restore peace and blessing, not by the strength of the chariot or battle bow, but in His steadfast love and kept promises of old.

If ever there was a reason to keep your old college textbooks around, this text may be enough to convince you. I often wonder what kind of burden my books may be for my loved ones after I am dead and gone, or if they will keep them around at all! In one part of an old Hebrew grammar, I found a useful insight into this text.

In order to understand how this prophecy became Messianic in nature, we need to go back to “Genesis 49:10–12 which contains a prophecy of the Messiah that describes both His sufferings and glory (see also Luke 24:25–27, 45–48; Acts 26:22–23; 1 Peter 1:10–11). The dual theme of Messiah’s sufferings and glory is also present, for example, in Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 49:11, where we find, in particular, the terms used to describe the animal bound to the vine. The first half of this verse reads as follows: אֹסְרִי לַגֶּפֶן עִירוֹ (He [Shiloh] ties to the vine his foal) וְלַשּׂרֵקָה בְּנִי אֲתֹנוֹ (And to the choice vine the son of his female donkey). The idea is, in the messianic era, the grapevines will be so luxuriant and fruitful that one can simply hitch his donkey to them without concern for their being damaged. The two terms used to describe the donkey here, עַ֫יִר and בְּנִי אֲתֹנוֹ, are picked up in Zechariah 9 to point to Jesus’ triumphal entry on a donkey into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1–9; Mark 11:1–10; Luke 19:28–38; John 12:12–16).

The idea is, in the messianic era, the grapevines will be so luxuriant and fruitful that one can simply hitch his donkey to them without concern for their being damaged.

“There is a text from Mari, a city on the upper Euphrates, dating from about the eighteenth-century B.C., that describes a situation in which a suzerain has sent his lieutenant to supervise a covenant ratification ceremony between two of the suzerain’s vassals. The royal servant has done his duty and is now reporting back to his lord. The lieutenant recounts in particular that in this covenant ceremony he took a certain kind of animal and killed it to seal the covenant and, specifically, to symbolize the curse that would overtake anyone who would break the covenant. The term he uses for this animal is cognate to Hebrewעַ֫יִר בֶּן אָתוֹן. Evidently, this special breed of donkey was specifically stipulated for use in covenant ratification ceremonies (refer to “NIDOTTE” 1:575–577). The shedding of the blood of the עַ֫יִר בֶּן אָתוֹן would ratify the covenant. It was the covenant donkey.

It is against this background that the significance of the donkey in Genesis 49:11 can be appreciated. The covenant donkey also sheds light on Zechariah 9 and the Gospel accounts of the triumphal entry, which associate Messiah with this particular donkey known for its role in the shedding of blood in order to ratify a covenant. In particular, Messiah’s association with the covenant donkey hints that the way to glory will be achieved through the shedding of blood. Jesus is qualified to be grantee and guarantor of the New Covenant through the shedding of the blood of the covenant.


Zechariah 9:9–12 speaks in poetic terms of Messiah, the cross, and the preaching of the Gospel, the speaking of peace to the nations. Verse 9bc reads as follows:

הִנֵּה מַלְכֵּךְ יָבוֹא לָךְ (Behold, your king will come to you)

צַדִּיק וְנוֹשָׁע הוּא (He is [declared] righteous and vindicated)

עָנִי וְרֹכֵב עַל־חֲמוֹר (afflicted and riding on a donkey)

וְעַל־עַיִר בֶּן־אֲתֹנוֹת (and on a foal, son of a female donkey)


The coming king is righteous and victorious in the accomplishment of salvation for his people (this is Messiah’s glory), but he is also afflicted, and he comes riding on the covenant donkey (this is Messiah’s suffering). Here the עַ֫יִר and בֶּן אָתוֹן of Genesis 49:11 come together again. By means of this terminological convergence, Zechariah 9:9 ties the Genesis 49:11 prophecy to the triumphal entry of Jesus. Jesus’ riding on a donkey on that occasion signifies, more than His humility, that He comes as the one who sheds the blood of the covenant. This was His primary purpose as He rode into Jerusalem on that day, and this is signalized by His arrival on the covenant donkey.


Much more evidence could be adduced in support of this interpretation. One further support is found in the fact that the context of Zechariah 9:9 (particularly verses 10–12) speaks (symbolically) of Christ’s work on the cross. By emerging justified from the sufferings of the cross, Christ the glorified Messiah wins the right to offer reconciliation to those who are in rebellion against the heavenly suzerain, to speak the peace of the gospel to the nations.”[2]

This old grammar gives a substantial insight which also provides us an excellent direction to go in our gospel proclamation. Perhaps one more First Article gift can point us in a gospel direction for our sermon. Have you ever looked at the back of a donkey? What you find there might be surprising. It is the shape of a cross. God gives an ironic marker on the back of the beast of burden Christ rode into Jerusalem that week. Like a GPS, it signals where Jesus was headed. There is so much gospel in this prophecy as it oozes with dramatic irony.

donkey cross


For this sermon you can use the image of the “Covenant Donkey” to draw people into a deeper reflection of what Christ as the Messiah came to do. You can use an “Image Based” Structure to help accomplish this. Using the “Central Image” format, keep this one textual point in sharp focus.

“In the opening of the sermon, the preacher describes the image for the hearers. The preacher then uses that image as a source for continuing devotional contemplation throughout the sermon. The image serves as a lens through which one views the textual exposition (exegetical insight), the theological confession (Jesus is the Messianic Davidic King), the evangelical proclamation (He went to the cross to shed His blood for us), and the hearer interpretation (we live in the reign and rule of the risen Messiah King, Jesus Christ) of the sermon. Having a single image lends coherence to the sermon.


As the preacher returns to the image periodically throughout the sermon, he approaches it with a single focus, which means the image remains the same throughout the sermon. The preacher may approach that image from a variety of perspectives, but the image (a covenant donkey) itself remains the same.


When approaching the image from a variety of perspectives, the sermon can develop or unfold the theme. For example, the first encounter with the image could be the exegetical interpretation that will later be expanded or even corrected in the sermon. By changing how the image is seen, the hearers are able to track the basic development of a larger theme in the sermon. Each stage of development (for example, moving from a misconception (other rulers are not the Messiah) to a clearer vision, moving from application in terms of one’s relationship to God to application in terms of one’s relationship to others who live under this reign and rule of God, or moving from repentance for our rebellion to this King to forgiveness won for us by the shed blood of Christ and finally to restoration in His glorious resurrection) is captured by preaching the image through a different perspective.”[4]


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on Zechariah 9:9-12.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Zechariah 9:9-12.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Zechariah 9:9-12.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!


[1] This term and exegetical insight are based off a lecture delivered by Meredith G. Kline as part of a course on the prophets given at Westminster Seminary California.

[2] J. Bergman Kline. “The Covenant Donkey,” in Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Grammar, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007. 192–193.