Why would a king ride a donkey instead of a warhorse?

JERUSALEM — Why would a king ride a donkey instead of a warhorse (Zechariah 9:9-10)? We have been debating the answer to this the past week or so. This is the answer we found most interesting because of its symbolic interpretations.

Many have wondered why the king mentioned in Zechariah 9:9-10 would ride a donkey into Jerusalem rather than a warhorse. It seems an odd choice for royalty. Kings ride chargers, don’t they?

In the ancient Middle Eastern world, leaders rode horses if they rode to war, but donkeys if they came in peace. First Kings 1:33 mentions Solomon riding a donkey on the day he was recognized as the new king of Israel. Other instances of leaders riding donkeys are Judges 5:10; 10:4; 12:14; and 2 Samuel 16:2.

The mention of a donkey in Zechariah 9:9-10 fits the description of a king who would be “righteous and having salvation, gentle.” Rather than riding to conquer, this king would enter in peace.

Zechariah 9:10 highlights this peace: “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Note the many details symbolic of peace:

• “Take away the chariots”: an end to the main vehicle of war.
• “Take away . . . the war-horses”: no need for horses used in war.
• “The battle bow will be broken”: no need for bows or arrows for fighting.
• “He will proclaim peace to the nations”: His message will be one of reconciliation.
• “His rule shall be from sea to sea”: the King will control extended territory with no enemies of concern.

Jesus fulfills this prophecy of Zechariah. The worldwide peace proclaimed by this humble King will be a fulfillment of the angels’ song in Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (NKJV). Significantly, Jacob’s blessing on his son Judah includes a reference to a donkey and a donkey’s foal (Genesis 49:11). Jesus is from the tribe of Judah.


Annie Wald, who was living on the west coast of Africa when she wrote The Speed of Love in 2013, writes:

Palms aren’t hard to find or expensive to buy here. In fact, palm trees are so commonplace the long branches are used to sweep the streets.

Yet I’ve never seen palms used for a festive occasion in this country. It makes me wonder how citizens would view using them to fete the arrival of someone important.

I have no doubt though what they would think about an acclaimed leader coming in on a donkey. They would see it as a dishonorable, even shameful act because a donkey is considered dirty and unclean. Used as a beast of burden, frequently overloaded and sometimes whipped, a donkey would not be worthy to carry such a person.

This is an image of donkeys Wald published with her post.

Donkeys on the West Cost of Africa. Annie Wald 2013.
Donkeys on the West Cost of Africa. Annie Wald 2013.

How is that we as humans come to view animals in the way we do? Why do we prize some and despise others? How do we go about selecting the animals we project our thoughts and feelings onto?

As we see on a regular basis equines can be viewed and treated by mankind as anything from royalty to garbage. It never ceases to amaze and all too often sadden us.

The triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey. From a fresco by GIOTTI on Pinterest.


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