It’s Passion week, our Holy Week, the time when we remember the suffering, persecution, crucifixion, and ultimately the resurrection Jesus Christ our Lord. It’s the time when we remember all the events, decisions, and obedience of that week, and there is a lot to remember. I’m looking today at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus riding into the great city to fulfill prophecy and be crowned King, the Messiah of Israel.
“And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” Mark 11:7-11 ESV.
When Jesus came into Jerusalem from Galilee for his coronation, he came in riding on a donkey’s colt. Jesus was purposefully fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah from about 350 years before – 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. We know Jesus did this intentionally to fulfill this prophecy. As he approaches the city he specifically tells two of his disciples “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'”” Mark 11:2-3 ESV. How did Jesus know the colt would be there? I don’t know, but the colt was there, his disciples did as they were told, and Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of the foal of a donkey, probably with his feet dragging the ground because the foal would have been too small for him. The whole scene would probably have seemed ridiculous if CNN was there covering. Picture a crowd of peasants from Galilee, shouting hosanna to their king, who rides in not on a great war horse, but on a donkey. And not even a full grown donkey, but the foal of a donkey. This was quite the piece of prophetic theater orchestrated by Jesus.
Pontius Pilate also would have ridden into the city to prepare for the Passover. Not because he was a Jew, but because Passover was (is) the celebration of the liberation of the people of Israel from bondage to the Egyptians, and it was a time that would spark new thoughts of rebellion and liberation from their current bondage under Caesar. It was not in Pilates best interest to stay home in Caesarea during this time. He needed to be present in order to deal promptly with any thoughts of rebellion that might occur during the festival.
When Pilate rode into the city, he came in not on a donkey, but a great horse. A war horse. If you read the Bible in the Old Testament, you will find that Yahweh did not much care for horses. It’s not that God does not like the majestic beauty and power of the horse – of course he loves them. He created them after all. But what he did not like is what mankind had come to use these beautiful animals for. Horses were not used for transportation, agriculture, or any other domesticated purpose, it was the donkey that was the beast of burden. Horses, from the time of the warlords of Sumer about 4500 years ago, were primarily instruments of war. They were the tanks and fighter planes of their day.
This is why it was told specifically to Joshua in his victories over the Canaanites “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.”” Joshua 11:6 ESV. Keeping the donkeys was fine, but they were told to hamstring the horses. When we read this, it sounds really strange. Why are they commanded to hamstring their horses?
Maybe we should reread all these passages in the Bible, and everywhere we read the word “horse” re-translate it into what they really were – “war horse“. Better yet, just change it to read “tanks“. Because in the ancient world, that’s what the horse was used as – an instrument of war. So when the Israelites are told to hamstring the horses but keep the donkeys, we can better understand it as being “keep the tractors and destroy the tanks“.
Acquiring “many” horses was specifically prohibited for Israel’s kings in the law set down in Deuteronomy- “Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’” Deuteronomy 17:16 ESV. Of course, this was a command ignored by the kings of Israel. We know king Solomon kept over 12,000 horses. We also know that every time Israel relied on their horses in battle, they were defeated, it was only when they turned to the Lord that they were delivered.
What is the point of all of this? It’s not that God does not like horses, he certainly loves horses. But God does not like the fact that we use horses as war horses. Just like he does not like our tanks, our missiles, our military might. We live in 21st century America, home of the free and land of the brave. But where is our trust? Remember Psalm 20? “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Psalms 20:7 ESV. Here is my unofficial 21st century American translation of that verse – “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but WE trust in nuclear submarines, cruise missiles, aircraft carriers, stealth bombers and our full nuclear arsenal!!” Let’s see their horses stand up to that!! Of course, they are not relying on horses anymore either, are they?
The prophecy Jesus fulfilled by riding the colt into Jerusalem was from the 3rd – 4th century BC from Zachariah. It was written during the time of Alexander the Great, the greatest of the Greats the world has ever known. All the greats – Alexander the Great, Peter the great, Cyrus the great, many more I’m sure – were pretty much great at the same thing – they were great at war. They were called great because the people who wrote the history after them were on their side. The people who wrote the history were on their side mainly because the people who were not on their side were now mostly dead.
Rome once spoke of the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome. I think it was Tacitus who said of Rome at the time – “Rome creates a desert and calls it peace.” They would come to opposing territory, kill everyone there, destroy the nation, and say to themselves “Isn’t it peaceful now?” We’ve been fighting wars to achieve “peace” for 4500 years now. Except for war never leads to peace, each and every war only leads to the next war, the next battle.
Alexander the Great rode his Great War horse Bucephalus into every battle he ever fought. In case you don’t know, Bucephalus is probably the most famous animal in history. To this day, we know where this horse is buried. A giant war horse, worthy of a great man. A majestic animal, projecting the pride and power his rider would want to project. But we would do well to remember this admonition in the psalms – “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.” Psalms 33:16-17 ESV. Remember the for horseman of the apocalypse. The white horse, the great horse of conquest. Followed by the red horse of war, because people don’t like being conquered and will eventually fight back. Then the black horse of famine, because we fight each other with and for our resources producing scarcity. Finally the ultimate fate of mankind as we trust in our war machines for our salvation, the green horse of death.
The prophecy of Zachariah – “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. 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.” Jesus rode into Jerusalem for his coronation not on a conquering war horse but a peace donkey. While those shouting hosanna were looking for a conquering hero, Jesus the Great, to bring salvation to them from the oppressive hand of the Roman occupiers, their Messiah was bringing the only salvation that can last through the millennia, the salvation that comes from forgiveness and reconciliation. While the crowds shouted their hosannas to the one coming in the name of the Lord and not Caesar, the one who came in the name of the Lord cried over Jerusalem “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Luke 19:42 ESV.
Jesus cries over us to this day, for even as we shout our hosannas to our savior, we still do not know the things that make for peace. Paraphrasing the words of Ravi Zacharias, until we can accept the sacrifice of the only begotten Son of God on the hard wood of the cross, we will continue to sacrifice our own sons and daughters on the battlefields of the world.
“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. 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.”
Zechariah 9:9-10 ESV
“And Joshua did to them just as the Lord said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire.
And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the people of Israel took for their plunder.”
Joshua 11:9, 14 ESV
“And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
Mark 11:7-11 ESV