April 2, 2012

The Pauper King • Zechariah 9:9-12

     Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!
          Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
     Look! Your king is coming to you:
          he is legitimate and victorious,
     humble and riding on a donkey
          –on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

God has just announced that he is going to bring down the enemies of Israel on the coast. The inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon to the north, the proud and wealthy Phoenicians, will be stripped of possessions and devoured by fire. The mighty cities of the Philistines to the west will be left desolate. They will be no longer allowed to tear and devour Israel. God himself will set guard at his house and ensure that no one marches against his people to oppress them.

This vision of defeat for Israel’s enemies comes at a time of great difficulty. Israel has been struggling with the reconstruction of the temple and of the city of Jerusalem. After 70 years of exile in Babylon, Cyrus of Persia finally allowed the Judahites to return to their land, to rebuild their temple, and to reinstate the presentation of sacrifices there. God had put an end to their punishment, to their shame. With great expectation, many returned from Babylon to rebuild. But when they arrived, they were met with opposition from the governing seat in the region. Shortly after the reconstruction of the temple had begun, enemies from Samaria were able to convince the authorities in Persia to halt rebuilding. Money was tight, they had no temple, and there were several years of drought to top it all off. The returned exiles had no king, no independence, and very poor representation from the governing seat in Samaria. Into this situation came Haggai and Zechariah. They challenged the people to get up and rebuild the temple. For 18 years the work on the temple had been stopped. Eighteen years the people had lived in Jerusalem and walked past the rubble of where the temple had once stood. Driven by the challenge of these two prophets and under the leadership of a Davidic governor (Zerubbabel), they began the work anew. Most scholars agree that chapters 9-12 of Zechariah were written at a later time than chapters 1-8. The temple has been rebuilt, and sacrifices are now being offered at the temple. But things are still not glorious. Zerubbabel is not king, they have no independence as a nation, and their neighbors continue to harass them at every opportunity. Things aren’t as great as they had hoped. God has not done all the glorious things he had promised to do. So the people are discouraged. When will it ever get better? Is God going to do any of the wondrous things he has promised to do?

Yes, God will do much! First, he has already told the Jerusalemites that he is going to get rid of the constant irritation of the Phoenicians and the Philistines. But there is more God intends to do. This calls for excitement, joy, rejoicing and celebration. God commands his people to rejoice greatly, to rejoice much. The message is addressed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, these who had the courage to leave behind businesses and home and land in Babylon to come and rebuild Jerusalem. The poetic term used is “daughter of Zion.” The children born of the city of Zion, a standard poetic term used to refer to Jerusalem, are the ones who are commanded to rejoice with exuberance. In a parallel arrangement, the thought is repeated. The daughter of Jerusalem is commanded to shout aloud, to cry out.

Why should Jerusalem shout out in joy? God tells the city to look, to behold. One can imagine a gesture, finger pointing, and the city turning, straining to see what it is that God is showing them, what it is that commands such rejoicing. A king is coming. Not just any king. Jerusalem’s king is on his way. By the time these words are written, it is likely that Zerubbabel is no longer on the scene. The hopes for a restoration under a king from the line of David had faded. Disillusionment had set in. But God assures his people that his promise to David has not been forgotten. Jerusalem will once more have her king.

This King is coming. He is marked by what is right, by what is just. This can indicate his own upright character, and it can also point to the fact that this King will be the legitimate King of Jerusalem, a descendant of David according to God’s promise. Everything about this King will be right. He will also be a savior, a victor. This is all military language. We expect a legitimate heir to David with the same skill set that David had. He will be a military savior, leading the armies of Israel from victory to victory. Now Israel will rule and the other nations will bow down. Now Israel will dwell safely and others will tremble.

There is a surprising twist here, though. This King is going to be different from any others before him. If David was a military genius, able to lead the armies of Israel to victory after daring victory, bringing peace through the sword, God promises to bring a new kind of king to Jerusalem. This King will be poor and humble. The word most translations have here is “humble,” but this word has a very strong meaning of poverty, of a person who is humble in his physical means, his station in life. The word does not refer so much to character as to station in life. This King will not be some wealthy aristocrat who chooses to behave with humility. He will have fully embraced humility to the point of rising to the throne from poverty, not privilege. The sign of his humility, of his self-abasement, of his rise from the lowest ranks of human existence, is his mount. He will arrive in Jerusalem riding on a donkey. No chariot, no Egyptian war steed, just a simple donkey. No, not even that. This will be a young donkey, a foal of a she donkey. This is the kind of animal that communicates the complete opposite of military might. This King will not march into Jerusalem at the head of an army, in victory procession, as the pagan kings do. His entry will be completely different, marked by weakness, by poverty, by humility. What an incongruous image God presents his people with! This King, who looks like nothing at all, commands the loudest acclamations of joy and rejoicing. This is God’s answer. Here lies the key to our greatest joy. We are invited to abandon the world and its image of the perfect king. Instead, we are invited to find our greatest joy in God’s poor, humble, modest King.

This Sunday, April 1, 2012, is Palm Sunday. I will be preaching from Zechariah 9:9-12. Worship begins at 10:45 am. Come and join us, 3201 W 15th St. Plano, TX 75075. Video and audio of the sermon is posted during the week at our website: www.pcbcplano.org. To access the messages directly, click here.

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