Palm Sunday • Zechariah 9:9–12 • April 1, 2012

By Jeffrey A. Oschwald

I began this assignment thinking, “Zechariah 9:9–12 is such a beautiful passage, but who would ever preach on it?” Palm/Passion Sunday already presents the preacher with more Gospels than one Sunday can hold; including the Processional Gospel, there are four choices for this Sunday. Moreover, my σπασμωδική αντίδραση (that’s a Greek knee-jerk reaction) was to think, “Wouldn’t it be better to simply use Matthew 21:1–11 or John 12:12–19 (the Processional Gospel), where the evangelists quote Zechariah 9 and place it in the context of our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem?” But, an assignment’s an assignment.

There is neither the space here nor the need to review the historical and literary questions surrounding Zechariah. Thirty minutes with Hummel’s introduction will prove very rewarding and bring the preacher back up to speed on the most important questions.[1] Zechariah the prophet-priest, carries out his ministry as the people of God, returning from exile, rebuild the temple and their hopes for the future. Chapter 9 marks the beginning of a new section, following the visions that begin the book and the subsequent discussion of fasting. Thus, the immediate context of our text stretches back only to 9:1. This first oracle deals with the kingdoms of the world, the nations surrounding Israel. The oppressors of God’s people will lose their power (9:8), and the coming of a king to Zion will usher in an era of peace.

The description of this king presents the greatest challenge of vv. 9–12. Hummel notes, “The adjectives describing the Messiah are notoriously difficult to translate.”[2] Although translations vary for the first adjective, most English versions and commentaries prefer the familiar “righteous” or “just.” The second adjective, however, is more on the notoriously difficult side. The versions range from “having salvation” (KJV, NIV, ESV) to “victorious” (NRSV); yet, neither of these reflects the fact that the word is a Niphal participle of יָשַׁע :. One would expect a gloss “be saved,” and BDB lists this meaning, but with qualification. BDB lists our passage under the heading “Niphal,” meaning 2: “be saved in battle, victorious Zc 99….”[3] Readers as far back as David Kimchi (RaDaK; 12th cent.) have questioned the move from the passive “be saved” to the very active sounding “victorious.”[4] When commentaries as diverse in approach as those of Leupold in the 1950s and the Meyers in the 1990s agree that the word should be translated “saved,” it is difficult to disagree.5 Leupold summarizes:

A very reasonable and acceptable meaning is conveyed by the simple passive
nôsha ‘, saved. In His great work this God-man, as a man, requires help. He seeks it in prayer. When He is performing His individual miracles He appeals to God for aid; in the work of redemption proper He prevails in answer to prayer made in bloody sweat. The help He needs He receives. There is nothing unworthy of Him or unacceptable about regarding His work from this angle.[6]

Although the phrase “prisoners of hope” (9:12) is richly suggestive, I prefer to let a phrase from Hummel provide the theme:

Matt. 21:5 and John 12:15 hail the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy in our Lord’s Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. But in another sense it was only a beginning, as the traditional liturgical association of the pericope with Advent wishes to emphasize.[7]

A title “Only a Beginning” would allow the preacher to develop his proclamation of the “righteous and saved” King under three headings:

  1. Only a Beginning (for our Holy Week celebration)
  2. Only a Beginning (for Christ’s redeeming work, the King, that is, who enters, dies, rises—and returns)
  3. Only a Beginning (for our ultimate celebration of Christ’s passion, as we journey toward our own death and/or his return already justified and saved)

[1] Horace D. Hummel, The Word Becoming Flesh (St. Louis: Concordia, 1979), 361–378.
[2] Hummel, 374.
[3] BDB s.v. [יָשַׁע].
[4] David Kimchi, Commentary on the Prophecies of Zechariah (trans. A. M’Caul; London: Paternoster, 1837), 87.
[5] H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Zechariah (Columbus: Wartburg, 1956), 174. Carol L. Meyers and Eric M. Meyers, Zechariah 9–14 (The Anchor Bible, Volume 25C; New York: Doubleday, 1993), 126.
[6] Leupold, 174. It is worth noting that neither Matthew nor John include these first two adjectives.
[7] Hummel, 374.






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