Numinous as they are Numerous: The Donkey Prophecy et. al.

Photo Credit: Ropaolo (license)

I stumbled out of Lecture Hall 1, marveling about a donkey.

The “Casket Empty” overview of the Old and New Testaments by Drs. Carol Kaminski and David Palmer had injected me with new understanding and excitement about the Bible. In particular, I was unexpectedly thrilled about the Old Testament prophecies that pointed to the Christ (revealed as Jesus in the New Testament). Until today, if anyone said “Messianic Prophecy,” I fought to keep my eyes from rolling, my gratefulness for Jesus warring with my distaste for cyan websites with out of date fonts.

Oftentimes, preachers and webmasters will try to stun their audiences with sheer numbers of “messianic prophecies Jesus fulfilled.” One article vouches for 44, one website conveniently lists 365, and eschews numbers for more of a click-through oriented system. Tongue-in-cheek citations aside, these proclamations often cast seeds of doubt in my linear mind for two reasons: First, they often overreach in the pursuit of a large figure. Second, they often try and fail to “prove” Christian orthodoxy on this point alone.

Skeptical of these methods, but thankful for Jesus, I was confused. My appreciation warmed when I started looking to them as a means of adoration, rather than apologetics, but this morning I realized that I was still missing the main point. I was letting the sheer number of messianic prophecies eclipse their numinous elegance. Let me share Dr. Palmer’s example that left me marveling about a donkey.

Scene 1: The handsome, victorious, anointed King David watched his legacy crumble. Having disobeyed God as ruler and husband, the war in his home was spilling into the streets and threatening to crash the country. His son, Absalom, was turning the people against him. So, despite God’s promises that his line would reign forever, he fled Jerusalem on a donkey, in shame.

Scene 2: Eventually, the kingdom split, the people sneered at God, and the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. Almost 500 years had passed, and by the time Cyrus let some prisoners of war return, the city was virtually gone. Rebuilding the temple and the walls, they could only restore a fraction of its former glory, but a kernel of hope remained: Zechariah spoke the word of the Lord: 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.

Scene 3: Another 500 years went by before Jesus of Nazareth caused a stir in Israel. He performed signs and proclaimed the kingdom of God throughout the Judean countryside. When the proper time arrived, he made his way to Jerusalem (the people did not know he headed there to die for the sins of the world). How did he enter the city? On a donkey, “to fulfill what what was spoken by the prophet,” and to reveal himself as the true “the Son of David.”

Dr. Palmer deftly summarized this progression in a simple parallel:

David fled Jerusalem on a donkey, in shame
The Son of David entered Jerusalem on a donkey, in humility

What a picture of God’s faithfulness! What a moment of mercy! Though David was a sinful man, who forfeited his throne, God sent his own Son to rightfully reclaim it in humanity’s name. Accuracy is a divine mark in the Biblical prophecy, but so is allure.

We should not pin up messianic prophecies as incontrovertible proofs (though for some they are persuasive evidences, for which we should thank God). Rather, we should trace them through the Old and New Testaments to inspire adoration of God Almighty. To this end we must not allow their quantitive magnitude overshadow their qualitative majesty.

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