9 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.
10 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.
11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
Look at verse 12 again and notice what Zechariah calls you: A Prisoner of Hope. I think we have seriously misunderstood “hope.” We tend to see it as a futile desire, a long shot, a thing which we would like to happen, but it probably will not happen. The Bible has a very different way of using this word. It is much more akin to “expectation.” It might be better to say that we are prisoners of expectation.
Zechariah’s words in this passage are probably familiar to you as a reading from Palm Sunday when the people of Jerusalem greeted Jesus with palm fronds as he rode in on a donkey. You may not realize that Zechariah also has another event in mind: A city capitulating to a conquering general. We saw this happen not long after Zechariah’s own time in the days of Alexander the Great. Having seen Alexander smash the great armies of Persia, many cities in this part of the world put up no resistance to the mighty conqueror. They sent men to Alexander and offered to open the city gates to him if he would not destroy them and their city. There was also an expectation. The conquering general often made gifts to the people and freed their political prisoners. It was a gesture designed to win their support and encourage the next city to do the same.
To show good faith, the people would stream out of the city’s walls when Alexander drew near on Bucephalus, his great Thessalian stallion. They would have palm fronds in hand to demonstrate that they were not hostile. And they would have their children go before them as a sort of hostage. If they had tried to mount a sneak attack, their own children would be the first slain. This puts a different spin on the exhortation of Zechariah to the daughter of Jerusalem to get out there and rejoice, doesn’t it?
But the king whom we welcome is humble and does not ride a mighty Thessalian stallion. He rides a donkey. And he says to the prisoners of expectation, the children who stand vulnerable in front of their parents, “Go back to the safety of your walls. I will do more than set things right, I will restore double.” The gift of our King is more than we expected. Prisoners of Hope – we are vulnerable and exposed to danger on every side. He who has conquered smiles upon us. We are safe in his hands.