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Zechariah 9:9-12

If you spend any time on the host of apps offering the news or websites that chronicle the political climate of countries around the world, you might notice a global quest for power and influence. Undeniably, people in all sorts of positions of governmental authority, elected or otherwise, seek to gain popularity and achieve their aims through making promises to those who might follow them. We choose to follow or not to follow out of our own virtues, our hopes of promises fulfilled, or even out of fear. We pay attention and engage through support or resistance because we want those who represent us to offer the thing we believe is most needed while upholding what we value for ourselves and society as a whole. I imagine in many ways we are not unlike the Israelites in their pursuit of a king for their day.

This week’s passage is situated in a prophecy about God’s judgment on Israel’s enemies. The author is describing God’s coming reign as an answer to their suffering and a relief from the wickedness they experience. But instead of offering a king who assures victory through chariots, warhorses, and bows, the kingdom God presents comes in humility, commands peace and offers restoration of hope. The King God describes is “righteous and victorious… lowly and riding on a donkey” (v 9). This verse could distinctly point to Jesus’ triumphant entry on a donkey, and it also captures the nature of a messianic king: victory is assured through humility, and dominion comes through righteousness and peace.

I can only imagine what a stark contrast this was to Israel’s idea of how they would experience power over their enemies, as it certainly contrasts our societies’ pursuit of power. Christians often align themselves with a particular candidate, party, or office out of a belief that that person or group best represents their values, but here we see that God’s kingdom is not constructed by the same methods as those of the world. Rather than commanding power for political gain, God commands power for the sake of peace and justice. The Messiah’s arrival and reign is one characterized by the pursuit of righteousness.

What does it mean for the Lord to be righteous? For us as Wesleyans, this is a particularly important question because our becoming righteous has something to do with our pursuit of holiness. Righteousness in the context of scripture always signals us toward understanding right relationships in the context of God’s covenant with God’s people. The Lord is righteous because he upholds his covenant, and though the law required our obedience for our own righteousness (Deut 6:25), it is now our faith (Romans 1:17, 4:13) and our participation in the work of the kingdom (James 2:14-26), because of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, that righteousness is given. We believe in the sanctifying work of the Spirit because of these promises in scripture given to those who seek this particular kind of kingdom.

So when the book of Zechariah describes God’s victory as a righteous one, not one fueled by a quest for power and dominion, we are called to pay special attention to God’s unique kind of kingship. In her commentary on Zechariah, Elizabeth Achtemeier writes,

Only by a righteous rule are the weak protected and the strong enabled to serve beyond their own self-interest. Only by a caring rule are we delivered from the tyranny of ourselves or of the mob or of outrageous fortune. We need a power, a wisdom, a shepherding beyond our own temptations and limitations, and it is the coming of such a wise and powerful and peaceful shepherd that is announced here to Israel.[1]

Tempted as we might be to bring our beliefs to fruition through assertions of power over our enemies, the book of Zechariah reminds us that in our pursuit of God’s kingdom, we are called to the work of restoration, freedom and peace. And much unlike humankind, God assumes power uniquely through peace. God abolishes all weapons of war (“I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.” V 10). Interestingly, God is not saying that he will remove the enemies’ weapons; Instead it is Israel’s weapons and pursuit of power that God will reframe and redeem. Rather than seeking to command for the sake of power, God uses power to bring about peace. It is Jesus’ death and resurrection that in a sense fulfills this promise of a peaceful reign, and it is in the resurrection of all things that is to come that God’s covenant, God’s righteousness, will be complete.

As holiness people, we ought to take this reminder from Zechariah seriously when listening to the campaigns, political platforms, and governments of our day. While it is important to pay attention to these things, we would do well to remember whose kingdom we represent, the primary kingdom of which we are a part. The Old Testament chronicles the difficulty the Israelites faced because time and time again they placed their hope in earthly kings. We learn from their narrative that our hope is found in a king of a different sort, one that requires nothing short of our faith and participation through works of peace. And like the Israelites, while we are still waiting for the fulfillment of the covenant to be complete, we wait as “prisoners of hope” (v 12) for a Messiah who enters triumphantly and peacefully with a promise of abundant restoration for all. [1] Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum—Malachi, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox, 1986), 152