In the Hebrew Scriptures, it is kings who ride on donkeys.
That may sound strange — especially in light of countless Palm Sunday sermons we’ve heard. Yet, in 1 Kings 1:32-34, an elderly King David summons the religious leaders, commanding them to make arrangements for Solomon’s coronation. He instructs them to “have my son Solomon ride on my own mule.”
A royal mule? What’s that all about?
David was a hill-country chieftain, and Solomon a hill-country chieftain’s son. Although, years before, this scrappy warrior had become king of all Israel, he never forgot where he came from.
King David’s royal mount was not a horse. A horse is for those who dwell on the plains, who traverse highways broad and straight. A king like David, who got his start leading bands of raiders from cave to cave along rocky trails, preferred a sure-footed mule.
This is why, in later times, those who foretold the coming of a new king, a Messiah, to assume the throne of David, always had that monarch riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
The Roman overlords might have been amused by this somewhat comical sight — but Jewish zealots who knew their history would not have missed the symbolism.