The horn of salvation is mentioned several times in the Bible, but what does this expression mean? What does salvation have to do with a horn?
In the Old Testament, the word horn signifies many things. Of course, one usage of horn was to refer to a pointed bony structure growing out of an animal’s head (Genesis 22:13). Animal horns, used for fighting, protection, and securing dominance, became symbols of strength, power, and victory. Often, Scripture’s mention of a “horn” is as a literary symbol representing potency and power.
For example, in Daniel 7:7 and 24, the ten horns of Daniel’s fourth beast represent ten kings. In Psalm 75:10, God says, “I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.” In other words, the righteous will prevail, no matter how strong the wicked seem to be. In Jeremiah 48:25, “Moab’s horn is cut off” means that the strength of Moab is gone. The four horns in Zechariah 1:18–19 represent the powerful nations that attacked and scattered Israel.
Animal horns were also used as receptacles for oil (1 Samuel 16:1) or as a shofar trumpet (Joshua 6:5). The prayer in Psalm 92:10 contains both a reference to oil and a figurative use of horn: “You have exalted my horn like that of a wild ox; fine oils have been poured on me.”
In 1 Samuel 2:1 Hannah prays, “In the Lord, my horn is lifted high,” indicating the strength that will come from her having a child. In Luke 1:69 Zechariah praises God that “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” In this case, the “horn of salvation” is a reference to Jesus Christ, the powerful deliverer and king who was soon to be born.
Another significant instance of the word horn in the Old Testament is in reference to the protrusion at each corner of the altar (Exodus 27:2). In worship, the horns of the altar were dabbed with blood to purify them and make atonement for sin (Leviticus 8:15; 4:6). The horns of the altar speak of the power of God’s salvation. That part of the altar also became a place of refuge and sanctuary for a fugitive (1 Kings 1:50).
We often see the horn in Scripture as a symbol of salvation. Psalm 18:2 says, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” In the New Testament, Jesus is the horn of salvation (Luke 1:68–69). Thus, a title applied to Yahweh is also applied to Jesus; they are both called “the horn of salvation.” The very name Jesus means “The Lord Is Salvation.” The salvation Jesus offers is strong, triumphant, and powerful. Just like the horns on the altar offered refuge and atonement, Jesus offers clemency and cleansing through His death on the cross. However strong our spiritual foe, the horn of our salvation is stronger still.