Question: “What does the Bible means when it refers to the “horn of salvation” in Luke 1:69? And how does the image of a “horn” apply to the Messiah?” – K. in India
Answer: Let’s first look at the verse itself:
“[The Lord] has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David…”(Luke 1:69 NKJV).
This verse is from the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise about the coming birth of the Messiah. This canticle of worship is full of allusions to Old Testament images and prophecies of the Messiah. One of these is referring to the coming Messiah as the “horn of salvation.” What does this mean?
The Hebrew language is full of imagery, metaphor and allusion. Often a concept or principle is presented by a particular image. The use of the word “horn” is one example. To the Hebrew mind a horn was a picture of strength, power, might and ability. To understand this, think of animals that have horns—bulls, rams, he-goats and stags. These are strong animals, and they use their horns to display their power. Therefore, when the Scriptures say that God “has raised up for his people a horn” (Psalm 148:14), it signifies that the Lord has made His people strong. Again, the strength of a group of people may be illustrated by the picture of a bull’s horns (see Deuteronomy 33:17). To have multiple horns indicates a person of great power (Daniel 7:7-8). For God to lift up or exalt your horn means that He makes you strong and gives you power (see Psalm 89:24, 92:10). It may also indicate that God honors you and establishes you, making you to prosper (see Psalm 112:9, Ezekiel 29:21, Micah 4:13).
The use of the word “horn” in Luke 1:69 may be a direct reference to Psalm 132:17 where we see a Messianic prophecy: “Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my anointed one” (NIV). Here the descendant of David, the Messiah, is shown as coming from David’s line, and he will be a man of power and strength.
The idea of horn is also strongly tied to royalty, the idea of kingship. Indeed, the word “horn” is sometimes used as a euphemism for the king himself (see Psalm 132:17, also cf. Jeremiah 48:25, Daniel 7:8). This use of horn as a royal symbol is probably due to two things. First, there is the idea of the king sitting in power and regal might. He is the strong one, who in his great power guards and protects the nation. A good king is a strong king.
The second image is probably derived from the coronation of a king in ancient Israel. Kings were anointed servants of God (literally “messiahs”). The sign of their call from God, and their appointment by God, was the ceremony of anointing. Here a prophet or a priest would take a hollowed-out animal horn that was full of anointing oil, and would pour it upon the head of the new king (see 1 Samuel 16:13, 1 Kings 1:39). Indeed, the king only became a king when he was anointed by a horn of anointing oil. So the horn itself became a symbol of the king and his authority.
To return to our text (Luke 1:69), to refer to the Messiah as bringing the “horn of salvation” signifies the great power of the salvation that He brings. His salvation is mighty and effective. This further may be extended as indicating that He is a mighty Savior himself. Indeed, this is how this verse is rendered in some translations: “He has sent us a mighty Savior” (New Living Translation). Mary is both calling her unborn Son a mighty Savior, and saying that the salvation He brings will be powerful and strong. This is also a subtle reference to the Messiah as being the Lord himself, God in the flesh, for it is the Lord God who is our “horn of salvation” (Psalm 18:2).
In conclusion, to refer to the Messiah as the “horn of our salvation” speaks of His great power and strength in performing His work. He is the mighty Savior, who is able to “save to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25). There is no limit to our Savior, and there is no one He cannot save. No sin is too great, and no sinner too bad, that the mighty Savior, the Horn of our Salvation, cannot reach him and bring him to redemption. Such is the greatness of our Lord.