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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(2) Both the altar of burnt offering (Exodus 27:2; Exodus 38:2; compare Ezekiel 43:15 ) and the incense altar (Exodus 30:2; Exodus 37:25 , Exodus 37:26; compare Revelation 9:13 ) had "horns," which are explained to be projections "of one piece with" the wooden framework and covered with the brass (or gold) that covered the altar. They formed the most sacred part of the altar and were anointed with the blood of the most solemn sacrifices (only) (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 4:7 , Leviticus 4:18 , Leviticus 4:25 , Leviticus 4:30 , Leviticus 4:34; Leviticus 16:18; compare Ezekiel 43:20 ), and according to Leviticus 8:15; Leviticus 9:9 , the first official sacrifices began by anointing them. Consequently cutting off the horns effectually desecrated the altar (Amos 3:14 ), while "sin graven on them" (Jeremiah 17:1 ) took all efficacy from the sacrifice. On the other hand they offered the highest sanctuary (1 Kings 1:50 , 1 Kings 1:51; 1 Kings 2:28 ). Of their symbolism nothing whatever is said, and the eventual origin is quite obscure. "Remnants of a bull-cult" and "miniature sacred towers" have been suggested, but are wholly uncertain. A more likely origin is from an old custom of draping the altar with skins of sacrificed animals (RS , 436). That, however, the "horns" were mere conveniences for binding the sacrificial animals (Psalm 118:27 , a custom referred to nowhere else in the Old Testament), is most unlikely. See ALTAR .
(3) The common figurative use of "horn" is taken from the image of battling animals (literal use in Daniel 8:7 , etc.) to denote aggressive strength. So Zedekiah ben Chenaanah illustrates the predicted defeat of the enemies by pushing with iron horns (1 Kings 22:11; 2 Chronicles 18:10 ), while "horns of the wildox" (Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalm 22:21; Psalm 92:10 , the King James Version "unicorn") represent the magnitude of power, and in Zechariah 1:18-21 "horns" stand for power in general. In Habakkuk 3:4 the "horns coming out of his hand" denote the potency of Yahweh's gesture (the Revised Version (British and American) "rays" may be smoother, but is weak). So to "exalt the horn" ( 1 Samuel 2:1 , 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 75:4 , etc.) is to clothe with strength, and to "cut off the horn" (not to be explained by Amos 3:14 ) is to rob of power (Psalm 75:10; Jeremiah 48:25 ). Hence, the "horn of salvation" in 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 18:2; Luke 1:69 is a means of active defense and not a place of sanctuary as in 1 Kings 1:50 . When, in Dan 7:7-24; Daniel 8:3 , Daniel 8:8 , Daniel 8:9 , Daniel 8:20 , Daniel 8:21; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:3 , Revelation 17:7 , Revelation 17:12 , Revelation 17:16 , many horns are given to the same animal, they figure successive nations or rulers. But the seven horns in Revelation 5:6; Revelation 12:3 denote the completeness of the malevolent or righteous power. In Revelation 13:11 , however, the two horns point only to the external imitation of the harmless lamb, the "horns" being mere stubs.
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Horn'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/h/horn.html. 1915.