The Horn of
"My horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of a unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil" (Psa. 92.10.AV).
This 92nd Psalm is an expression of faith in the eventual elimination of evil from Divine creation and the triumph and eternal prosperity of those who love justice and order in God's world ‑ the righteous, to use what is a theological term. The enemies of the Lord shall perish, exults the Psalmist; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered, but the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree ‑ the tree that in the Middle East in ancient times was the symbol of eternal life. In that day, he goes on to say, he will experience an infusion of new strength and new power because God will be with him and behind him, rendering him irresistible in all that he undertakes for God. That is what is meant by his horn being exalted like the horn of a unicorn.
The unicorn is a mythical creature known best for its place in the British royal heraldic arms. The lion and the unicorn are familiar symbols, to the English-speaking peoples at least. Because the word "unicorn" appears several times in the Authorised Version it is often thought that in some way the royal heraldic insignia is derived ultimately from Old Testament symbolism and that some connection exists, but this is not really so. The figure of the unicorn as employed in heraldry is derived from descriptions of an alleged Indian animal by the Greek writer Ctesias (400 BC) and by others in later years, including the Roman naturalist Pliny in AD 70. According to these writers the animal was larger than a horse, ox-like in shape, with the head of a stag, feet of an elephant and the tail of a wild boar. One single horn three feet long projected from its head. Strong and very fierce, it could run faster than a horse and was very dangerous to encounter. The Greeks named this creature the monoceros, meaning single-horned, and the Latin equivalent is unicornis from which the English word comes. No animal completely fitting the description has ever been discovered but there is little doubt that the old writers were repeating vague impressions of the Indian rhinoceros.
This description gave rise to the popular conception of the unicorn in mediaeval England. British royal heraldry began in the 12th century and at first the royal arms of England carried the lion, favourite symbol of royalty, and the red dragon of Wales. The unicorn was first used in the arms of James I of Scotland (AD 1424) on which two unicorns were displayed. In the 17th century when James VI of Scotland became James I of England one unicorn replaced the dragon on the British royal arms, creating the design familiar to us today.
The Hebrew word rendered "unicorn" in the A.V. is reem which is now known to denote the aurochs or wild ox, an immensely strong and massive beast akin to the American buffalo. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek (the Septuagint) in 250 BC the translators used the Greek term monoceros and this was carried into the later Latin versions by its equivalent, unicornis. This is how the English versions and eventually the AV came to use the term "unicorn" in the passages concerned. No modern translation uses it; the majority have the correct term "wild ox". In the meantime, however, this unfortunate association of the mythical unicorn with the Scriptures gave rise to many mediaeval legends, some of which, for reasons which need not be detailed here, made this imaginary creature a symbol of Christ!
The Biblical "unicorn", then, was the wild ox, a creature so strong and powerful that it became the symbol of overpowering and irresistible force. Like all animals of its kind, it possessed two powerful horns. It was the strongest and most ferocious creature known to the early Hebrews and it is for this reason that horns in the OT are so often used as symbols of power and strength. In the Pentateuch, Israel, fortified by the power of God, are likened to the reem, the wild ox. "The Lord their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them. God brings them out of Egypt; they have as it were the horns of the wild ox" said Balaam (Num. 23. 21-22). "God brings him out of Egypt; he has as it were the horns of the wild ox. He shall eat up the nations his adversaries and shall break their bones in pieces" (Num.29.8). Moses, blessing the tribes of Israel before his death, said of the posterity of Joseph "his horns are the horns of a wild ox. With them he shall push the peoples, all of them, to the ends of the earth. Such are the ten thousand of Ephraim and such are the thousands of Manasseh" (Deut. 33.17). There is in these pages a magnificent picture of the invincibility of Israel when God is with them. They traversed the wilderness and entered Canaan like a charging wild ox and nothing could stop them. One might almost say of the achievements of their descendants in these latter days that there is something of this wild ox in their sensational advances against and victories over their enemies. One is tempted to reflect, if this is what they can do whilst still in a state of unbelief, what will be their achievement in the yet future day when, because of their repentance and faith, God is with them?
So here is the "horn of the unicorn", that irresistible power which resides in the people of God, doing the work of God in faith that God is with them. "Thou hast exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; thou hast poured over me fresh oil. . . for lo, thy enemies shall perish, all evildoers shall be scattered; they are doomed to destruction for ever" sang David (Psa. 92.7-10). As a man in his own strength he was weak and ineffectual; "I am a worm, and no man" he said on another occasion; but armed with the power of the Most High he was as a wild ox, invincible. As good king Hezekiah said when faced with the crisis of Sennacherib "Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria… for there is one greater with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles" (2 Chron.32.7-8). Something like this was in the minds of the later prophets when they declaimed the word of the Lord "On that day I will cause a horn to spring forth to the house of Israel" (Ezek.29.21). "Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion, for I will make your horn iron and your hoofs bronze" (Micah 4.13). And the Psalmist was in no doubt at all. "I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame but upon himself his crown will shed its lustre" (Psa.132.16-17). "My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him" (David)" and in my name shall his horn be exalted" (Psa.89.24). In all of these rhapsodies, Israel, as a nation or as represented in David her king, is pictured as a rampaging wild ox, horns elevated proudly in the air, waiting the moment to rush into the fray and execute the work of the Lord.
What is the moral? It is that the people of God are irresistible and invincible when God is behind them. That applies equally to the Christian now as to Israel in a past age. When the time falls due for another advance in the outworking of the Divine Plan and the "Watchers" are awake and ready to share in the work of that advance, nothing can stop them. There are times when the wild ox is quiescent, waiting quietly in his covert for the impulse which commands him to sally forth, but there are times too when there is work to be done, a battle to be fought for the King of Kings, a harvest to be reaped for the Great Sower. Those are the times when, in our turn, our horn is exalted. "The Lord gives the command; great is the host of those who bore the tidings. The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!" (Psa.68.11-12). That is the spirit of exaltation and confidence which in our day is perhaps the best equivalent to the rather more bloodthirsty manner in which Israel of old attacked and destroyed the enemies of the Lord. But our object is the same ‑ the destruction of all evil and the turning of all men to righteousness. When, in the power of his Advent and his Kingdom, our risen Lord leads his own in the final and most successful campaign to evangelise the nations and cause the knowledge of the Lord to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, and in the power of his leadership our horn is exalted like those of the wild ox entering the battle, we shall cry exultantly as did David of old "the kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!"