The prophets of Israel had the official role of making announcements to the people of God. The priests and scribes who organized the Old Testament books placed prophets in two categories. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel were called “Major Prophets” (because of the length of their scrolls/books) and the rest were called “Minor Prophets”. Twelve of the Minor Prophets have their own book and others like Nathan (2 Sam. 7:1-17 for example) appear in stories throughout the Old Testament. Moses, Elijah and Elisha are the exceptions to this general rule. The importance of prophets continues across the pages of the New Testament but they are no longer categorized as they were in the past. The first and most important New Testament prophet is John the Baptist. A careful reading of his biography (Lk. 1:5-25; 57-80) proves that he actually followed in his father’s footsteps.
Elizabeth and Zechariah, John’s parents, initially faced their elderly years without a child. It is not hard to imagine the suffering Elizabeth endured (inwardly or outwardly) with this stigma or the sorrow Zechariah must have felt with no heir to carry on the family line. But everything changes with a miraculous promise from God (Lk. 1:16-17). While doubt seems to overrule Zechariah’s faith, God is faithful to stir life in Elizabeth’s womb and a child is born to them. As a result of Zechariah’s lack of faith he is left speechless until the day the child is to be named. After inscribing the God’s chosen name of “John” on a tablet (to the astonishment of the family and friends who have gathered for the occasion), the Lord opens Zechariah’s vocal chords and gives Zechariah a prophecy to share with the group surrounding him. Zechariah first praises God (a good thing to do when you haven’t spoken for 9 months!) and then proceeds in the tradition of the prophets before him by extolling the great things God has done and is about to do (Lk. 1:67-79). Two figures are prominent in this proclamation. The first is the Messiah. The second is Zechariah’s son, whom he says will be “the prophet of the Most High” and who will prepare the way for the Messiah’s appearance in accordance with the prophecies of Isaiah (9:2; Lk. 1:78), Jeremiah (31:34; Lk. 1:77), Ezekiel (29:21; Lk. 1:69) and Micah (7:20; Lk. 7:22).
Of particular note is the title and description Zechariah uses to describe the Messiah. He is called the “Horn of Salvation” which is easy to skip over in this day and age as we no longer understand how important that image was to those who first heard it. One writer noted, “The phrase horn of salvation is a reference to Christ. The word horn throughout the Old Testament was a symbol of strength, power and might. The Messiah is called the horn or the Mighty One of Salvation because He alone possesses the might, the strength, and the power to save”. Zechariah’s prophecy notes that many prophets have spoken these words in past eras (Lk. 1:70), but it is now that God has accomplished them, literally God has completed them (Lk. 1:68). Through the lineage of David, God has brought forth the promise first uttered by Samuel to David concerning his kingdom and those who would succeed him on the throne (2 Sam. 7:8-16).
For Zechariah the imagery in the term “horn of salvation” led directly to the altar in the Temple of the Courtyard. At each corner of the altar where the sacrifices were burned were horns (Ex. 27:1-2). Not only did the all-consuming sacrificial fire demonstrate God’s power, strength and might, the horns did too. The symbols reminded those bringing the sacrifices that they needed a Savior to destroy the sin those sacrifices represented. How often do we remember the power, strength and might it took for Jesus the Messiah to destroy our sin? Perhaps it is most evident to us at Easter as our focus is obviously directed to the Cross and the Resurrection. Maybe when we see an animal with horns now it will remind us of this title and in turn the tremendous power, strength, and might it took for Jesus to conquer sin. I know that I will never be looking at an animal’s horns in the same way again. How about you?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 7/31/2016