The horn of my salvation

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by Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel –

The altar, gruesome, steaming with the blood of the sacrifice.

Now that the goal was in sight, it was as though his body was drained of strength. A part of him wanted nothing more than to give up, to face his accusers, to make them understand. “It was an accident,” he cried, “O, God, an accident!” To his dulled senses, the words were a desperate whisper.

The altar. He had to reach the altar! A will not his own drove him now. A strength not his own forced flaccid muscles to respond. He could see his own blood staining the pavement as he half-stumbled, half-crawled toward the altar.

“Aaron, you’ve got to make it. Reach up! The horn of the altar. It’s your only chance!”

“Benjamin? Is that you, Benjamin?” But no—Benjamin is dead. “I killed Benjamin! Benjamin, I’m sorry –so sorry.” His fingers clawed the stone, seeking purchase to pull himself up to where he could grasp the horn of the stone altar. His torn fingers clenched around the horn, but it was the face of his dead friend that filled his mind. “O, God, I am sorry. So sorry! Benjamin, forgive me! God…God…merciful God, I beg you, please, God …forgive me…save me!”

Desperation drove many a man to the cities of refuge provided by a merciful God, where one could be saved from a vengeful pursuer. The horns of the altar, under certain circumstances, were instruments of salvation—that was God’s plan, his provision. It still is.

In one of the most eloquent poetic outpourings in all the world’s literature, II Samuel 22 (repeated almost word for word in Psalm 18), David, king of Israel, sang this song of gratitude to the Lord:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
My shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—
From violent men you save me.
I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
And I am saved from my enemies.

Traditionally the phrase “My shield and the horn of my salvation” has been interpreted as a reference to protection and strength in battle, the horn of an animal being considered a symbol of strength. Is that the most natural interpretation in this context? I wonder. I cannot help but believe that David is thinking of something much more spiritually compelling. The immediate context is not one of aggression, but of retreat—one of drawing back from battle, a time of fleeing to the Lord for refuge and rescue in time of imminent threat.

David’s words strike a chord of empathy as I picture the pitiful, heart-rending, glorious moment when a man clings desperately to the horn of the altar, the horn of his salvation, knowing it to be his only hope, for I too have experienced that desperation, that knowledge that my only hope is found in clinging tightly to my God…my rock…my shield…the horn of my salvation…the Lord Jesus Christ.

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