And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 148:14)
This weekend, the “Stars and Stripes” will be on full display, as our nation celebrates its 245th birthday. Millions of Americans will celebrate the holiday in their own unique style. In addition to the “classic” traditions, like watching fireworks and firing up the grill, there will be boat parades in South Carolina, hot dog eating contests on Coney Island, salmon and crab bakes in New England, and even the annual “Return of the Mimes” in San Francisco!
Every community, every neighborhood, every family celebrates July 4th differently, but at the center of it all is a powerful symbol we share—the “Stars and Stripes.” The American flag is a symbol of both our unity and our diversity at the same time. Its thirteen stripes and fifty stars represent the original colonies and the many different states in our one union. Even the colors of Old Glory are symbolic—red for hardiness and valor, white for purity and innocence, and blue for perseverance and justice. (“History of the American Flag”) As a symbol, the flag represents noble values to which we can aspire, even as we struggle daily to live those values out.
For the Hebrew people, there were many such symbols as well…symbols that reminded them of who they were, but also of who they were called to be as God’s chosen ones. One of those symbols was the horn. Their ancient horns weren’t like trumpets or saxophones or car horns, they were real, anatomical “horns” taken from rams and bulls (at great cost to them!) Horns could be made into musical instruments, like the shofar. They could also be used to contain the anointing oil of priests and kings. They were even a prominent symbol on the corners of the High Altar in the Temple. They symbolized strength and power, justice and mercy; they represented sacrifice and immortality; they communicated the authority and honor of kings and gods.
In Psalm 148 we find another song of universal praise to Almighty God. As the Creator, He is worshiped by his heavenly creation—the angels and the heavenly host, the sun and moon and stars (vs. 1-6). As Lord of the earth He is praised by every creature on land and sea and sky; every tree and mountain; and even the weather (vs. 7-10). And of course, as those created in God’s image, every person—great or small—is called to praise the name of the Lord (vs. 11-13).
But then the psalmist concludes with this unusual image, “He has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart.” (vs. 14) Not only is this great God the Creator and Lord of the whole universe; not only is His name and splendor “far above the earth and heavens” (vs. 13); He is also right here with us, holding us close to His heart.
And He has “raised up His horn” for us. What does that horn look like? Yes, it’s a symbol of God’s strength and power on our behalf; yes, it represents the authority and honor He bestows upon his faithful servants. But it also points to One who will bring His people into real life—through the road of his own sacrifice, into the promised land of his eternal life. The horn is a symbol of all those things, and that symbol points to Jesus.
At the beginning of Luke’s gospel, we read the prayer of Zechariah…the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s promise for all those who are close to his heart. “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David…salvation from our enemies…mercy to our ancestors…to enable us to serve him without fear…all our days.” (Luke 1:67-75) Zechariah is referring to Jesus, the Messiah, who will restore creation, redeem humanity and return all the glory to the God of all glory. This “horn,” offered at great cost on the cross, was the deliverance of God’s people then, and he is still the deliverance and strength and honor of all who are close to His heart today.
As you celebrate this weekend, enjoy every bit of the freedom that we know as Americans. But don’t forget that our real freedom—our eternal freedom—is not found in a government, or a nation, or a flag. Real freedom is found in Jesus Christ, the horn of your salvation. He is the Living Water for our dry and weary land. Stay thirsty for him!