Interpretation – Huh, horns? Appreciating the metaphor

Recently was reading Psalm 75 and came across “horn(s)” four times in the passage and wondered what is that all about?

vv. 4-5

I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
    and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn;
do not lift up your horn on high,
    or speak with haughty neck.’”

v. 10

All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
    but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.

The Psalm is clearly about the reality that God is the Judge and that is explicitly stated in v. 7 but what are the horns all about?

This is a case where we need a reference work to give us a window into the Ancient Near East usage of metaphors. I turned to Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament and on p. 541 it said, “See the comment on ‘horn’ in the sidebar on common metaphors in Psalms.” Thus, I turned to that item on p. 514 where there was a paragraph on how horns were used in the iconography of the Ancient Near East. For instance, deities were often portrayed as having horns emanating from their crowns. Thus, the bottom line is that horns are used as a symbol for power.

Plug that into the Psalm and it makes sense! God, the judge, will cut down the power of the wicked and vindicate the power of the righteous.

An ibex in the Negev desert.
image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/75/Nubian_Ibex_in_Negev.JPG/320px-Nubian_Ibex_in_Negev.JPG

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