Take a moment and read the song of Zechariah upon regaining the power of speech after the birth of his son, John, in Luke 1:67-79.
The song of Mary which precedes his (46-55) gets far more of our attention at this season when we remember the birth of Jesus.
They are similar in many ways.
Each begins with praise to God. Both are prophetic in nature, foretelling and forth-telling the promises God would fulfill through these two babies.
One would bring God’s salvation.
The other would prepare His path.
One would increase.
The other would decrease.
(You can even tell which is which, by the few number of lines in Zechariah’s song which are specifically about his son, and how many are about Mary’s.)
In fact, John’s death would even bring home the inescapable reality of what was ahead for Jesus. Still, the Savior would set His face resolutely toward Jerusalem until He was nailed down and then lifted up there.
Zechariah’s Spirit-filled song worships God “… because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David ….” And the term is pretty much lost on us, even if we have seen it in dozens of Old Testament prophecies.
If you have an NIV Bible, you may have a footnote at the end of the word “horn” that says: “Horn here symbolizes strength.”
Sure, in the broad sense. But think about how many different ways the word is used in the Old Testament. A horn could be a ram’s horn, blown to sound the “all-clear” to go up the mountain of God (Exodus 19:3) or to topple Jericho’s walls (Joshua 6:4) … the redemption of Isaac (Genesis 22:13) … a part of the altar where atoning sacrificial blood was painted (Exodus 29:12; 30:10, et al) … a container for king-anointing oil (1 Samuel 16:13) … a last grasp from which to beg mercy (1 Kings 1:50; 2:28) … a deadly weapon against the Lord’s enemies (22:11) … instruments of worship to God (don’t shoot me, now! 1 Chronicles 15:28 and other citations) … a prophetic symbol of royalty and power (Daniel 7:24) … and more that I don’t really need to go into, in order for you to get my point!
And, to my eye, virtually all of them have a meaning that Jesus in one way or another completes, fulfills, embodies in the salvation He brings. Strength … sure.
But so very much more.
I’ve blogged before that I believe certain terms are used in scripture because of their richness of heritage and meaning; not so that we can argue about which meaning is “right” but because of the depth and wealth of the total etymology.
The reason I tend to think that this is one of them is that line in Zechariah’s song in the very next verse, “(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago)”.
Terms like “horn of salvation,” used frequently by the prophets, are not mere puns or double-entendres but gold-mines of deep wisdom.
To someone who loves words like I do, they are the Divine Artist’s signature hidden in the details of His masterwork.
And I think we skip over them because we don’t understand them; they’re mysterious and peculiar and perplexing – like John the Baptist himself.
Yet if we’re not paying attention to them, we’re missing out on part of the path that was prepared for the Christ.