Animal horns were used in Israel as vessels for oil, as drinking flasks, as inkhorns and containers for cosmetics, and as musical or signaling instruments.—1Sa 16:1, 13; 1Ki 1:39; Eze 9:2; see SECRETARY’S INKHORN.
Musical and Signaling Instruments. The Hebrew word qeʹren is the general designation for an animal’s horn. (Ge 22:13) It is used once to refer to a wind instrument, namely, in the expression “horn [Heb., qeʹren] of the ram” in Joshua 6:5. This expression is put in parallel with the Hebrew word shoh·pharʹ (horn), a term always referring to a ram’s horn used as a musical instrument. The modern shoh·pharʹ is a hollow ram’s horn about 36 cm (14 in.) long, straightened by heat but curved upward at the bell end. It has a separate mouthpiece to facilitate blowing. The shoh·pharʹ of Bible times, it is thought, had no separate mouthpiece, and according to the Talmud, the ram’s horn was not straightened but left crooked.
The shoh·pharʹ was basically used as a signaling instrument. It assembled the Israelite forces, sometimes sounded the “alarm signal” against a city to be attacked, and directed other maneuvers in warfare. (Jg 3:27; 6:34; 2Sa 2:28; Joe 2:1; Zep 1:16) In case of enemy attack, the shoh·pharʹ gave warning. (Ne 4:18-20) Being just a signaling instrument in battle, the sound of 300 of these horns would, under normal circumstances, indicate an army of considerable size. So when the Midianites heard the horns blown by everyone in Gideon’s band of 300 men, “the whole camp got on the run,” terror stricken.—Jg 7:15-22.
In addition to the horn’s announcing every new moon, it proclaimed the year of Jubilee and added to the joyful spirit of other occasions. (Ps 81:3; Le 25:8-10; 2Sa 6:15; 2Ch 15:14) When Jehovah stated the terms of the Law covenant, the miraculous sound of a horn was one of the features of the spectacle at Mount Sinai. (Ex 19:16-19; 20:18) To proclaim the beginning and the end of the Sabbath with the shoh·pharʹ appears to have been a custom established before the Common Era.
Israelites of all stations seemed to know how to use the shoh·pharʹ. The priests blew it when marching around Jericho and likely were the ones who announced the Jubilee with it. (Jos 6:4, 5, 15, 16, 20; Le 25:8-10) Its being sounded by Ehud, by Gideon and his 300 men, and by Joab, as well as by the watchmen, who were not necessarily Levites, indicates general familiarity with the instrument.—Jg 3:27; 6:34; 7:22; 2Sa 2:28; Eze 33:2-6.
The Hebrew term yoh·velʹ (ram) is used as a synonym of shoh·pharʹ in Exodus 19:13, where it is rendered “ram’s horn.” At Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, 15, qeʹren appears in Aramaic as part of the Babylonian orchestra.—See TRUMPET.
Horns of Altars. The horns of both the incense altar and the altar of sacrifice at the tabernacle were hornlike projections extending outward from the four corners. They were overlaid with the same material as the altar, either copper or gold. (Ex 27:2; 37:25, 26) The altars at Solomon’s temple were probably patterned after those of the tabernacle.—1Ki 6:20, 22.
It was on the horns of the altar of sacrifice that Moses put some of the blood of the bull of the sin offering at the installation service to “purify the altar from sin.” (Le 8:14, 15) According to Jehovah’s direction, the priest was to put the blood of certain sacrifices on the horns of either one altar or the other, depending on the sacrifice offered.—Le 4:7, 18, 25, 30, 34; 16:18.
Jehovah said that the sins of Judah were engraved “on the horns of their altars” (Jer 17:1), making the altars unclean and their sacrifices unacceptable; and in Amos 3:14 Jehovah states his purpose to desecrate the altars for calf worship at Bethel by the cutting off of their horns.
The statement at Exodus 21:14 may mean that even a priest was to be executed for murder, or that the act of taking hold of the horns of the altar would not shield any willful murderer.—Compare 1Ki 2:28-34.
Figurative Usage. An animal’s horn (Heb., qeʹren; Gr., keʹras) is a formidable weapon and Biblically was used quite often in a figurative sense, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures. Rulers and ruling dynasties, both the righteous and the wicked, were symbolized by horns, and their achieving of conquests was likened to pushing with the horns.—De 33:17; Da 7:24; 8:2-10, 20-24; Zec 1:18-21; Lu 1:69-71; Re 13:1, 11; 17:3, 12; see BEASTS, SYMBOLIC.
In one instance Jehovah, in assuring victory to his people, said he would ‘change the horn of the daughter of Zion to iron.’ (Mic 4:13) Whereas Jehovah raised up the horn of his people, or caused it to be exalted, the wicked are warned not to lift up their horn arrogantly, for the horns of the wicked will be cut down. (1Sa 2:10; Ps 75:4, 5, 10; 89:17; Am 6:12-14) In expression of his feeling of complete abandonment, Job sorrowfully states: “I have thrust my horn in the very dust.”—Job 16:15.
“Horn” may also be used to describe an article shaped like a horn. At Ezekiel 27:15, the “horns of ivory” probably refer to elephant tusks. At Isaiah 5:1 the Hebrew phrase “a horn the son of oil [or, fatness]” evidently refers to “a fruitful hillside,” the “horn” being used to represent the upward slope of the hill.—NW, ftn.