Fickle Horns

July 25, 2017
1 Comment

Psalm 75 sings the praises of the justice of Yahweh on the wicked. While this hymn’s sobering content probably won’t find its way into the lyrics of the next Hillsong worship track, it is a testament to the merciful and providential judgment of God, as well as a dismal reminder of the fickle nature of the idols or “counterfeit gods” (in the words of Tim Keller) we try to shake in the face of a righteous God.

In verse one, the psalmist makes clear that praise is to be given to Yahweh who is near to His people:

We praise you, God,
we praise you, for your Name is near;
people tell of your wonderful deeds.

In verses two through five (which will be getting special attention here), God places his judgment on the wicked:

You say, “I choose the appointed time;
it is I who judge with equity.
When the earth and all its people quake,
it is I who hold its pillars firm.
To the arrogant I say, ‘Boast no more,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horns.
Do not lift your horns against heaven;
do not speak so defiantly.’”

In my first reading of this psalm, I could not get over the word, “horn.” So I went looking for help in Temper Longman III’s commentary on Psalms. He states: “the horn is reference to the horn of an animal which, when lifted high, is a symbol of power.”1

Horns are symbols of power. In these verses, the arrogant and the wicked alike shake their horns in the face of the omnipowerful God. Three words perfectly sum up this scene: irony, foolishness, wickedness. As Longman states in summing up his definition of horn, “God will not tolerate an assertion of power against himself.”2

In verses six through eight, a typical image is used to judge the wicked—drinking from the cup of “foaming wine” that is God’s wrath:

No one from the east or the west
or from the desert can exalt themselves.
It is God who judges:
He brings one down, he exalts another.
In the hand of the Lord is a cup
full of foaming wine mixed with spices;
he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth
drink it down to its very dregs.

The wicked deserve the cup of wrath that God provides. God will bring down the proud, while exalting the lowly.

This all seems like a fair and just story so far. God sticks it to the wicked.

But what happens when we put ourselves amongst the wicked in verses two through five? Are we so far removed from them? We all have our horns that we shake in the face of God—even to the point of boasting about them. Money, materials, popularity, platform, power, relationships. Our horns are all things created by God for good. Yet, we get tricked into the façade of thinking these horns are the things that ultimately matter, and we boast about them to God or hold onto them subconsciously because we believe the lie that we can do it on our own. Put in the words of Sinatra, “I did it my way.”

Tim Keller reminds us of the danger of worshiping these idols (or horns): “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshiping.”3

Instead of boasting in our capricious horns (idols) and shaking them in the face of God, the gospel gives us something better and unchangeable to boast about. And this boasting is not like bragging, but more so about where we place our ultimate trust and confidence. In this sense, boasting is like worshiping.

Paul reminds us where to place our boasting in Galatians 6:14: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” We should only boast in the cross of Jesus Christ. His atonement makes us right before God.

The fickle horns of the wicked in Psalm 75 should remind us of the horns of the ram that took the place of Isaac on the altar Abraham built to sacrifice his son to God. The ram took Isaac’s place, and Jesus took ours. The horns of the ram point to Christ’s death, and the horns we try to shake in God’s face get dismantled by His death, clothing us in Christ’s righteousness—giving us eternal life.

Overall, the gloomy and dismal nature of verses two through eight in Psalm 75 remind us not only of God’s judgment of the wicked, but points us to the cross—our only hope as wicked, sinful creatures. Thus, in light of boasting solely in the cross of Christ, we are able to rejoice with the psalmist in verses nine and ten by giving our ultimate praise and worship to the only One worthy of it:

As for me, I will declare this forever;
I will sing praise to the God of Jacob,
10 who says, “I will cut off the horns of all the wicked,
but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.”

About the Author
  • Cole McClain, an alumnus of Dordt (2016), is a history teacher at KIPP Northeast Denver Leadership Academy. He enjoys spending time with his wife, reading, watching movies, and defending the use of the Oxford comma.

  1. Temper Lonman III, Psalms, 283. 

  2. Ibid 

  3. Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods. 

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  1. Nice article Cole. My seminary class on Genesis is using Longman’s book on Genesis and I find him to be a very enjoyable author, and he writes in a very clear and helpful way. I highly recommend that one to you as well. I haven’t always agreed with Longman (at least about Genesis) but he drives you to think about the material and not just push it down your throat, and that’s what we should expect from a good author.