Psalm 118 – Israel Recognizes the True Corner- Stone (This Psalm is the one most frequently quoted in the New Testament) & The Horned Altar

This Psalm is the one most frequently quoted in the New Testament

The Iron Age is divided into two subsections, Iron I and Iron II. Iron I (1200-1000) illustrates both continuity and discontinuity with the previous Late Bronze Age.

There is no definitive cultural break between the 13th and 12th century throughout the entire region, although certain new features in the hill country,

Transjordan and coastal region may suggest the appearance of the Aramaean and Sea People groups.

There is evidence, however, that shows strong continuity with Bronze Age culture, although as one moves later into Iron I the culture begins to diverge more significantly from that of the late second millennium.

Iron II (1000-550) witnessed the rise of the states of Judah and Israel in the 10th-9th century.

These small principalities exercise considerable control over their particular regions due in part to the decline of the great powers, Assyria and Egypt, from about 1200 to 900.

Beginning in the eighth century and certainly in the seventh century, Assyria reestablishes its authority over the eastern Mediterranean area and exercises almost complete control.

The northern state of Israel is obliterated in 722/721 by King Sargon and its inhabitants taken into exile. Judah, left alone, gradually accommodates to Assyrian control, but towards the end of the seventh century it does revolt as the Assyrian empire disintegrated. Judah’s freedom was short-lived, however, and eventually snuffed out by the Chaldean kings who conquered Jerusalem and took some of the ruling class into exile to Babylon.

During the period of exile in Babylon, the area, particularly from Jerusalem south, shows a mark decline.

Other areas just north of Jerusalem are almost unaffected by the catastrophe that befell Judah.

1 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: because his mercy endureth forever.

2 Let Israel now say, that his mercy endureth forever.

3 Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth forever.

4 Let them now that fear the LORD say, that his mercy endureth forever.

5 I called upon the LORD in distress: the LORD answered me, and set me in a large place.

6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?

7 The LORD taketh my part with them that help me: therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me.

It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.

It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.

10 All nations compassed me about: but in the name of the LORD will I destroy them.

11 They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.

12 They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.

13 Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: but the LORD helped me.

14 The LORD is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.

15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly.

16 The right hand of the LORD is exalted: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly.

17 I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.

The first horned animal altar ever unearthed in ancient Israel was recently excavated by Professor Yohanan Aharoni at Tell Beer-Sheva.

The exacavator dates the altar from the 8th century B.C. and possibly earlier.

Altars with horns at each of their four corners are mentioned frequently in the Bible (Lev. 4:7, 18, 25; Ex. 29:12, 30:2; 38:2; 1 Kgs 1:50; 2:28, etc.).

Indeed the horns are the holiest part of the altar.

The expiatory blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled seven times on the horns.

A fugitive who managed to catch hold of the horns of the altar would obtain asylum (1 Kgs 1:50).

However, the protection does not apply to a murderer, as Joab learned to his sorrow (1 Kgs 2:28–34).

18 The LORD hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD:

20 This gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter.

21 I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.

22 The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.

23 This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.

26 Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.

27 God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.

28 Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee.

29 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever.

Of the excellence of virtue consisting in the love and observance of the commandments of God.  Thanking the Lord for His mercy in bringing us through so many trials and chastisements.

The Horned Altar 

Horned Altar
As one enters the site today the first stones that one notices are not ancient, but a reconstructed large sandstone horned altar.

The stones on which the reconstruction is based were found in the walls of the storehouses from stratum II.

Since most of the stone used in these buildings was limestone the excavators noticed the anomalous blocks.

Eventually it turned out that three of them had projections (like the “horns” of a horned altar) and a fourth looked as if a horn could have been chipped off.

One of these stones had a serpent deeply cut into its surface.

Other, similar stones were found in the repairs made to the glacis in this stratum.

The two most important ritual altars of Israel’s religious life were the bronze altar of sacrifice and the golden altar of incense.

A conspicuous feature of their design was four “horns” rising from each of the four corners, which were to be of one piece with the altar itself rather than attached separately (Ex 27:2; 30:2).

Archeological excavations have provided examples of this construction in an incense altar – discovered at Megiddo and a sacrificial altar from an Israelite sanctuary of Beersheba.  The precise function of the horns remains uncertain.

Since the Hebrew term for altar, mizbeah, literally means “place of ritual slaughter,” it has been suggested that the horns functioned as pegs to secure the animal about to be offered (Ps 118:27).

Horned Altars in Megiddo
Dates back to 10th-9th century B.C.

This seems unlikely, however, since the animal was ritually slaughtered before being placed on the altar and would require no restraint (Lev 1:5-9).

Perhaps the horns on the altar, and especially those of the altar of incense, which was not used for sacrifice, may be explained by the broader role of the altar within temple liturgy.  Priests were commanded to daub these horns with sacrificial blood to symbolically effect purification from sin and thus to remove ritual impurity from the entire altar and sanctuary (Lev 4:7; 16:18).

In addition to their role in sacrificial offerings, altars served to memorialize a theophany or physical appearance of the Lord (Gen 12:7; 35:1-7) and were intimately associated with the divine presence (Ex 20:24).

It is possible that altars were constructed so as to imitate mountains upon which sacrifices were offered and with which God’s presence was associated.  This would explain the law prescribing that free-standing altars in Israel be constructed of packed earth or a mound of unhewn stones (Ex 20:24-26).

The horns on the elaborate altars of the temple could suggest a more “stylized” mountain.  Whatever the case, the special sanctity of the altar, and of the horns in particular, is evidenced by the asylum granted to anyone who seized them (1 Kgs 1:50-51; 2:28-34).