I was wondering why did Joab take hold of the horns of the altar in 1 Kings 2:28? Or rather, what is the significance of him doing that? What is he trying to do?

1 Kings 2:28-29 (NIV)

28 When the news reached Joab, who had conspired with Adonijah though not with Absalom, he fled to the tent of the LORD and took hold of the horns of the altar. 29 King Solomon was told that Joab had fled to the tent of the LORD and was beside the altar. Then Solomon ordered Benaiah son of Jehoiada, “Go, strike him down!”

And when Adonijah learned that Solomon was made king, he took hold of the horns of the altar :

1 Kings 1:49-51 (NIV)

49 At this, all Adonijah’s guests rose in alarm and dispersed. 50 But Adonijah, in fear of Solomon, went and took hold of the horns of the altar. 51 Then Solomon was told, “Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon and is clinging to the horns of the altar. He says, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me today that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.’”

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    Perhaps relevant: “Leviticus 1: Altars were the center of ritual in the ancient world. Many of those found by archaeologists had horns on the four corners, such as this limestone altar from Beersheba. While the symbolism of the horns is not clear, fugitives of most crimes (but not intentional murder—see, for example, 1 Kings 2:28–32) could find asylum by grasping the horns of the altar in an appeal to God’s mercy. Cutting off the horns made an altar useless for religious purposes (Amos 3:14)” -- Excerpt From: Andrew E. Hill. “A Survey of the Old Testament.” Dec 1, 2014 at 1:24

2 Answers 2


This looks like a reference to the manslaughter provision in Exodus:

Exodus 21:12-14

12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.

13 And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.

14 But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.

By fleeing to the tabernacle and taking ahold of the altar, Joab was claiming that he was not guilty of murdering Absalom (see 2 Samuel 18) and deserved mercy. Apparently Solomon disagreed.

  • But Joab said, "I will die here" (1 Kings 2:30) so it looks like he knows he's wrong.
    – Pacerier
    Oct 9, 2011 at 5:32
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    @Pacerier: This was in response to the king's summons. He knew the king wanted him dead, and he was saying "I'll either stay here the rest of my life or you'll have to kill me here, but I won't go along with you." When you look at the preceding chapters, there's a lot of politics involved here regarding a succession dispute that nearly erupted into civil war. Joab believed he was backing a good candidate and hadn't done anything wrong even though his side lost. The side that won, of course, saw it differently; Joab was considered a traitor and a murderer.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Oct 9, 2011 at 12:55
  • +1 for a nice reference. Exodus 12:13 is most likely a reference to the cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6-28; Deuteronomy 4:41-43; Joshua 20). One of those cities was Shechem, an early site of the Tabernacle and thus of the altar. Perhaps that is why the altar is mentioned in Exodus 21:14 in the same connection. However, holding onto the horns of the altar does seem to be a custom distinct from fleeing to an appointed place, since there was no altar in the other five cities of refuge, and later the tabernacle and altar were moved to Jerusalem. Apr 15, 2015 at 15:24
  • Joab died because of his murder of Amasa and Abner, not the killing of Absolam (we don't even know for sure that David found out that Joab was the one who killed him).
    – gyoder
    Jun 29, 2017 at 9:56

The question is what is the significance of Joabs grasping the horns of the Alter...

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.Psalm 18:2 (cf 2 Samuel 22:2)

This verse begins with "THE LORD is"...Thus it clearly reveals that "the horn" is the LORD GOD HIMSELF, our salvation, our strength and our STRONG - HOLD . The BRASS Alter of Sacrifice and the Sweet ALTAR of INCENSE each had 4 horns. The Brazen Alter, to which Joab clung for his life, had one horn at each of its four corners. These are the horns to which the animal sacrifices of Israel during Temple times were "tied" or bound. This is nothing more than a clear / shadow - picture of Christ our sacrifice, THE Sacrifice, being bound, not only by by rope and spike, but by the UNDYING LOVE of GOD for HIS CREATION, to the four points of the CROSS. Laying hold of, grasping or holding firmly the Horns of the alter, ( entering into the STRONG HOLD ) foreshadows we Christians laying hold of the CROSS. It implied REPENTING, HUMBLING yourself and ASKING for GODS mercy and Grace to manifest and SAVE you from whatever it was that was pursuing you, whether it were a physical enemy, a spiritual entity or a bout of guilty conscience. The implication is one seeking deliverance with all his strength, mind and heart. It implies FALLING ON THE ROCK AND BEING BROKEN.

Because man is sinful, fallen and unable to help or save himself, God in His MERCY promised a PLACE of REFUGE. A way of ESCAPE from JUDGEMENT, PUNISHMENT and DEATH. The Alter being in service during "Old Covenant" times was, of course, only a type and a shadow or things to come. It was in service UNDER THE TIME OF THE LAW and according to the Levitical Law, even breaking the 6th commandment, thou shall not murder or kill, might be covered by MERCY or GRACE under certain circumstances. EXODUS 21: 12-14 *He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. However, if he did not lie in wait, but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee. But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.* Joabs grasping the Horn of the Alter did not save his mortal life, as Solomon had him there slain. Scripture is so deep and there are so many levels of revelation hidden in it. Joab here in one sense is a symbol or representation of CHRIST who took hold of the cross ( not as a guilty man but rather as a willing sacrifice for all other men! ) He also in another light, can represent the people whom the Lord says will come to him in the end saying LORD LORD ,, didnt we do all these things in your name? and he will sadly say to them, go away from me, I never knew you. Try exchanging the first words of Psalm 23:22 "the LORD is my rock...' with the WORD , or JESUS... and see if that makes the verse seem even more relevant and clear. Jesus is... the HORN of my SALVATION... Then consider why Joab grasped the HORNS of the ALTER... Blessings..

  • Hi and welcome to the site! It seems you are generally on-topic with your answer here, but casting Joab as a type of Christ here seems a bit of a stretch! Do you have any references to show this is anything other than your personal opinion? Additionally, your post could really use some good formatting to make it more readable, and the word is 'altar' not 'alter' - try out an edit to see if you can make it a little more readable. Sep 21, 2014 at 16:42
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    Too many capital letters!
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 21, 2015 at 23:23

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