HORNS OF THE ALTAR, the four protrusions at the corners of hewn stone altars, a feature common to the ancient world. The term Heb. קֶ֫רֶן, H7967, “horns” appears frequently in the OT. A description is given in Exodus 27:2, et al. It is clear that the horns of the altar conferred sanctuary to the accused (1 Kings 1:50).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
1. The Brazen Altar:
These projections at the four corners of the altar of burnt offering were of one piece with the altar, and were made of acacia wood overlaid with brass (Ex 27:2, "bronze"). In Ezekiel’s altar-specifications their position is described as being on a level with the altar hearth (Eze 43:15). Fugitives seeking asylum might cling to the horns of the altar, as did Adonijah (1Ki 1:50), which is one proof among many that worshippers had at all times access to the neighborhood of the altar. On certain occasions, as at the consecration of Aaron and his sons (Ex 29:12), and a sin offering for one of the people of the land (Le 4:30), the horns were touched with sacrificial blood.
2. The Golden Altar:
The altar of incense, standing in the outer chamber of the sanctuary, had also four horns, which were covered with gold (Ex 37:25). These were touched with blood in the case of a sin offering for a high priest, or for the whole congregation, if they had sinned unwittingly (Le 4:7,18).
See Altar; Horn.
W. Shaw Caldecott