In the Old Testament there is a piece of furniture in the outer court of the Tabernacle of Moses called the bronze altar. On it were four bronze horns.
All worshipers had access to the altar, even fugitives could cling to the horns of the altar if they were seeking asylum (Exodus 21:13-14).
There was a time when Solomon was to be the rightful King of Israel, but his brother Abonijah had the grand idea that he would be King. Their father, David, found out and proclaimed Solomon King, which made Abonijah fear for his life. He ran to the place of worship, grabbed the horns of altar and begged for mercy which he received that day.
Adonijah was afraid of Solomon, so he rushed to the sacred tent and grabbed on to the horns of the altar. (1 Kings 1:50 NLT)
I am sure there are many things that can be gleaned from this but what stands out to me is the altar symbolizes fervent, even desperate prayer. It is a prayer where we do business with God for ourselves and others.
When we use the phrase, ‘grab hold of the horns of the altar’, it means we go to God with all our heart and plead for mercy until we receive our answer. This is the place where God hears us because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, not because of our efforts.
Grabbing the horns of the altar is a prayer from the heart and it burns like the fire on the bronze altar.
Leviticus 6:13 says, “Remember the fire must be kept burning on the altar at all times, it must never go out.”
So even if we have an ‘altar call’ at church it is not so much the act of going forward that is important but our hearts response as we approach God honestly and boldly.
The book of James says, ‘the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.’ It produces results. It accomplishes much. Whether we come to the altar in private or publicly, we must come with fire in our hearts and expect an answer from our God.
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness,so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NRSV)