I don't see it clearly explained in the Bible. In Exodus 21:14 it reads in the NKJV:

14 “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.

How does the concept of the altar relate to the legal consequences for someone committing murder with premeditation?

I notice that it doesn't say this about someone who committed murder without premeditation. I understand the altar to be a place of sacrifice, so it seems likely that it isn't about getting the altar dirty. Perhaps God doesn't want an unholy sacrifice at His altar?

2 Answers 2


In Numbers 35:6-34, the Lord instructed the Israelites to allocate 48 towns/cities to the Levites, six of which were designated as 'Cities of Refuge'. These cities provided a safe haven for individuals who had killed someone unintentionally to escape from the avenger (Numbers 35:6-34; Deuteronomy 19:1-13). However, the 'Cities of Refuge' were not intended for those who had killed someone on purpose.

The principle of the 'Cities of Refuge' was established in Exodus 21:12-14. It reads;

12 “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death.

13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate.

14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.

Before the 'Cities of Refuge' established, a person who had killed someone might flee to the altar, attending judgement in the assembly witnessed by the high priest. If the assembly judged that the killing was intentional, that killer would be taken away and put to death. The altar represented the judgement of the Lord, witnessed by the assembly and the high priest.

  • +1. Thank you. So, after the Cities if Refuge were established there were two places to flee?
    – Jason_
    Commented Jan 28 at 21:10
  • 1
    @Jason_ - if the killing was intentional, there is nowhere to flee Commented Jan 29 at 4:03

Concerning the meaning of Exodus 21:14 As we read through Exodus, it’s clear that God is providing the Israelites instruction for every scenario that may occur. This passage is found among the laws concerning violence. In our society, we see every day, many reasons why violence has been committed.

Let’s take Exodus 21:12-14 NKJV

12 He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. 13 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. 14 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.

It appears that God is putting emphasis on the reasoning within the heart. If one plans to end another’s life, that would be called premeditated murder. The sixth commandment God issued to His people was, “You shalt not murder (Exodus 20:9). Premeditated murder would be a direct disobedience to His command, and so therefore the punishment much more severe.

Referencing 1 Kings 2:28-35 As David nears the end of his reign, Joab offers his allegiance to David’s oldest living son, Adonijah, rather than to the eventual king, Solomon (1 Kings 1:1-27). Just before he dies,David tells Solomon to have Joab killed, citing Joab’s past betrayals and the blood that he was guilty of spilling.

28 Then news came to Joab, for Joab had defected to Adonijah, though he had not defected to Absalom. So Joab fled to the tabernacle of the LORD, and took hold of the horns of the altar. 29 And King Solomon was told, Joab has fled to the tabernacle of the LORD; there he is, by the altar." Then Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, "Go, strike him down. 30 So Benaiah went to the tabernacle of the LORD, and said to him, Adonijah "Thus says the king, 'Come out!'" And he said, "No, but I will die here." And Benaiah brought back word to the king, saying, "Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me. 31 Then the king said to him, "Do as he has said, and strike him down and bury him, that you mayy take away from me and from the house of my father the innocent blood which Joab shed. 32 "So the LORD Will return his blood on his head, because he struck down two men more righteous and better than he, and killed them with the sword-Abner the son of Ner, the commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, the commander of the army of Judah-though my father David did not know it.33 "Their blood shall therefore return upon the head of Joab and upon the head of his descendants forever. But upon David and his descendants, upon his house and his throne, there shall be peace forever from the LORD." 34 So Benaiah the son of Jehoiada went up and struck and killed him; and he was buried in his own house in the wilderness.

  • +1. I appreciate your clear answer using Bible references!
    – Jason_
    Commented Jan 28 at 21:05

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