Waterworks, 1 Kings 7:23-51
In the tabernacle courtyard, there was a laver that contained water for washing. We are not told its dimensions, and no particular emphasis is put on it (Exodus 30:17-21; cf. 38:8). Water is much more abundant in the temple. Not only is there a very large bronze sea, there are ten water chariotsEalong the pathway leading to the temple. The tabernacle is a small oasis in the desert; the temple is a well-water garden.
And he made the Sea of cast bronze, ten cubits from one brim to the other; it was completely round. Its height was five cubits, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference. . . .E(1 Kings 7:23-51).
WATER IN SCRIPTURE
Several features of the general biblical symbolism of water provide background for the water found at the temple. First, in the creation account there are two areas of water: On day 2, Yahweh divides between the waters above the firmament and the waters below the firmament (Genesis 1:6-8), and on Day 3, he gathers the lower waters into the sea (Genesis 1:9-13). Waters coming from above frequently represent heavenly waters coming down from God, while the waters below often represent dangerous waters of death (though the flood represents a partial exception to this symbolism; cf. Genesis 7:11).
Second, the garden of Eden is a well-watered placeE(Genesis 2:10; 13:10), and other watered places in the Bible are renewals of the garden. Water gives life, and gives it abundantly. In this respect, water is often a symbol of the Spirit (Isaiah 32:15-20; 44:3; Matthew 3:11, 16; Acts 1:5; the Spirit is poured out,EActs 2:17). Third, water is also for cleansing (e.g., Leviticus 15). Fourth, water, especially in rivers, serves as a boundary. Israel crosses out of Egypt into the wilderness by passing through the Red Sea, and crosses from the wilderness to the land by passing through the Jordan. Finally, the sea is frequently a symbol of the Gentile nations, while the land stands for Israel (Psalm 46; Jonah).
The bronze sea is a large circular pool, 5 cubits (7 ½ feet) high, with a circumference of 30 (45 feet) cubits and a diameter of 10 (15 feet). It stands on the backs of 12 oxen, four facing in each direction. According to 2 Chronicles 4:3, the oxen were 10 cubits, though it is not clear whether this is their length or heighth. Either way, they are large animals. The brim of the sea is decorated with gourds (as on the temple walls) and lilies (as on the capitals of Jachin and Boaz). The edge is said to be like the brim of a cupE(1 Kings 7:26).
The bronze sea picks up on several dimensions of the general symbolism of water in the Bible. First, because the water is lifted up from the ground, it represents the heavenly sea, the water that stands before the throne of God. The bronze sea itself is a firmamentEthat stands between the worshipers below and the waters above. The message is, If the nations want the life-giving waters of heaven, they need to seek it at the temple of Israel.
Second, the 12 bulls that hold up the sea represent the nation of Israel, particularly in her priestly capacity (bull is for priest, Leviticus 4:3; cf. Psalm 22:12). Israel is pictured here as having a global ministry, since the bulls are pointed toward the four points of the compass (see four corners of the earthE. They are the bearers of heavenly water. Israel is Atlas,Ewith the sky resting on her shoulders.
Third, since the sea is particularly associated with the Gentile nations, the sea also symbolizes the arrangement of the political world under the Old Covenant. The Gentile sea is upheld by the priestly nation, Israel.
Finally, the sea echoes the structure of the temple as a whole. It is made in three sections, as is the temple: 12 bulls = portico; sea itself = nave or holy place; water above the sea = Most Holy Place. And, since the temple is a small, architectural world,Ethe bronze sea is a miniature model of the three-storied universe.
RIVERS OF LIFE
In addition to the bronze sea, Hiram of Tyre made 10 water chariotsEfor the temple (7:27-39). They are called chariotsEbecause of their construction, even though they probably did not move. The overall dimensions of the water stands are given in verse 27. The chariots themselves were 4 x 4 cubits, and they stood 3 cubits high. They were set on wheels that were 1 ½ cubits high (v. 32). They had panelsE(v. 28) that were supported by a frame, and the panels were engraven with lions, oxen, and cherubim. Within this box-likeEstructure were basins containing 40 baths (220 gallons or so) of water (v. 38). Verse 39 tells us that the stands were put on the sides of the temple, stretching out toward the east.
There are at least two aspects to the significance of these water chariots. First, the chariots symbolically depict water flowing out of the temple toward the east. Living water is not confined to the temple courts, but runs to the corners of the earth, just as in Eden (Genesis 2:10-14). This symbolism is picked up dramatically in Ezekiel 47. In the New Testament, this is fulfilled in Jesus; He is the temple (John 2), whose side runs with water and blood (John 19). As the temple in union with Jesus, life-giving waters flow from us as well.
Second, the stands form a gauntlet, a water passage, for anyone approaching the house of the Lord. The person approaching the temple would not literally be washed with water, but he would be passing through the water stands, and this gives the idea of a baptism. The worshiper approaching the temple would be reliving the crossing of the Red Sea, heading toward Yahwehs presence on Sinai (in the temple); the worshiper approaching the temple would be passing through the Jordan, entering the garden-land that is symbolized by the temple.
UTENSILS OF SERVICE
The remainder of chapter 7 is taken up with lists of bronze utensils used in the temple service (vv. 40-47) and the gold furnishings and utensils (vv. 48-50). The bronze utensils were used in the courtyard, and the gold within the temple proper. Thus, the materials of the utensils match the gradation of holiness in the temple; the less holy courtyard uses bronze, while the holy temple uses gold.
These temple utensils picture the members of the church, each of which is gifted in a unique way to contribute to the service of God. Paul says that the church is a body with many membersE we might also say it is a temple with many tools.E Those who are shovels in the temple of God should shovel with all their might; those who are snuffers should snuff to the glory of God; the basins and the bowls devote themselves wholly to Gods service.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 at 08:36 AM
Permission is given to use material on this site, provided the source is cited, blog entries are republished in full, and the author is notified in advance.