What a curious name for the brass basin that stood between the altar and the door to the Solomon’s temple. (1 Kings 7:23; 2 Chron 2:1) It was molten from brass at only 10 cubits or about 18 feet in diameter and so would have made a good spa but hardly a sea.  The Hebrew word, “yam” used for sea, refers to the roar of the surf; hence a sea.  In the tabernacle its counterpart was very small and obviously used simply for a ritual washing of the priests, enabling entry into the Holy Place of the tent. It was replaced by this larger basin situated on the backs of twelve oxen similar in appearance to our modern temple baptismal fonts.[1]

In keeping with strict non-disclosure promises of covenant symbols, no attempt is made here to explain them since they are reserved as God’s proprietary communication invitations. However, using ancient symbols that are explained in scripture helps contextualize as noted in a past article where I suggested that each item, in the straight[2] path that led from the gate to the mercy seat, consisted of meaningful ancient symbols that can give deeper understanding to the ordinances and covenants of our modern temples.  In the list of laws given by President Benson and repeated by Elder Bednar[3], the order and tabernacle corollaries can be seen.

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If Nephi was using the ancient temple as his referent in his last written speech, the gate to the kingdom; faith, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost gives entrance to the strait and narrow path upon which we must endure through obedience.[4]  In our efforts to obey, we continually meet the opposition of our natural appetites, so that obedience is only possible through its accompanying law; sacrifice.  It is the altar of sacrifice that greets the priest entering through the gate of the ancient courtyard.  In a sin offering, the offerer brought an animal to the priest who supervised as the offerer transferred his sins by laying his hands upon the animal.  Thus, in a vicarious way, the animal becomes the offerer. The offerer then must draw the knife across the lamb’s throat, graphically demonstrating that “the wages of his own sins, is death.”[5]    When we sin we are blinded to the reality that we are committing spiritual suicide…killing ourselves spiritually whereby we separate ourselves from God.[6]  The animal’s blood was then captured into a ceremonial bowl.    At the altar, two very significant things followed.  The animal was laid upon the altar and was burned.  The bowl is also accessed to smear blood upon the horns of the altar symbolically invoking the power (the horns)[7] of God for redemption.  Then the rest of the blood is poured out at the base of the altar.  Interestingly, the blood at the base of, or under the altar, is what John uses to represent the martyrs during the opening of the fifth seal.  They had poured out their lives in the testimony and service of Christ whereupon they are then clothed in symbolic robes.[8]   And though there is a re-sequencing for convenience sake in modern applications, it is here that we note the washing and clothing of the ancient temple priests.[9]

Christ is the Lamb of God and hence no sacrifice has any saving value without the portended sacrifice of His Atonement.  The overlapping symbols of offering our lives (blood)[10] and being cleansed by the blood of the sacrifice of the lamb of God highlights our understanding of both the power of the Atonement of Christ and the grace[11] receiving results of dedicating our lives as His instruments in the great work of the Atonement.  Since the lamb first of all represented the offerer, its death represented the spiritual consequence of sin which can then only be reversed through the power of Christ, symbolized beginning at the gate representing faith, repentance, baptism of water, followed by the offerer adding “I will sacrifice all my sins to know Thee,”[12] thus placing the “animal within”[13] upon the fire of the altar – (the “baptism of fire) which includes pouring out his/her life in living, sharing, and teaching the gospel.  They are then promised “cleansing[14] from the blood and sins of three requisite groups, one’s self, one’s children, and those in one’s circle of influence.  

In teaching the ancient temple model to some members last week, I found myself asking, “Wait, I struggle enough with my own appetites and consequent sins, do I have to worry about your sins too?”  

I shared Jacob’s comment about his service, “And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.” Jacob 1:19

It is fun to watch the lights come on as parents and their children make eye contact when I share;

 “And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.” DC 68:25

This is what Lehi noted was to happen to Laman and Lemuel in his final blessing on his grandchildren in 2 Nephi 4:5-6.

Remember also, King Benjamin called his people to listen to his final address so that, among other things, “even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me…” (Mosiah 2:27).  

One young man standing next to his mother, who had suggested that he had to finish his professional training before even thinking about a mission, looked shocked when I shared, 

If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” Ezekiel 33:8

We don’t have to be called on a full-time mission to recognize the seriousness of not sharing the wonderful news of the restored fullness with friends and acquaintances who, if they knew better, would have greater agency.  While serving full time, I often find myself using this prod to help me remember to strike up that potentially awkward conversation knowing that I don’t want their sins added to mine or to pray each day to have opportunity to illuminate the path for at least one more of Father’s precious children “who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.” DC 123:12

So, the subsequent blessing of deep and complete sacrifice by living, teaching, and sharing the gospel is seen in the symbol of the brass laver or “molten sea.” The courtyard in a way, was a slaughter yard with blood in abundance, symbolic of this telestial world’s blood and sins.  Being purified of the blood and sins of the symbolized world permits both the priest and us to enter the terrestrial state or “the holy place,” a more sanctified state.[15]

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Still why do we find it called a “molten sea?”  Perhaps one explanation can again be found in temple symbolism when applied to geography.  The tabernacle and all ancient Israelite temples had the Holy of Holies in the western end of the temple while the altar of sacrifice was positioned at the eastern end. Thus, the progression of the priest taken cumulatively was to move from east to west, from the gate to the mercy seat.  Were we to place the altar as a symbol over Gethsemane and Golgotha overlaid on a map of the world, with the court yard extending over Europe, the molten sea would be seen as the Atlantic Ocean.  Moving westward both historically and geographically the restoration then takes place in a specially sanctified land prepared as a holy place.  Can it be only coincidence that the continued path of the restoration is westward to finally establish God’s holy of holies, as prophesied by Isaiah, in the top of the western Rocky Mountains?

These surface analogues of the ancient temple can then prepare us to more fully receive the personal daily details through temple symbols by revelation.  When the early apostles asked Christ, in Matthew 13, why he was speaking in parables, he told them that it was because it was given to them to know the mysteries.  Then he explained the symbols.  That is the purpose of symbols: to serve as channels of revelation by triggering questions we should be asking Father directly.  Symbols are His teaching media-tools designed to allow Him to reach into our hearts and our minds in ways no man could ever do!! To one day dwell with Him, we will need to be transformed from our telestial fallen state to a state consistent with survival in His celestial state.   When He teaches, He transforms rather than just informs. Therefore, temple symbols “are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory.” DC 76:116-118

[1] Some have confused the laver or molten sea’s function with live baptism.  But it must be remembered that the courtyard was only accessible to the Levite priests, not the rest of Israel.  Reference to baptism is one of those covenants that apparently was removed from the Bible by the Great and Abominable Church (1 N 13:26) because there is little reference to it in the Old Testament.  Yet when John the Baptist comes baptizing, all knew what it was and flocked to him.  

[2] See Jacob’s referent 2 Nephi 9:41the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, 

[3] April 2019 Elder David A Bednar refers to President Benson’s list of Temple Laws:  https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/04/54bednar?lang=eng – Obedience and sacrifice, the gospel, chastity, consecration.

[4] 2 Nephi 31:17-19 “For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in thisstrait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done?? 

Some have suggested that strait referred to the passage being difficult by the restrictions of covenants making the path that passes through the strait very narrow.

[5] Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[6] Just as in the physical world, when we do things that harm or damage our physical bodies for which we suffer physically, sin damages our spirits in ways we don’t at first perceive until the cumulative effects have blinded us completely.  The jarring and ugly reality of killing, however gently, a sweet little lamb one has raised, named, and nurtured could awaken and then prevent further purposeful, rebellious personal sin.  Additionally, the understanding that the lamb represents a literal death and not just a figurative one – the death of Christ offered as the lamb to provide time to change and enable that change through thorough repentance as symbolized by the pouring out of the rest of the blood, our blood, our lives.

[7] (Deut 33:17; 2 Sam 22:3; Ps 18:2) e.g. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;

My God, my strength, in whom I will trust, My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

YHVH is referred to as man’s “horn of salvation” meaning he is the strength of our salvation. The Hebrew word for salvation is yesha meaning “deliverance, rescue, safety, welfare, victory, prosperity.” The root of yesha is the verb yasha meaning “to save, to deliver, to give victory.” Not only is YHVH called our “horn of salvation” in the Tanakh, but this designation is applied to Yeshua as well in the Testimony of Yeshua (Luke 1:69). https://hoshanarabbah.org/blog/2016/02/17/four-horns-of-the-altar/

[8] Revelation 6:9-11 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held… And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season. 

[9] Exodus 40:11-15 And thou shalt anoint the laver and his foot, and sanctify it. And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water. And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office. And thou shalt bring his sons, and clothe them with coats: And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations. Exodus 40

[10] Deuteronomy 12:23 “the blood is the life”

[11] DC 93:12-13, 20 he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;

if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.

[12] Alma 22:18 if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee,

[13] Elder Neal A. Maxwell, April Conference 1995 “Real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed.”

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, April Conference 2004 “As you submit your wills to God, you are giving him the only thing you can actually give him that is really yours to give.”

[14] 2 Nephi 31:17 For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

[15] Russell M. Nelson, “We Can Do Better,”  Conference April 2019; https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/04/36nelson?lang=eng

“Whether you are diligently moving along the covenant path, have slipped or stepped from the covenant path, or can’t even see the path from where you are now, I plead with you to repent. Experience the strengthening power of daily repentance—of doing and being a little better each day.”

Henry B. Eyring, “Holiness and the Plan of Happiness,” Conference October 2019, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/10/51eyring?lang=eng

“greater happiness comes from greater personal holiness”