Outside the temple there were two major items made of brass other than the pillars; these were the altar and the sea. Solomon did not have the ability to make the items of brass, and so he brought in a man named Hiram from Tyre to handle the casting of the brass items. In this chapter we will explore the meaning of the altar and sea which were made by Hiram.
The Bible says that the weight of the brass was so tremendous that they could not tell how much they had used.
“…neither was the weight of the brass found out.” I Kings 7:47b
“And the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice…” II Chronicles 7:12
This verse shows that the altar was of vital importance to the temple. God calls the temple a “house of sacrifice.” It was on the altar that the sacrifices took place.
Not much is said in the account about the details of the altar other than the size, and that it was made of brass. It was twenty cubits from front to back (thirty feet) by twenty cubits wide by ten cubits (fifteen feet) high. No wonder they were unable to weigh the brass used in this massive casting. The energy required to melt and cast this massive piece would have been enormous. There were no symbolic carvings described on the altar, however, the sacrifices that took place on altars are established elsewhere in Scripture as being symbolic of the sacrifice that Christ made for us.
The use of the altar in the temple was unpleasant. Animals’ throats were cut; they bled to death, and were placed on the altar to be burned up. It is a picture of the bloody and awful sacrifice for our sin that Christ provided for us. He was the Lamb of God. He bled to death for our sakes, and took on Himself the punishment that we deserved for our sins.
The huge thirty-foot-wide platform would have looked like a lake of fire when full of sacrifices. Can you imagine yourself coming up the ramp leading up to the altar and looking out over that expanse full of fire and burning flesh. As you come up to where you can just see over the edge and look out over the altar, it would be easy to imagine yourself amidst the flames. Were it not for Christ who had mercy on us and took this suffering upon Himself, the lake of fire is where we would be destined to go.
The area the altar occupied was the same size as the most holy place in the temple, twenty cubits by twenty cubits. Jesus left His glorious dwelling place and took upon Himself the suffering of a different dwelling place, the dwelling place that we should have had, the lake of fire.
As the sacrifices that were made on the altar were necessary because of the sins each person had committed, the sacrifice that Jesus made was necessary because of the sins that each of us has committed. We are the temple of God; the altar is a part of the temple. The blood of animals was not sufficient to take away sins. Jesus laid down His life on the altar of our hearts. His blood was sprinkled on us and poured out for us like the blood of sacrifices was sprinkled on the altar and poured out at the base of it. When I sin, and realize that I need forgiveness from God, I picture the blood of Christ being sprinkled upon me as it drips from His thorn-crowned head. I think of the blood pouring out of His side onto the dust at my feet, as I stand with tears in my eyes gazing up at my crucified Lord. What a powerful dissuasion from committing more sin when I realize that my sin did this to the Savior. Nothing is more horrible than what my sin did, but nothing is so wonderful as the love in His eyes that saw my need.
As a person entered the temple, the altar was the first object that they would reach. It is necessary to have the penalty of sin paid before you can approach God. Without the pardon for sin that the sacrifice on the altar provided, you could not approach God. The word remission in the following verse means freedom, pardon, deliverance, forgiveness.1
“…without shedding of blood is no remission.” Hebrews 9:22b
The blood of Christ is the only sacrifice that is acceptable to God for the forgiveness of our sins. We may not come into the presence of God unless we have claimed the sacrifice of Christ.
The altar had a second use. God gives us a means to express our gratitude for what He has done. In addition to sacrifices for sin, thank offerings were also brought to the altar. Perhaps you have noticed that in each area of the temple, we see Christ as our example of what we should be. It is the same with the altar. Christ has set the example of selfless sacrifice in love. He wants us to emulate Him in how we live. God wants us to give of ourselves in thankfulness to Him because we love Him.
“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” I Peter 2:5
(Notice here that we are called “lively stones” in reference to offering “spiritual” sacrifices. Remember that we said in a previous chapter that the stone in the temple represents our new spirit. This verse evidences that that interpretation is correct. In this verse, we see the stone part of our being performing the spiritual act of sacrifice.) A key reason as to why we are built up as God’s spiritual house is that we might offer up spiritual sacrifices to Him. The function of the temple is to glorify God, and offering up spiritual sacrifices is a way that the temple is able to fulfill its function. The verse goes on to say that such sacrifices are acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Without Jesus, God would accept nothing we did. By Jesus, what we bring to God can be acceptable. When someone offered a sacrifice on the altar, it cost them something. They were not to offer their weak, scrawny animals, but the best that they had. God gave us the best that He had, and it cost Him a great deal. When we offer something to God in thanksgiving for what He has done, we must not give Him anything that we would not be pleased to receive ourselves.
Now let’s look at the spiritual sacrifices that we can offer to God through Jesus Christ:
- Person. Have you given God your person? Jesus gave us His all. He offered Himself up for us. We can offer our body and ourselves to Him in thanksgiving that we might serve Him with all that we are.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Romans 12:1
Are you willing to let God direct you to take your body to wherever He would have you serve him? Are you willing to do whatever He would have you to do? Are you willing to obey Him with your body? I find my heart saying even as the hymnist did, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”2 If you really comprehend what Christ has done, you will want to give Him yourself. There is nothing else that we can give Him that He does not already own. If we give ourselves to Him, it is a “holy” or special sacrifice, acceptable to God. It is reasonable for us to give ourselves to the Person who has given Himself to us.
- Praise. When was the last time you thought about all the things that God has given you? Have you told Him how thankful you are? Have you declared this to anyone? Do your words rejoice in what God has done?
“And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing.” Psalm 107:22
- Prayer. Do you pray to God? Do you walk with Him in prayer throughout each day? Have you offered up your time and your heart to pray to Him?
“Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Psalm 141:2
- Possessions. Does God own all that you possess? Since He does own everything, it seems that the question should not be, “What should I giveGod?” but “What things of His should I hold for my own use?” We see in the following verse how the church at Philippi had sacrificed to bring something to Paul while he was in prison.
“But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.” Philippians 4:18
Have you given to God of your money? If you find God important in your life, He will be worthy to receive your money. God deserves the first part of the increase when you receive a raise at work. God does not want just your money. Possessions can also be given to Him. For instance, do you have a garden? Why not give the pastor in your church the first and best vegetables that you have? Why not ask your pastor what your church could use, and buy the church something nice before you buy new furniture for your house? Why not offer to do some painting or repairs for your church on the first day of your vacation as an offering of your time? Do not offer to God something that is less than the best that you are able to offer.
As chairman of the trustees for our church, a number of years in the past, I saw someone donate something to the church that looked like it had been sitting in their basement for 20 years. They finally decided to get rid of it, but couldn’t bring themselves to throw it out. Of course, this type of gift is always anonymous, and so we found a piece of junk in the middle of the hall one morning offered up as a sacrifice to God. This is a sad state of affairs and ought not to be. God deserves the very best we can give Him. If you are going to donate something to your church, buy or make something better than you would for your own home.
“And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 1:8
- Pure heart. God wants to fellowship with us. Our fellowship is one of the best things that we can give Him, just to love Him, and be with Him. In order to fellowship with God, we need to have a pure heart, and so we see that this is one of the sacrifices that God is pleased with. When we ask God for forgivness of sin, and turn from sin, He is pleased with this sacrifice. Do you have any sins in your life that you need to turn from, and offer as sacrifices to Him?
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Psalm 51:17
- Joy. Do you have joy in what God has done for you? There is joy in knowing that Jesus has rescued us from death. He has rescued us from the grasp of the great adversary Satan. When you sing in church, do you sing praises “unto the Lord” with your heart, or do you just sing with your mouth as you mechanically read the words?
“And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.” Psalm 27:6
The sea and the carts had carvings on them, once again leading us to believe that these objects were symbolic, but as with all the other carvings of the temple we find no specific revelation from the Scripture as to their meaning. Once again, we can find some clues.
The sea was a huge vat that held water specifically designated for the priests to wash in. If we are saved, we are a priest (as we saw in I Peter 2:5 earlier). That means that through Christ we can approach God ourselves; we don’t need a human priest on earth to go between. The sea was large; it seems that it was quite important and necessary to use it. Once you had passed the altar with the sacrifice and pardon for sin that occurred there, you would need to wash at the sea before further approaching God. When we are saved, we turn from our sin to the savior. We must be willing to leave the dirt and filth of sin behind, and be cleansed as we turn toward Christ. This is not a one time event. For we still live in this world and we still frequently fail. We should live a life of repentance, continually turning from our sin and toward the savior. As we take in the Word of God, it is the “water” that cleanses our lives.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Eph 5:25-27
Are you washing daily as you take in the Word of God and use it to cleanse your life?
The sea had many carvings on it leading us to believe that it has symbolic significance. We also know that the sea was specifically for the priests to wash in. Do you suppose that the carvings on the sea might represent the characteristics and actions of the church that has repented, has been washed and is acting gloriously without “spot or wrinkle, or any such thing?”
The sea sat upon 12 statues of oxen. There were three facing each of the four directions with their heads facing outward. One might hypothesize that the oxen stand for strength and servanthood. Those whose lives have been cleansed are ready to become strong servants of God. In Solomon’s time, perhaps the oxen represented the twelve tribes of Israel. But in our time, the twelve oxen also remind us of the twelve disciples. Those whose lives have been cleansed are ready to move forward as a disciple and go out into all the world in all directions following Christ, learning from Him, and serving Him. Notice also that the oxen had a burden; they carried the sea. As the oxen bore a burden, God wants His disciples to have a burden for the lost all over the earth.
There is something unique and interesting about the sea. The sea was round. This is in contrast to the rectangular shapes of the temple and the altar. We can hypothesize that perhaps the round sea with its water may indicate that the cleansing of the water of the Word needs to be taken to the entire globe of the water planet, planet Earth.
Under the rim of the sea were two rows of knops and two rows of oxen that went all the way around the sea. As was stated previously, the knop appears to stand for scattering the seed of the Word of God. God wants His Word to be scattered all the way around the world. We said earlier that perhaps the oxen could be thought of as standing for strength and servanthood. God wants us to serve Him and others all around the world. He wants His faithful servants to carry forth the message of the water of the Word, the cleansing from sin that is abundantly available to all through Christ.
The brim of the sea looked like a lily. If our hypothesis is correct so far, then it follows that God not only wants us to scatter the seed of the Word of God around the globe, but He wants us to take the love of Christ with us as well. The world needs the seed of the Word of God, but the seed needs to be watered with a demonstration of the love of Christ flowing forth from our lives. The lily appears to be located there on the brim, closest to the water for a reason. When we demonstrate the beauty of Christ-like love in our lives it draws others closer to the water of the Word that they might also repent, be cleansed, and live a holy life. When we demonstrate love to others, it helps attract the lost to God’s cleansing. We can express our love to God and to others by keeping our lives clean. God wants his servants to be washed and clean before they take cleansing to others.
Part of the labor that we are to perform along with God in the temple is to take water where it is needed. God will reward those who perform the work of watering.
We can see this truth as we read our theme verse and the verse prior to it.
“Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are laborers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” I Corinthians 3:8, 9
The sea was enormous holding about 18,000 gallons. Water was abundantly available. In the same way, cleansing from sin is abundantly available to the whole world through the Word of God. The world needs someone to take the water of the Word to them.
Along with the sea, Solomon made ten carts so the priests could move the water to where it was needed. These were not little carts that held a small bowl. The basin on each cart held about 240 gallons. Since there were carvings on the carts, the carts seem to be symbolic. God specifically tells us that the purpose of the water in the carts was to rinse off what was used for the burnt offering. It was the burnt offering that was most important for each individual. The burnt offering is the first type of offering that is described in the book of Leviticus. The burnt offering was to provide atonement, or covering, for sin. The burnt offering was symbolic in anticipation of the offering that would eventually come through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. The priests were to use the water from the carts to rinse off the inwards and the legs of the sacrifice before burning it on the altar. When God saves us, He speaks to us with His Word and we repent from the sin that is inside us (as symbolized by the inwards), and we repent from the sinful things we have done on the outside (as symbolized by the legs). It is our job as God’s priests to take the good news of God’s word, and tell of God’s sacrifice that provides cleansing to the lost so that they might be cleansed from sin.
The basins on the carts were supported by panels and supports which were decorated with lions, oxen, cherubim, and palm trees. Once again, notice that we see four carvings grouped together. These figures appear to represent the necessary Christlike character traits which provide the support structure for us to be able to take cleansing to the lost. God does not plainly tell us what the carvings mean, but the following is what I think of when I see them. We have seen the oxen, cherubim, and palm trees before.
The oxen are often seen in scripture working, moving something as when pulling a cart or a plow. This makes sense because in the temple someone needs to move the cart that carries the water. The oxen must be willing to go, and must perform the work that is so desperately needed. Besides serving and working, when we see oxen in scripture, the other thing they are doing is being sacrificed. Those who would move the gospel forward for God need to be willing to give their lives as a living sacrifice to God. (Romans 12:1)
One of the things we see the cherubim doing in scripture is worshipping and calling others to worship God. It seems that it is this aspect of the cherubim that is emphasized by the figures of cherubim on the cart. We need to be cherubim-like in telling others how wonderful God is, and then calling for them to worship Him also.
Those who would deliver the message of God’s cleansing to the lost also need to have faith, make Him King of their lives, and be willing to obey Him as symbolized by the palm trees.
The lion is the figure that is unique to the carts. When we see lions in the Bible they are usually doing battle with someone, and by the way, they usually win. Notice also that the wheels on the carts are described as being like the wheels of a chariot, the fighting vehicle. The lions on these carts are fierce, bold, and powerful warriors, on the move, and fighting valiantly for the truth. The lion battles the evil one, confronting evil and lies head on that he might rescue the lost. There is a great spiritual battle taking place, the battle for men’s souls.
Will you give God your life as a living sacrifice to obediently work for Him; have faith in Him; call others to worship Him; and fight in the battle for men’s souls? For the glory of God, let us boldly move forward and take the water of God’s word with its message of God’s cleansing to the lost.