Brazen Sea in the Temple

By Alfred Edersheim.

The Laver

Between the altar and porch of the Temple, but placed towards the south, was the immense laver of brass, supported by twelve colossal lions, which was drained every evening, and filled every morning by machinery, and where twelve priests could wash at the same time. Indeed, the water supply to the Sanctuary is among the most wonderful of its arrangements. That of the Temple is designated by Captain Wilson as the 'lowlevel supply,' in contradistinction to the 'high-level aqueduct,' which collected the water in a rock-hewn tunnel four miles long, on the road to Hebron, and then wound along so as to deliver water to the upper portion of the city. The 'low-level' aqueduct, which supplied the Temple, derived its waters from three sources—from the hills about Hebron, from Etham, and from the three pools of Solomon. Its total length was over forty miles. The amount of water it conveyed may be gathered from the fact that the surplusage of the waters of Etham is calculated, when drained into the lower pool of Gihon, to have presented when full, 'an area of nearly four acres of water.' And, as if this had not been sufficient, 'the ground is perfectly honeycombed with a series of remarkable rock-hewn cisterns, in which the water brought by an aqueduct form Solomon's Pools, near Bethlehem, was stored. The cisterns appear to have been connected by a system of channels cut out of the rock; so that when one was full the surplus water ran into the next, and so on, till the final overflow was carried off by a channel into the Kedron. One of the cisterns—that known as the Great Sea—would contain two million gallons; and the total number of gallons which could be stored probably exceeded ten millions.' There seems little doubt that the drainage of Jerusalem was 'as well managed as the water supply; the mouth of the main drain being in the valley of the Kedron, where the sewerage was probably used as manure for the gardens.'

Filling the Laver

The lot for burning the incense was, as we have seen, the third by which the order of the ministry for the day was determined. The first lot, which in reality had been cast before the actual break of day, was that to designate the various priests who were to cleanse the altar and to prepare its fires. The first of the priests on whom this lot had fallen immediately went out. His brethren reminded him where the silver chafing-dish was deposited, and not to touch any sacred vessel till he had washed his hands and feet. He took no light with him; the fire of the altar was sufficient for his office. Hands and feet were washed by laying the right hand on the right foot, and the left hand on the left.

The sound of the machinery, as it filled the laver with water, admonished the others to be in readiness. This machinery had been made by Ben Catin, who also altered the laver so that twelve priests could at the same time perform their ablutions. Otherwise the laver resembled that in the Temple of Solomon. It was of brass. All the vessels in the Sanctuary were of metal, the only exception being the altar of burnt-offering, which was solid, and wholly of stones taken from virgin soil, that had not been defiled by any tool of iron. The stones were fastened together by mortar, pitch, and molten lead. The measurement of the altar is differently given by Josephus and the Rabbis. It seems to have consisted of three sections, each narrower than the former: the base being thirtytwo cubits wide, the middle twenty-eight, and the top, where the fire was laid (of course, not including the horns of the altar nor the space where the priests moved), only twenty-four cubits. With the exception of some parts of the altar, in which the cubit was calculated at five hand-breadths, the sacred cubit of the Temple was always reckoned at six hand-breadths. Lastly, as readers of the New Testament know, whatever touched the altar, or, indeed, any sacred vessel, was regarded as 'sanctified' (Matt 23:19), but no vessel could be dedicated to the use of the Temple which had not been originally destined for it.


The priests had to wash themselves before approaching God.

Exod 30:18 You shall also make a laver of brass , and his foot also of brass, to wash with: and you shall put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and you shall put water therein. 19 For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: 20 When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire to the LORD: 21 So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations.

Exodus 30:20 When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire to the LORD:


Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Exodus 30:19. For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat. Not in it, but at it; the laver had mouths or spouts, as Ben Melech says, from whence the water flowed when the priests washed their hands and feet at it; and so Bartenora says {z} they did not wash out of the laver, but from water flowing out of it; it is said "out of it", not in it; it seems at first there were but two of these spouts; for it is said {a} Ben Katin made twelve spouts or cocks, which had but two before; so that twelve priests could wash their hands and feet at one time, and which they could do at once, presently, by putting the right hand on the top of the right foot, and the left hand upon the left foot, as both Jarchi and Ben Melech relate: and now the hands being the instruments of action, and the feet of walking, this shows that the actions of good men, the priests of the Lord, and their walk and conversation, are not without sin, and that these need washing in the laver of Christ's blood, to which there must be daily application, see Zec 13:1. Our Lord seems to have reference to this ceremony, Joh 13:10 the Egyptian priests washed twice every day in cold water, and twice every night {b}.
{z} In Misn. Zebachim, c. 2. sect. 1. {a} Misn. Yoma. c. 3. sect. 10. {b} Herodot. Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 37.
John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, Ex 30:19-20 (Joseph Kreifels).


2 Chronicles 4:1 And he maketh an altar of brass, twenty cubits its length, and twenty cubits its breadth, and ten cubits its height. 2And he maketh themolten sea; ten by the cubit, from its edge unto its edge, round in compass, and five by the cubit its height, and a line of thirty by the cubit doth compass it, round about. 3And the likeness of oxen is under it, all round about encompassing it, ten in the cubit, compassing the sea round about; two rows of oxen are cast in its being cast. 4 It is standing on twelve oxen, three facing the north, and three facing the west, and three facing the south, and three facing the east, and the sea is upon them above, and all their hinder parts are within. 5And its thickness is a handbreadth, and its lip as the work of the lip of a cup flowered with lilies; taking hold—baths three thousand it containeth. 6And he maketh ten lavers, and putteth five on the right, and five on the left, to wash with them; the work of the burnt-offering they purge with them; and the sea is for priests to wash with



The crystal sea before the throne of God (4:6) is to be regarded as a heavenly counterpart to the molten sea (1 K. 7:23; 2 Ch. 4:2) in the priests’ court. The addition μεμιγμένην πυρί (Rev. 15:2), which is parallel to the ὁμοία κρυστάλλῳ of Rev 4:6, shows that this belongs to the heavenly sphere.

Rev 4:6 and before the throne is a sea of glass like to crystal....



sc. of the circle of oxen supporting the molten sea )



When Solomon built his new temple, he had new altars made in keeping with the fresh requirements. From the Chronicler’s account (2 Ch. 4:1) we learn that one was a brazen altar, forming a square of 20 cubits (about 30 ft or 9 m) with a height of 10 cubits (about 15 ft or 4.5 m). This first and greatest altar, which with the molten sea dominated the middle of the court that was before the temple, remained the center of Israelite worship for two and one-half centuries, before Ahaz removed it to the northern side of his Damascene altar (2 K. 16:14), a travesty probably corrected by Hezekiah (2 Ch. 29:18). Its function was the same as the smaller structure in the tabernacle and, much older critical opinion notwithstanding, it was probably constructed on the model of the latter.


LAVER [Heb kîyôr; Gk loutrón]; NEB usually BASIN.

I. In the Tabernacle

Every priest attending the altar of Yahweh was required to wash his hands and feet before beginning his official duties (Ex. 30:19–21). Thus a laver or washstand was ordered to be made as part of the tabernacle equipment (vv 17–21; 38:8). The laver was brass (bronze) and consisted of two parts, a bowl and its pedestal or stand (30:18). This tabernacle laver was a small one made of the recast hand mirrors of the women who ministered at the door of the tent of meeting (38:8). It was located between the altar and the Tabernacle

Bromiley, G. W. (1988; 2002). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (3:76). Wm. B. Eerdmans.


II. In the Temple

In the temple of Solomon ten lavers and a “molten sea” were provided for washing parts of sacrificial carcasses (1 K. 7:23–37; 2 Ch. 4:2–6; see Sea, Molten; Temple). The “sea” was for the priests to wash in and therefore replaced the laver of the tabernacle; the ten lavers were used as baths for rinsing the portions used for burnt offerings (2 Ch. 4:6). The lavers themselves were probably cauldrons and were set on separately cast, circular stands, described in 1 K. 7:27–37. These stands were set upon a cubical base, whose four corners projected downward and were fitted with axles and wheels. Similar wheeled cauldron stands, with open-work sides closely corresponding to the “lions, oxen, and cherubim” with which the biblical stands were decorated, have been found in Cyprus and at Megiddo and seem to have been a current Phoenician type. Surviving examples, however, are much smaller than those of the temple, which were 5 cubits (3 m [8 ft]) high and supported cauldrons containing about 1500 l (320 gal) of water.

Laver and base from Solomon’s temple (artist’s rendering based on a reconstruction by P. L. Garber)


III. In the NT

Greek loutrón occurs twice in the NT. In Eph. 5:26 Paul says that Christ gave Himself for the Church “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing [“laver”] of water with the word; in Tit. 3:5 he says that Christians are saved “by the washing [“laver”] of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” These passages refer to the constant physical purity demanded of the Jewish priests when in attendance upon the temple. Christians are a “holy priesthood” and are cleansed not by water only but, in the former passage, “with the word” (cf. Jn. 15:3), and in the latter passage, by “renewal in the Holy Spirit” (cf. Ezk. 36:25; Jn. 3:5). The foot washing mentioned by Jesus is emblematic of this spiritual cleansing (Jn. 13:10).

W. S. Caldecott

NT New (Neues, Nouveau) Testament

Bromiley, G. W. (1988; 2002). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (3:76). Wm. B. Eerdmans.


SEA, MOLTEN [Heb yām mûṣāq]; NEB SEA OF CAST METAL. A gigantic basin of bronze supported by twelve bronze bulls and placed in the courtyard to the southeast of Solomon’s temple (1 K. 7:23–26; 2 Ch. 4:2–5). The “sea” was cast by Hiram of Tyre, who was responsible for all the bronze work at the temple (1 K. 7:13f). According to 1 Ch. 18:8 (where the basin is called the “bronze sea”) the bronze used was taken by David in battle.

The basin’s diameter was 10 cubits (about 4.4 m or 14 ft 7 in, assuming the cubit was 17.5 in), its height 5 cubits (2.2 m or 7 ft 4 in), and its circumference 30 cubits (13.3 m or 43 ft 10 in). It was a “handbreadth” (about 8 cm. or 3 in) thick. Its weight has been estimated at roughly 30 tons, its capacity at close to 45,425 1. (12,000 gals). This latter figure is based on a capacity of 2,000 baths, as stated in 1 K. 7:26; but 2 Ch. 4:5 gives the capacity as 3,000 baths. C. C. Wylie suggested that the figure in Kings was computed on the assumption that the “sea” was hemispherical in shape, whereas the figure in Chronicles assumed a cylindrical shape.

The brim of the basin turned outward, suggesting the curvature of a lily flower. Under the brim were ornamental “gourds” (MT peqā‛îm, 1 K. 7:24) in two rows. In place of “gourds” 2 Ch. 4:3 reads “the likeness of oxen” (demûṯ beqārîm; cf. RSV mg); some have thought this historically more probable, arguing that the text in Kings may have deliberately avoided a reference to bulls because of their association with Jeroboam’s idolatrous cult. T. Willi, however, suggested that the Chronicler here did not understand his source.


Bex know that verse

A reconstruction of the molten sea based on the biblical description (L. Bauer, after T. A. Busink)

The twelve bulls supporting the “sea” were arranged in four groups of three, each group facing a point of the compass (1 K. 7:25; 2 Ch. 4:4). It has been suggested that the bulls were pediment figures with their back parts hidden under the curve of the basin, which rested on the ground. These bulls were later removed by Ahaz (2 K. 16:17; Jer. 52:20 indicates that they remained for Nebuchadnezzar to remove, but the phrase “the twelve bronze bulls” is lacking in the par 2 K. 25:16); the “sea” was then set upon a stone base (or, perhaps, directly on the pavement of the courtyard). After the fall of Jerusalem in 587 b.c., the “sea” was broken in pieces and the bronze taken to Babylon (2 K. 25:13 par Jer. 52:17).

According to 2 Ch. 4:6 the “sea” was used for the priests’ purification, apparently as a replacement of the Laver of the tabernacle. Most scholars, however, seek some symbolic significance as well because of possible links with the artificial “seas” connected with Mesopotamian temples. (The closest archeological parallel to Solomon’s “sea” is a large stone basin from Amathonte in Cyprus, now in the Louvre.) Possibly, then, the water of the basin represented the cosmic sea, and its containment within the basin signified Yahweh’s triumph over the waters of chaos (cf. Ps. 89:9 [MT 10]; 93:3f). But in the absence of any clear indication of how the Israelites understood the symbolism of the “sea,” de Vaux has wisely advised that such suggestions be treated with great caution.

Bibliography.—ARI, pp. 148–150; G. Bagnani, “Molten Sea,” in W. S. McCullough, ed, Seed of Wisdom (Festschrift T. J. Meek, 1964), 114–17; T. A. Busink, Der Tempel von Jerusalem (1970), I, 326–336; J. A. Montgomery, comm on Kings (ICC, 1951), pp. 172–74; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (Engtr 1961), II, 319, 328f; T. Willi, Die Chronik als Auslegung (FRLANT, 106; 1972), 139; C. C. Wylie, BA, 12 (1949), 86–90; A. Zuidhof, BA, 45 (1982), 179–184.

S. Westerholm


 SOUTHEAST In 1 K. 7:39 par 2 Ch. 4:10 the southeast (Heb qēḏemâ mimmûl neg̱eḇ; lit “eastward towards the south”) corner of the temple was the location of the molten sea. On Acts 27:12 see Northeast, Southeast.

par (and) parallel passage(s)

Heb Hebrew

lit literally



A second Hiram of Tyre (not referred to in the OT) is mentioned by Tiglath-pileser III (744–727 b.c.) of Assyria as paying tribute to the Assyrian monarch.

3. An artisan contemporary with King Hiram I, whom the king sent to Solomon to supervise casting of the molten sea (great laver ), copper pillars, and other utensils for the temple (I Kgs 7:13–47).