KJV 1Ki 7:25  It stood upon twelve oxen, three looking toward the north, and three looking toward the west, and three looking toward the south, and three looking toward the east: and the sea was set above upon them, and all their hinder parts were inward.

Do these oxen represent the foundations of the earth? It seems the reference to the four compass points is a dead giveaway. I notice also however that 12 is the idealized number of tribes, etc.

Brazen Sea - Solomon's Temple


Job_38:4  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

Psa_82:5  They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

Psa_104:5  Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.

Pro_8:29  When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:

Isa_24:18  And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake.

Isa_40:21  Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?

Isa_51:13  And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor?

Isa_51:16  And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.

Jer_31:37  Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD.

Mic_6:2  Hear ye, O mountains, the LORD'S controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the LORD hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel.

KJV unless otherwise noted

2 Answers 2


The problem with looking at the oxen as a representation of the "foundations of the earth" is that the Bible never describes the earth as resting on top of oxen.

The earth is usually described as resting on pillars (I Samuel 2:8; Job 9:6), and once as hanging on nothing (Job 26:7), but oxen have no place in the many poetic descriptions of the world's topography (Genesis 1, Habakkuk 3, Job, etc.). If the sea were meant to symbolize the earth, we should expect pillars beneath it, not oxen.

The image of the layout of the oxen closely resembles the encampments of the twelve tribes (Numbers 2): there are three oxen/tribes on each of four sides. Even without arguing that the oxen represent the twelve tribes, the resemblance between the cases is clearly closer than any comparison to the foundations of the earth; there is nothing to connect the oxen to the foundations of the earth (e.g. if the sea were earth, we might expect to see something representing land) other than the fact that they both have four directions, which is something shared by a lot of other things.


The "sea" of Solomon had numerous interpretations in Rabbinic literature, many reflecting what you have suggested but also including numerical features of Israel's history. All this is extra-biblical - The Bible text itself contains no hint about its symbolism with the possible exception of Jesus being the water of life (John 4:13, 14, 7:38) and being washed (1 Cor 6:11).

  • Can you please provide the source for the various Rabbinic views that you reference? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 8, 2018 at 13:15
  • See for example: Midrash Tadshe ii., ed. Epstein, in "Mi-Ḳadmoniyot ha-Yehudim," xvi., xvii.; Yalḳuṭ, Kings, 185
    – user25930
    Aug 8, 2018 at 21:11

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