ON
BAPTISMAL FONT OXEN

A Research Note

STERLING, VIRGINIA

By

D. Calvin Andrus
6 January 2004


I. INTRODUCTION

The following explanation is based on a lecture given to us by our temple president last November prior to performing baptisms for the dead..




In Numbers chapter 1, Moses and Aaron perform a census of the Children of Israel. In chapter 2, Moses and Aaron receive instructions from the Lord about how the Children of Israel are to be arrayed while traveling in the wilderness. The 12 Tribes were divided into four groups of three tribes each. These four groups placed at the four points of the compass, North, South, East, and West. The four groups were called "camps." Within each camp, one of the three tribes was assigned to be the lead tribe--or head of the camp. The lead tribe was positioned between the two other tribes in their camp. Each camp was called by the name of the lead tribe as follows:

Compass Heading

Camp Name

Banner Symbol*

Tribes

North

Dan

Eagle

Asher, Dan, Naphtali

South

Rueben

Man

Gad, Rueben, Simeon

East

Judah

Lion

Issachar, Judah, Zebulon

West

Ephraim

Ox

Benjamin, Ephraim, Manassah

*See Numbers 2:34, Ezekiel 1:10, Genesis 49:9, Hosea 10:11, and this essay.

The Tribe of Levi was not counted among the 12 and was placed in center of the configuration (along with the Tabernacle), so that the other tribes had equal access to the priestly functions performed by the Tribe of Levi.


In 2 Chronicles 4:2-6 a washing font or "sea of glass" in Solomon's Temple is described. Priests washed themselves in this font before performing sacrifices. Verse four explains that the font sat upon the figures of 12 oxen arrayed in four groups of three at the four compass points. It has been traditionally believed among many Christian sects that these 12 figures represent the 12 Tribes of Israel -- though I cannot find an authoritative source (scriptural or prophetic) that makes the connection explicit. Nevertheless, it is easy to see the symbolism. The Levites washed themselves in the font, which was surrounded by the 12 ox figures, just like the the Tribe of Levi was surrounded by the 12 other Tribes.

In modern-day fonts in modern-day temples, we perform priestly functions (baptisms for the dead) surrounded by the 12 ox figures that represent the 12 Tribes. We can also give names to each of the Oxen. The west-center ox is Ephraim; the east-center ox is Judah; the north-center ox is Dan; and the south-center ox is Reuben, etc.


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