The circumference of thirty cubits is evidently a round figure, for more precisely it would be 31.4 cubits. In this regard, one Bible commentary contains the following information: “Up to the time of Archimedes [third century B.C.E.), the circumference of a circle was always measured in straight lines by the radius; and Hiram would naturally describe the sea as thirty cubits round, measuring it, as was then invariably the practice, by its radius, or semidiameter, of five cubits, which being applied six times round the perimeter, or ‘brim,’ would give the thirty cubits stated. There was evidently no intention in the passage but to give the dimensions of the Sea in the usual language that every one would understand, measuring the circumference in the way in which all skilled workers, like Hiram, did measure circles at that time. He, of course, must however have known perfectly well, that as the polygonal hexagon thus inscribed by the radius was thirty cubits, the actual curved circumference would be somewhat more.” Thus, it appears that the ratio of three to one (that is, the circumference being three times the diameter) was a customary way of stating matters, intended to be understood as only approximate.
The copper sea was decorated with “gourd-shaped ornaments” and had as its base twelve figures of bulls, facing north, south, east and west in groups of three. The brim of the sea resembled a lily blossom. Since the thickness of this large vessel was a “handbreadth [about 2.9 inches or 7.4 centimeters]” it may well have weighed in the neighborhood of thirty tons [c. 27 metric tons]. (1 Ki. 7:24-26) This huge quantity of copper came from the supplies King David had obtained in his conquests in Syria. (1 Chron. 18:6-8) The casting was done in a clay mold in the region of the Jordan and was indeed a remarkable feat.—1 Ki. 7:44-46.
The account at 1 Kings 7:26 refers to the sea as ‘containing two thousand bath measures,’ whereas the parallel account at 2 Chronicles 4:5 speaks of it as ‘containing three thousand bath measures.’ Some claim that the difference is the result of a scribal error in the Chronicles account. However, while the Hebrew verb meaning “contain” in each case is the same, there is a measure of latitude allowable in translating it. Thus some translations render 1 Kings 7:26 to read that the vessel “held” or “would contain” two thousand bath measures, and translate 2 Chronicles 4:5 to read that it “had a capacity of” or “could hold” or “could contain” three thousand bath measures. (AT, JB, NW) This allows for the understanding that the Kings account sets forth the amount of water customarily stored in the receptacle while the Chronicles account gives the actual capacity, brim-full, of the vessel.
There is evidence that the “bath measure” anciently equaled about 5.8 gallons (22 liters), so that, if kept at two-thirds capacity, the sea would normally hold around 11,600 gallons (44,000 liters) of water. For it to have had the capacity indicated it must not have had straight sides, but, instead, the sides below the rim or lip must have been curved, giving the vessel a bulbous shape. A vessel having such shape and having the dimensions stated earlier could contain up to 17,430 gallons (66,000 liters). Josephus, Jewish historian of the first century C.E., describes the sea as “hemispherical.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book VIII, chap. III, par. 5) Josephus also indicates that the sea’s location was between the altar of burnt offering and the temple building, somewhat toward the S.—Ibid., par. 6.
Additional to the copper sea there were ten smaller copper basins resting on carts and these were evidently filled from the copper sea. (1 Ki. 7:38, 39) Rabbinical tradition is that the sea was equipped with faucets. The ten basins were used for washing certain sacrifices and likely for other cleansing work, but “the sea was for the priests to wash in it.” (2 Chron. 4:6) Some rabbis have held that the priests completely immersed themselves in the water of the copper sea, while Josephus says it was “for washing the hands and the feet of the priests.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book VIII, chap. III, par. 6) Whatever the procedure, the copper sea is associated with priestly cleansing.
This doubtless provides the key for understanding the references in the book of Revelation to the “glassy sea” seen before the throne of God in the apostle John’s vision. (Rev. 4:6; 15:2) It was “like crystal,” hence evidently having transparent sides (compare Revelation 21:18, 21) so that the contents could be seen. Those standing by it, persons victorious over the “wild beast” and its “image,” correspond to those “called and chosen and faithful” ones described at Revelation 17:14; 20:4-6. These serve as “priests of God and of the Christ” and as kings with Christ during his thousand-year rule. (Compare 1 Peter 2:9.) The position of this priestly class next to the “glassy sea” before God’s throne calls to mind the apostle’s reference to the Christian congregation’s being ‘cleansed with the bath of water by means of the word.’ (Eph. 5:25-27) Jesus also spoke of the cleansing power of the word of God that he proclaimed. (John 15:3) The ‘mingling of fire’ (Rev. 15:2) with the watery contents of the sea undoubtedly relates to judgments of God, for fire is frequently used in this connection and God himself is described as a “consuming fire” toward those rejecting his divine will.—Heb. 12:25, 29.
The symbolism of the “glassy sea” in John’s vision thus illustrates Paul’s inspired explanation that the earthly tabernacle and temple with their equipment and priestly functions served as patterns of heavenly things. (Compare Hebrews 8:4, 5; 9:9, 11, 23, 24; 10:1.) As to the significance of the figures of bulls on which the copper sea of Solomon’s temple rested, see BULL.
A medium of exchange. Anciently, livestock often figured in barter, that is, the exchange of one item for another and evidently the oldest method for making a business transaction. indicative of this is the fact that the Latin word for money (pecunia) is drawn from pecus, meaning “cattle.” However, livestock (Gen. 47:17) and foodstuffs (1 Ki. 5:10, 11) were not always convenient mediums of exchange. Therefore metals such as gold and silver came to be used. As early as Abraham’s time precious metals served as money. But this was not standard coined money. It consisted of silver and gold, doubtless molded for convenience into bars, rings, bracelets or other standard shapes having a specific weight. (Compare Genesis 24:22; Joshua 7:21.) Often the metal objects were weighed by the individuals concerned when payment was made.—Gen. 23:15, 16; Jer. 32:10.
As business transactions involved weighing, understandably designations of weights were also monetary designations. (See WEIGHTS AND MEASURES.) Among the Israelites there were five main divisions: the gerah, half shekel (bekah), shekel, maneh (mina) and talent. (Ex. 25:39; 30:13; 38:25, 26; 1 Ki. 10:17; Ezek. 45:12; see GERAH; MINA; SHEKEL; TALENT.) Their relationship and comparative modern values in gold and silver are set forth below. (Gold is calculated at $35.115 per ounce troy and silver at $1.293 per ounce troy; the ancient ratio of gold to silver, however, is considered to be 1 to 13.)
1 gerah = 1/20 shekel $ .64 $ .0237
1 bekah = 10 gerahs 6.44 .237
1 shekel = 2 bekahs 12.89 .475
1 maneh = 50 shekels 644.35 23.73
1 talent = 60 manehs 38,661.00 1,423.59