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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Happy Baptism Day!

Author: Mark
Saturday, December 5, 2015
9:32 am

#Blessings: 1. Grandson selfies! 2. Family. 3. Connecting with eternity. It is a great day!


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What Can I Learn from Twelve Silent Oxen?

Jesus Christ, Path of Discipleship
Author: Mark
Monday, May 4, 2015
3:22 am


Last Saturday night, during our weekly few hours of service in the baptistry of the Mesa, Arizona, Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I began thinking deeply about the symbolism of the twelve oxen upon whose back the baptismal font rests. Similar designs of baptismal fonts resting on the back of twelve oxen are used in LDS temples throughout the world. We are taught that those twelve oxen represent the twelve tribes of Israel

As I looked repeatedly at each individual ox, I began to wonder if I could learn more about why 12 oxen, representing 12 tribes of Israel, should adorn each temple.  One time, a co-worker, seeing me deep in thought, asked me what I was doing.  I replied, “I am talking to the oxen,” to which he replied,”Well, won’t you be surprised if they begin to talk back!”

Sunday morning, I arose early and began searching for information about oxen and for scriptural references and statements from leaders of the church on the matter.  I really wanted to understand more about why these stately animals were in the temple.

I learned that oxen aren’t a special breed of animal. Any bovine, male or female, but typically steers, can be trained as draft animals – to pull heavy loads. “Ox” is somewhat of a title describing the level of training the animal has received.

Because of their practical importance in the agrarian economy of biblical times, oxen were often used as a measurement of wealth. For example, before his monumental challenges, Job  was a very wealthy man. Among his vast possessions, he owned 500 yoke of oxen (1,000 total). That is a lot of trained cattle! After he endured the loss of all his family, friends and possessions and then experienced miraculous healing, he was rewarded, among other things, with double his former possessions – including 1,000 yoke of oxen.

At the time my ancestors crossed the American plains with the Mormon pioneers, oxen were often preferred to horses or mules to pull their covered wagons. Oxen were stronger, ate less, were more patient and had more even dispositions. Their pace was slow, about two miles per hour, but oxen could pull more consistently over longer distances. Oxen were trained to obey verbal commands and visual signals from the ox-drivers or teamsters. According to one source, oxen were the “unsung heroes of the westward migration story.”

So why do baptismal fonts rest upon the backs of 12 oxen in LDS temples? The first time in the modern era oxen were used is in the Nauvoo Temple, when both font and oxen were made out of wood. The practice of having the baptismal font rest on twelve oxen continued, using more permanent materials, after the pioneers settled in Utah and then branched out to other states and countries.

I searched for definitive statements from leaders of the church which might explain more about the significance of the oxen.  To my surprise, I couldn’t find any.  I found a few opinions of various authors, but nothing from the general authorities of the Church. The nearest was an article written by Emil Fetzer, who was the Church Architect at the time the Provo and Ogden (original design) temples were built. He briefly reviewed how Solomon’s Temple contained a “molten sea” resting on the backs of twelve oxen, and reviewed how the wooden font was built for the Nauvoo temple. Then he described a meeting held with the first presidency of the Church:

During the period of time that the Ogden and Provo Temples were being designed, I had the rare and, for me, awesome privilege and opportunity of receiving guidance and counsel in meetings with the First Presidency of the Church on specific details and requirements of the temple designs. One of the items there discussed was the design of the baptismal fonts. A review of the fonts of all previously built temples was made, and it was mentioned that these were patterned after the “sea” of the great temple built by Solomon and that the oxen represented the 12 tribes.

His next statement surprised me:

It was emphasized that this design motif was not imperative to the validity of the ordinance. More important would be that the font be proper, clean, beautiful, and of a size adequate to accommodate baptism by immersion performed by those having authority from God through the holy priesthood.

Permission was granted, however, to build fonts atop oxen for the both the Provo and Ogden temples. Brother Fetzer continued:

It is possible to contemplate that in the future when many temples will be built, as has been foretold, the design of valid and beautiful baptismal fonts in smaller-sized temples need not necessarily follow the traditional design. Rather, these fonts could be similar to the beautiful fonts presently used in meetinghouses and stake centers for the baptism of persons as they enter into Church membership and fulfill the requirements of this important and sacred ordinance in life.

I don’t know of any temples which exclude oxen, but this left me with a question, “If the leaders of the Church have not given detailed instructions about why we have oxen in temple baptistries, but oxen still grace all the new temples that are built, what can the oxen possibly mean?”

As I pondered that question, I recalled the notion that “all things testify of Christ.” I have had many personal experiences through the years validating that process. All things do testify of the Savior.

So I began to think differently. I changed my train of thought and asked myself, “What can I possibly learn about Christ from the oxen? Can the twelve silent animals “speak” to me and teach me about Christ?”

Several answers came quickly to my mind:

The phrase “strong as an ox” reminded me that the Savior promised that he can make me strong, despite my weaknesses.

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27)

Just as oxen develop a love for and confidence in their handler, I can love the Savior and seek to do HIs will.

thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength (Mark 12:30)

Just as oxen listen to their handler and obey his voice, I can listen to and obey my master, Jesus Christ’s voice.

Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. (D&C 19:23)

Just as oxen are yoked together and unified to pull a heavy load, I can be unified with the people of Christ to accomplish great things.

having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another (Mosiah 18:21)

Just as the oxen share the heavy burden of their load, I can be share the load with my brothers and sisters in the work of Christ.

Brethren, stand close together and lift where you stand. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2008 General Conference)

I can be steady and consistent in my personal commitment to Christ, just like oxen are consistent in their ability to pull a heavy load.

And now, my son, I trust that I shall have great joy in you, because of your steadiness and your faithfulness unto God; for as you have commenced in your youth to look to the Lord your God, even so I hope that you will continue in keeping his commandments; for blessed is he that endureth to the end.(Alma 38:2)

Perhaps most importantly, I can be yoked directly with the Savior and find rest in him.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:23)

Just one final personal lesson the oxen taught me will take a bit more explanation.  The twelve tribes of Israel were conquered and scattered from their ancestral homeland, beginning in about 600 BC. Descendants of those twelve tribes still exist all over the world. When members of the Church receive Patriarchal Blessings, they are told which of the twelve tribes is their primary ancestral lineage.  Most members of the Church are descendants of the tribes of Ephraim or Manasseh, sons of Joseph.  

Sunday morning, my son Eric, who served a mission in Mongolia, forwarded a link to a great article about the growth of the LDS Church in Mongolia. That article triggered a sacred memory. Nine years ago, as Eric was preparing to leave for Mongolia, Eric’s mission president had told us, based on patriarchal blessings conferred upon a relatively small number of members of the church in Mongolia, Eleven of the twelve tribes of Israel are represented in Mongolia. Eric said the twelfth was added while he was there.  Just think – real live people from the “lost” twelve tribes – represented by each of the 12 oxen in the Temple.

It is our privilege, of members of the Church, to go “into all the world,” participating in the gathering of the tribes of Israel from the “ends of the earth.”  All of those brothers and sisters, from every “nation, kindred, tongue and people” enter the gate what leads to eternal life through the ordinance of baptism, performed in rivers or seas or fonts in LDS chapels all over the world. For those who have passed to the spirit world without having that opportunity, proxy baptisms are performed in the fonts resting atop stalwart oxen in temples around the world.

What a privilege it is to participate in the work of the Savior! He paid the ultimate price and charted the correct path for all of us. He is my personal Savior! He is the Savior of all mankind! What a thrill it is to follow him and assist in his great work to bring eternal life to our brothers and sisters around the world!

In conclusion, how grateful I am that twelve silent oxen have “spoken” to me. I know it was really the Holy Ghost who taught me, using the oxen as silent but powerful symbols of truth. Through that process of personal revelation, the oxen assisted me to better understand my Savior, deepen my relationship with Him and strengthen my resolve to serve Him on my path of discipleship.

The oxen may yet teach me other important lessons as I spend time with them in the Temple. Yesterday a friend shared some personal lessons he had learned as he thought about the oxen. His lessons were different than those I received. As you ponder those gallant animals and their significance in your lives and the lives of your brothers and sisters throughout the history of the world, the oxen may also “speak” to you.

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