“Appendix: Examples of Symbols Used in Scriptures,” Scripture Study—The Power of the Word Teacher Manual (2001), 52–55
“Appendix,” Scripture Study Teacher Manual, 52–55
The scriptures abound in symbols. As mentioned in chapter 11, the natural function or condition of an object is a key to what that object might symbolize. Remember also that an item may symbolize one thing in one context and something else when used in another context.
Following are several examples, listed by category, of symbols used in the scriptures. The items used as symbols are listed with examples of what they symbolize. Scriptures are then quoted to illustrate the use of each symbol. Read each passage to understand them in their proper context.
Bowing the head. Humility.
“And the man bowed down his head, and worshipped the Lord” (Genesis 24:26).
“And they answered, Thy servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance” (Genesis 43:28).
Tearing one’s clothing. Grief, anguish, contrition of heart.
“And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days” (Genesis 37:34).
“When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry” (Esther 4:1).
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
“And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfill all righteousness in being baptized by water?
“… he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (2 Nephi 31:6–7).
Horse. War, conquest.
“And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace” (Zechariah 9:10).
“And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. …
“And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. …
“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:2, 4, 8).
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war” (Revelation 19:11).
Oxen. Work, service, steadiness, endurance.
“For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (1 Timothy 5:18).
“And he made a molten sea. …
“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” (1 Kings 7:23, 25).
“Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4).
Head. Power of government or directing authority.
“The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
“And he [Christ] is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18).
Arm. Power, strength, ability.
“But the Lord, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a stretched out arm, him shall ye fear” (2 Kings 17:36).
“Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand” (Psalm 89:13).
“I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh. … Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm” (2 Nephi 4:34).
Bowed Knee. Humility.
“Unto me every knee shall bow” (Isaiah 45:23).
“For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me” (Romans 14:11).
“I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem” (Job 29:14).
“He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).
“The righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness” (2 Nephi 9:14).
Girdle. Strength. Being girdled implies being endowed with the ability to perform or maintain.
“And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins” (Isaiah 11:5).
“And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle” (Isaiah 22:21).
“For thou hast girded me with strength to battle” (2 Samuel 22:40).
Nakedness. Guilt, shame, uncleanness.
“Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness” (2 Nephi 9:14).
“At the same time spake the Lord by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.
“And the Lord said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia;
“So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt” (Isaiah 20:2–4).
White. Purity, righteousness.
“Many shall be purified, and made white” (Daniel 12:10).
“They are righteous forever; … their garments are made white” (1 Nephi 12:10).
Red. Sin, atonement.
“Though your sins … be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Red. War, death, suffering.
“The shield of his mighty men is made red” (Nahum 2:3).
“There went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another” (Revelation 6:4).
Green. Life, well-being.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:1–2).
“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.
“For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green” (Jeremiah 17:7–8).
Bread. Means of sustaining life (physical or spiritual).
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever” (John 6:51).
“Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely” (Alma 5:34).
Salt. Incorruptibility, enduring or preserving quality.
“It is a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord unto thee and to thy seed with thee” (Numbers 18:19). “And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt” (Leviticus 2:13).
Gold. Glory, great worth.
“They [twenty-four elders] had on their heads crowns of gold” (Revelation 4:4).
“For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness: thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head” (Psalm 21:3).
“And the building of the wall of it [the great city Jerusalem] was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. …
“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass” (Revelation 21:10, 18, 21).
Brass. Strength, durability.
“His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron” (Job 40:18).
“Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass” (Micah 4:13).
Brass—polished or refined. Glory.
“And they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass” (Ezekiel 1:7).
“His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass” (Daniel 10:6).
“And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace” (Revelation 1:15).
Seven. Whole or complete, fulness.
“And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins” (Leviticus 26:21).
“And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:4).
Altar. Worship, sacrifice, covenants, or God’s house where covenants are made.
“In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord” (Isaiah 19:19).
“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
“Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23–24).
“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held” (Revelation 6:9).
Crown. Rulership, exaltation.
“And he brought forth the king’s son, and put the crown upon him, and gave him the testimony; and they made him king” (2 Kings 11:12).
“And those who receive it in faith, and work righteousness, shall receive a crown of eternal life” (D&C 20:14).
“Then shall he be crowned with the crown of his glory, to sit on the throne of his power to reign forever and ever” (D&C 76:108).
Rock. Firmness, solidity—and thus, the revelation of Christ and His gospel.
“Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
“I am Messiah, the King of Zion, the Rock of Heaven” (Moses 7:53).
“And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).
Water. Cleansing, purification, symbol of the gospel message.
“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean” (Ezekiel 36:25).
“That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26).
“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (John 4:14).
Baptism. Burial and resurrection, birth.
“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
“For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:4–6).
“Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).
See also D&C 128:12–13.
Anointing with oil. Consecrate, sanctify, imbue with the Holy Spirit and its powers.
“And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office” (Exodus 28:41).
“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up” (James 5:14–15).
Babylon. Sin, worldliness.
“All the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon” (D&C 64:24).
“They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall” (D&C 1:16).
“Go ye out from among the nations, even from Babylon, from the midst of wickedness, which is spiritual Babylon” (D&C 133:14).