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QUESTION: What were the Urim and Thummim?


Answer:  Hebrews chapter one speaks of the “divers manners” in which God spoke to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.  In the days of King Saul we are told of at least three of these ways: dreams, prophets and, according to 1 Sam 28:6, Urim and Thummim.


The words themselves are Hebrew and mean lights and perfections.  Urim and Thummim are not described.  We are not told how or when they were made.  There are no instructions as to how they were used.  Hebrew tradition declares that they were made by Moses at God’s command or that God Himself provided the pair at His own hand.  In either event, those who needed to know (the High Priest) learned by oral tradition that has been lost.


Exodus 28:30 seems to indicate that whatever they were, they fit into the breastplate of the High Priest’s formal attire.  This “Breastplate of Judgment” (Ex 28:15) apparently had a pocket of sorts to hold and safely guard these tools of judgment near his heart as he represented Israel to God. 


Whatever they were, the High Priest used them to make decisions and give direction on what must have been matters of great importance in the only Theocracy ever established by God.  Some suggest that they were different colors (perhaps white and black), that gave simple answers of yes or no, but even that is purely speculative.  When we compare the counsel of Urim (Numbers 27:21) to Ezra’s (2:63) and Nehemiah’s (7:65) declaration of the necessity of a High Priest in order to make them “work” it seems unlikely that they were so simple (anyone could read a yes or no answer). 


David “enquired of the Lord” through Abiathar the High Priest (1 Sam 30:8) and received instruction that he was to pursue the army and recover the captives.  Because Abiathar was not a prophet and we are not told he was asleep (this wasn’t a vision), Urim may have been used.


Just as its mention in Scripture seems to slowly fade away, so too must its usage have dropped off.  Prophets must have been their replacement as man failed to heed the Priests (or the Priests failed their charge).  According to Rabbinical literature the Urim and Thummim ceased with the destruction of the first Temple (c. 600 b.c.) and were lost forever.


However, that Urim has been lost means nothing to you and me today as we have for our guidance “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).  Using the Word of God, it is the Spirit of God that leads us (Rom 8:14) into all truth (John 16:13).


“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” James 1:5


(Other Scriptures that speak of Urim and Thummim but not mentioned in this article include Lev 8:8 and Deut 33:8.)