Q: #133. What were the Urim and Thummim?
A: The Urim (meaning “lights”), and the Thummim (meaning “perfections”) are mentioned only 7 times in the Bible (Ex 28:30)(Lev 8:8)(Num 27:21)(Deut 33:8)(1 Sam 28:6)(Ezra 2:63)(Neh 7:65). In these verses, we don’t get any information about what they were made from (perhaps a gem stone, or regular stone), or how they were used. We do know that they were used in some way to inquire of the Lord, and seek His will. They were to be used only by the High Priest, and carried in a pouch attached to his breastplate, and covering his heart (Ex 28:30)(Lev 8:8).
According to tradition, there was two of them made of stone, with the Urim having “yes” written on it, and the Thummim having “no.” A question would be asked of God in a way where a “yes or no” answer could be given. The High Priest would then either reach into the pouch and pull one out, or possibly turn the bag upside down and pick the first one that dropped. Then, they would act according to the supernatural answer that God supplied.
While not specifically described as the “Urim and Thummim,” many scholars believe that we have an example of their use in (1 Sam 14:24-46). In (1 Sam 14:36-37), the “priest” (the “High Priest” named Ahijah) sought “counsel of God” as whether or not the Israelites should attack the Philistines. He received no answer. (1 Sam 14:39-43) tells us that they reasoned (we don’t know how) God did not answer because someone had sinned. “Lots” were cast to determine who had sinned, and the lot fell to Saul’s son Jonathan.
It is interesting to note that while Moses was alive, the “Urim and Thummim” were never used. This is certainly because Moses spoke to God “face to face” (Ex 33:9-11)(Num 12:6-8)(Deut 34:10), therefore, he was given the will of God directly. However, as Moses was approaching death, and his leadership was being transferred to Joshua, God says this in (Num 27:21)(NASB):
“Moreover, he (Joshua) shall stand before Eleazar the (“High”) priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his command they shall go out, and at his command they shall come in, both he and all the sons of Israel with him, all the congregation.”
In other words, God was saying that while Moses did not need to have the High Priest use the “Urim and Thummim” to determine His will, Joshua “would” need to do so.
Certainly, the greatest fulfillment of this is found when Eleazar was present (Josh 14:1)(Josh 19:51) to help Joshua distribute the land in the “Promised Land” to the Israelites “by lot, as the Lord had commanded by the hand of Moses” (Num 14:2). (This distribution by “lot” can be found in Num 14:1 – 19:51.) A few other possible uses of the “Urim and Thummim” can be found in (Josh 7:10-26) and (1 Sam 10:20-22).
It appears that from about the time of David, going forward, use of the “Urim and Thummim” largely ceased (possible exceptions in Ezra 2:63, Neh 7:65). This is likely because God began to use “prophets” to declare His will.
***Note: Some believe that the disciples may have used the “Urim and Thummim” to pick Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:26), although I find this unlikely (no “High Priest” was there).