What are the Urim and Thummim? By Jack Kettler
“And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the LORD. Thus, Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD regularly.” (Exodus 28:30 ESV)
As this study proceeds, it will become apparent why it follows the previous study on casting lots. As in previous studies, lexical and commentary evidence will be consulted.
From the Strong’s Lexicon:
Article | Noun – masculine plural
Strong’s Hebrew 224: Urim = ‘lights’ 1) stones kept in a pouch on the high priest’s breastplate, used in determining God’s decision in certain questions and issues
Article | Noun – masculine plural
Strong’s Hebrew 8550: Thummim = ‘perfection’ 1) stones provided for the means of achieving a sacred lot 1a) used with the Urim, the will of God was revealed
Matthew Poole’s Commentary is constructive:
“The words Urim and Thummim confessedly signify light, or illuminations and perfections, which may be understood either of two differing things, the one noting the knowledge, the other the perfection, to wit, of virtues and graces, which were required in the high priest, and which were in Christ in an eminent degree, and from him alone communicated to his people; or of one and the same thing, noting perfect light or illumination, by a figure called hendyadis, oft used in Scripture, as Deu 16:18 Matthew 4:16, compared with Job 10:21 John 3:5 Acts 17:25, compared with Genesis 2:7. Which may seem probable,
1. Because the great use of this instrument was to give light and direction in dubious and difficult cases, and not to confer any other perfection upon any person.
2. Because sometimes both these words and things are expressed only by one of them, and that is by Urim, Numbers 27:21 1 Samuel 28:6, which signifies lights. And the name seems to be given from the effect, because hence the Israelites had clear light, and perfect or certain direction in dark and doubtful matters. But the great question is, what this Urim and Thummim was, and in what manner God answered by it; which God having on purpose concealed from us, and not set down the matter or form of it, as he hath done of all the other particulars, it may seem curiosity and presumption for men solicitously to inquire, and positively to determine. Many conceive it was nothing else but the twelve precious stones, wherein the names of the twelve tribes were engraven, and that the answer of God was composed out of those letters which either show more brightly, or thrust themselves further outward, than the rest did; which seems a frivolous and ungrounded conjecture, both because all the letters of the alphabet were not there, and so all answers could not be given by them; and because it was shut up within the duplicature of the breastplate, and therefore could not be seen by the high priest; and there is not a word to signify that he was to take it out thence, and look upon it, but rather the contrary is evident. And that this Urim and Thummim are not the same thing with those twelve stones may be easily proved:
1. Because the stones were set and engraven in the breastplate, Exodus 28:17,21, this was only put into it, which is a word of quite different and more loose and large signification, and therefore probably doth not design the same thing.
2. It is not likely that in such a brief account of the sacred utensils the same command would be repeated again, especially in more dark and general words than it was mentioned before. And how could Moses now put it in, when the workmen had fastened it there before? or why should he be required to put it in the breastplate, when it was fastened to it already, and could not without violence be taken from it?
3. Because the stones were put in by the workmen, Exodus 39:10, the Urim and Thummim by Moses himself, Leviticus 8:8. It is objected, that where the stones are mentioned there is no mention of Urim and Thummim, as Exo 29, and that where the Urim and Thummim are mentioned there is no mention of the stones, as Leviticus 8:8, which shows they were one and the same thing. But that is not necessary, and there is an evident reason of both those omissions; of the former, Exo 39, because he mentions only those things which were made by the workmen, whereas the Urim and Thummim seems to have been made immediately by God, or by Moses with God’s direction; of the latter, Le 8, because the stones are implied in the breastplate as a part of it, and being fastened to it, whereas there he only mentions what was put in by Moses himself. There are other conjectures, as that it; as the name Jehovah, or some visible representations, &c. But such conjectures are as easily denied as affirmed. It is therefore more modest and reasonable to be silent where God is silent, than to indulge ourselves in boundless and groundless fancies. It may suffice us to know that this was a singular piece of Divine workmanship, which the high priest was obliged to wear upon solemn occasions, as one of the conditions upon which God engaged to give him answers; which answers God might give to him either by inward suggestion to his mind, or by a vocal expression to his ear. But which of those ways, or whether by any other way, it is needless now to search, and impossible certainly to discover.
The judgment of the children of Israel. A short speech. As the testimony is oft put for the ark of the testimony, so is the judgment here for the breastplate of judgment, i.e. that breastplate which declared the judgment, or oracle, or mind of God to the Israelites in those cases which they brought to the Lord.
Before the Lord continually, i.e. at all times when he shall appear before the Lord in the holy place.” (1)
Additional information is learned from the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: “30. The Urim and Thummim. These are to be put into the pouch of judgement: they are consequently something quite distinct from the jewels in front of it (v. 17), with which they have often been identified; and from the manner in which they are mentioned elsewhere (esp. 1 Samuel 14:41) there can be little doubt that they were two sacred lots, used for the purpose of ascertaining the Divine will on questions of national importance. We do not know their size or the material of which they were made: they are not described, but introduced as something well known. See further p. 313 f.
the judgement of &c.] The Urim and Thummim are so called as the means by which a Divine judgement, or decision, might be obtained on matters of national importance. Cf. Numbers 27:21 (P).
On the Urim and Thummim
In addition to Exodus 28:30, the Urim and Thummim are mentioned in the “”, Leviticus 8:8, and (the Urim alone) in Numbers 27:21 (both P: here Eleazar is to determine for Joshua by their help when Israel is to ‘go out’ and ‘come in’); in the Blessing attributed to Moses, Deuteronomy 33:8 (as a privileged possession of the priestly tribe), in 1 Samuel 28:6 (the Urim alone,—Jehovah answered Saul ‘neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets’), in Ezra 2:63 = Nehemiah 7:65 (‘till a priest should rise up with Urim and Thummim,’ implying they were lost in the post-exilic age); and esp. in the original Heb. text of 1 Samuel 14:41, presupposed by the LXX. which throws the greatest light upon the manner in which they were used, ‘And Saul said, O Jehovah, the God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant this day? If the iniquity be in me or in Jonathan my son, give Urim; and if it be in thy people Israel, give Thummim. And Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, but the people escaped.’ (The Heb. words rendered in RVm. = A.V. ‘Give a perfect (lot)’ are a mutilated fragment of the longer text preserved in LXX., thâmim, ‘perfect,’ differing from ‘Thummim’ only in vocalization.) The priest who cast the lots on this occasion was evidently Ahijah, who just before (vv. 3, 18 RVm.) is mentioned as ‘bearing’ (above, p. 313) an ephod; and a comparison of the other passages in 1 Sam. in which the priest asks for a Divine decision with the help of the ephod, makes it probable that on these occasions also the Urim and Thummim, though not actually mentioned, were in fact employed: see 1 Samuel 14:18 (read as RVm.), 19, 37, Exodus 23:10-12 (see v. 6), Exodus 30:7-8. After David’s time the Urim and Thummim are not mentioned in the history; and though we are naturally not in a position to say that they were never resorted to, yet the increasing importance of the prophets as announcers of the Divine will, and the more spiritual conceptions of God which their teaching brought with it, make it probable that their use fell more and more into abeyance. But the possession of the sacred lots was an ancient and prized prerogative of the priestly caste (Deuteronomy 33:8); the right of using them was doubtless jealously maintained by the chief priest till—through whatever cause—they were lost (Ezra 2:63); and so they naturally found a place in P’s description of the high priest’s official dress, and their original institution was referred back to Moses.
The etymological meaning of ‘Urim and Thummim’ is uncertain. Regarded as two Heb. words, they would naturally signify Lights and Perfections; but as giving the original sense of the expression, this explanation is anything but satisfactory. It is possible that the words are the Hebraized forms of two originally Babylonian technical terms. The LXX. usually express Urim by either δῆλοι (sc. λίθοι), i.e. ‘visible, manifest (stones),’—and so in the Greek text of Sir 33:3 (codd. א A and RV.), Sir 45:10,—or δήλωσις, ‘manifestation, declaration’; and Thummim by ἀλήθεια, ‘truth’ (cf. Sir 45:10): the former rend is a paraphrase of ‘Lights’: the latter—as the translators lived in Egypt—may have been suggested to them by the fact that in Egypt the judge presiding at a trial wore, suspended from his neck, an image of Tme, the Egyptian goddess of truth (Wilk.-B. i. 296, iii. 183 f.; Diod. i. 48, 75). For further particulars on the whole subject, see Kennedy in DB., and Moore in EB., s.v.
31–35 (cf. Exodus 39:22-26). The robe of the ephod. This was a long violet robe woven in one piece, put on by being drawn over the head, with arm-holes (but without sleeves), and with pomegranates worked in colours, and small golden bells, arranged alternately as a border, round the bottom of the skirt” (2)
Additional passages referencing the “Urim” and “Thummim:”
“The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food, until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.” (Ezra 2:63 ESV)
“Therefore, Saul said, “O LORD God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O LORD, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.” (1 Samuel 14:41 ESV)
Again, it is profitable to consult the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on the 1 Samuel 14:41 passage: “41. Give a [perfect lot] This and not the marginal rendering “Shew the innocent” is the best explanation of an obscure phrase which occurs nowhere else.
The Sept. however has a very different reading, which with some emendation may be rendered, “And Saul said, O Lord God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant to day? If the iniquity be in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord God of Israel, give Urim: and if it be in thy people Israel, give Thummim.” If this reading is correct, it points to the conclusion that the “judgment of Urim and Thummim” was obtained by a special method of casting lots, which was employed on the present occasion. See further on 1 Samuel 28:6. The Heb. text implies that the ordinary lot only was used.” (3)
From the Dictionary of Bible Themes, we learn more about the perfect lot: “Dictionary of Bible Themes » 7000 God’s people » 7300 Institutions and culture of OT » 7392 lots, casting of
A means of determining the will of God, prior to the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The casting of lots was also used by pagans for the same purpose. Such use reflects the belief that nothing occurred by chance.
Casting lots to determine the will of God
In the ministry of the high priest
Exodus 28:30 The “Urim and Thummim” were sacred lots maintained for the purpose of determining God’s will. See also Leviticus 8:7-9; Leviticus 16:6-10; Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 33:8; 1 Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65
To apportion land
Numbers 33:54 See also Numbers 26:54-56; Joshua 14:2; Joshua 18:10
To select individuals
1 Samuel 14:41-42 See also Joshua 7:14-18; Judges 20:9-10; 1 Samuel 10:20-21; Jonah 1:7; Acts 1:15-26
To assign priestly duties
1 Chronicles 24:5 See also 1 Chronicles 26:12-13; Nehemiah 10:34; Luke 1:8-9
To settle disputes
Casting lots as a means of divination
Ezekiel 21:21-22 See also Esther 3:7; Esther 9:24-27 The word “purim” is the plural of “pur” and means “lots”.
Casting lots as a means of distributing plunder
Joel 3:2-3 See also Nahum 3:10” (4)
While there is no universal agreement on exactly what the “Urim” and “Thummim” were, the above understanding can be considered the majority view.
“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39)
How do the “Urim” and “Thummim” testify of Christ?
Consider the marvelous insight from the Chapter – The Urim And Thummim from Godrules.net: “In Christ Himself we see the antitype of the “Urim.” “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…. that was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:5,9). Therefore, did He say, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). “God is light” (1 John 1:5), and Christ could say, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Yes, He is the reality of which the Urim was the figure: the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
In Christ, we see the antitype of the “Thummim.” Every “perfection” is found in Him, for He is “altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:16).” (5)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Exodus, Vol. 1, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 179.
2. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, S. R. DRIVER, D.D., Exodus, (Cambridge University Press, 1898), p. 307.
3. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, A. F. KIRKPATRICK, D.D., 1 Samuel, (Cambridge University Press, 1898), p. 137.
4. Managing Editor, Martin Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes, “the perfect lot” Kindle Edition.
5. Chapter – The Urim And Thummim from Godrules.net: Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of many books on the Christian faith. They can be found at www. JackKettler .com Completed hyperlink cannot be listed because of advertising issues.