URIM AND THUMMIM
Objects used to ascertain the divine will when questions of national importance needed an answer from Jehovah.
As recorded at Leviticus 8:8, Moses, after placing the breastpiece upon Aaron, put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece. While the Hebrew preposition here translated “in” can be rendered “upon,” the same word is used at Exodus 25:16 in speaking of placing the two stone tablets in the ark of the covenant. (Ex 31:18) Some have proposed the suggestion that the Urim and the Thummim were the 12 stones affixed to the breastpiece. That this was not the case is shown by the fact that, in the priestly inauguration ceremony, the completed breastpiece with the 12 stones sewn on it, was put upon Aaron, and then the Urim and Thummim were put in it. Also, a comparison of Exodus 28:9, 12, 30 refutes the theory that they consisted of the two onyx stones on the shoulder pieces of the high priest’s ephod. (Ex 28:9-14) They evidently were separate objects.
Their Use. It is notable that the Urim and the Thummim were to be over Aaron’s heart when he went “in before Jehovah,” doubtless referring to Aaron’s standing in the Holy before the curtain to the Most Holy compartment when inquiring of Jehovah. Their location, “over Aaron’s heart,” would appear to indicate that the Urim and the Thummim were placed in the fold, or pouch, formed by the doubled construction of the breastpiece. They were for “the judgments of the sons of Israel” and were used when a question of importance to the national leaders and consequently to the nation itself needed an answer from Jehovah. Jehovah, Israel’s Lawgiver, would give an answer to the high priest as to the right course to pursue on any matter.—Ex 28:30.
David called upon Abiathar to employ the Urim and the Thummim when Abiathar, after escaping the slaughter of the priests of Nob in which his father died, came to David with the ephod. Apparently this was the ephod of the high priest.—1Sa 22:19, 20; 23:6-15.
May Have Been Lots. From the instances recorded in the Scriptures in which Jehovah was consulted by Urim and Thummim, it appears that the question was so framed that a “yes” or “no” answer, or at least a very brief and direct reply, could be given. In one instance (1Sa 28:6) the Urim is mentioned alone, evidently with the Thummim also understood to be included.
A number of Bible commentators believe that the Urim and the Thummim were lots. They are called “the sacred lots” in James Moffatt’s translation of Exodus 28:30. Some suppose that they consisted of three pieces, one inscribed with the word “yes,” one with “no,” and the other blank. These would be drawn, giving the answer to the question propounded, unless the blank piece was drawn, in which case no answer was forthcoming. Others think that they may have been two flat stones, white on one side and black on the other. When thrown down, two white sides up would mean “yes,” two black sides “no,” and a black and a white would mean no answer. On one occasion, when Saul had inquired through the priest as to whether to resume an attack on the Philistines, he received no answer. Feeling that someone among his men had sinned, he petitioned: “O God of Israel, do give Thummim!” Saul and Jonathan were taken from among those present; after that, lots were cast to decide between the two. In this account the appeal, “Do give Thummim,” seems to be separate from the lot casting, though it may give indication that there was some connection between the two.—1Sa 14:36-42.
Served to Link Kingdom With Priesthood. The Aaronic priesthood is referred to at Deuteronomy 33:8-10, which says: “Your Thummim and your Urim belong to the man loyal to you.” The reference to these as belonging “to the man loyal to you [Jehovah]” perhaps alludes to the loyalty of the tribe of Levi (from which the Aaronic priesthood came) that was demonstrated in connection with the incident of the golden calf.—Ex 32:25-29.
Jehovah wisely provided the Urim and the Thummim and placed them in the hands of the high priest. This made the king dependent to a great extent on the priesthood, avoiding the concentration of too much power in the hands of the king. It brought about the necessity of cooperation between the kingship and the priesthood. (Nu 27:18-21) Jehovah made known his will to Israel by his written Word, also by prophets and by dreams. But it seems that prophets and dreams were used for special occasions, whereas the high priest with the Urim and the Thummim was always present with the people.
Use Ceased in 607 B.C.E. According to Jewish tradition, use of the Urim and the Thummim ceased when Jerusalem was desolated and her temple destroyed in 607 B.C.E. by the Babylonian armies under King Nebuchadnezzar. (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 48b) This view is supported by what we read regarding these objects in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. There, certain men who were claimants to priestly descent, but who could not find their names in the public register, were told that they could not eat from the most holy things provided for the priesthood until a priest stood up with Urim and Thummim. But there is no record of their use at that time, and thereafter the Bible makes no further reference to these sacred objects.—Ezr 2:61-63; Ne 7:63-65.
Greater High Priest Consults Jehovah. Jesus Christ is described in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews as the great King-Priest according to the manner of Melchizedek. (Heb 6:19, 20; 7:1-3) In him kingship and priesthood are combined. His priestly work was foreshadowed by that of the high priest of ancient Israel. (Heb 8:3-5; 9:6-12) All judgment of mankind is committed into his hands as such a High Priest. (Joh 5:22) Nevertheless, when on earth Jesus declared: “The things I say to you men I do not speak of my own originality; but the Father who remains in union with me is doing his works” (Joh 14:10) and, “I do nothing of my own initiative; but just as the Father taught me I speak these things.” (Joh 8:28) Also, he said: “If I do judge, my judgment is truthful, because I am not alone, but the Father who sent me is with me.” (Joh 8:16) Certainly in his exalted heavenly position, perfected as High Priest forever, he continues in this course of subjection to his Father, looking to him for guidance in judgment.—Heb 7:28; compare 1Co 11:3; 15:27, 28.