WHAT WERE THE URIM AND THUMMIM?
The first occasion where the Urim and Thummim are mentioned in Scripture is in Exodus chapter 28, where we find that they were particular items that were placed in the Breastplate of Judgment:
“And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before Yahweh: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before Yahweh continually” (Ex. 28:30).
According to Brother HP Mansfield, the Breastplate of Judgment was so-called “because it was used as a means of conveying Yahweh’s decision on any issue. The Hebrew word is mishpat and denotes “decision” or a “judicial verdict.”” The Breastplate was therefore a means of communicating Yahweh’s verdict in given situations.
Numbers chapter 27 proceeds to elaborate on this. Speaking of Joshua, we read:
“… he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before Yahweh: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation” (Num. 27:21).
The Judgment of Yahweh is here described as “the judgment of Urim.” Men could ask counsel regarding a particular matter, and they would receive a reply through the use of the Breastplate containing the Urim. The Urim was, therefore, the means by which Yahweh communicated with His people, and as such foreshadows the work of our Master:
“God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son …” (Heb. 1:1-2).
“LIGHTS” AND “COMPLETENESSES”
The word “Urim” literally means “lights”, and the word “Thummim” literally means “completenesses” or “fulnesses”, both being plural words, and not singular. Again, we see the work of Messiah foreshadowed in these things. Messiah is the light to both Jew and Gentile (Isa. 49:6), and the blessings we receive come “from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas. 1:17).
Again, of Christ it is written that: “it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell” (Col. 1:19), and again: “ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:10). We hope to be granted the “inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12), and so as an ecclesial lampstand, we “shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15), looking forward to the coming day of glory, when the work begun in us, shall have a completion (Phil. 1:6).
2 STONES OR 12?
There seems to be agreement that the Urim and Thummim were stones to be used for the purpose of communication. But how many were there? A popular opinion is that there were 2 stones contained in a kind of pouch. According to this approach, a “yes”, “no” and “no response” answer could be made accordignto which stone was withdrawb. Some suggest that one was a white stone, the other black, white for “yes” and black for “no”. Brother HP Mansfield, and others hold to this position.
Brother John Thomas, however, saw the stones as being the 12 stones that were set within the breastplate, and there is evidence for this. Firstly, as we observed earlier, the terms “Urim” and “Thummim” are both plural words—which is a difficulty if we say that each term represented a single stone. This description would, however, be applicable to 12 stones, plural.
Also, Exodus 28, and verses 29-30 recounts the command to Aaron: “Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart”, with verse 30 (cited above) links the Urim and Thummim with this feature. Compare this with Exodus 28 and verse 21 which describes the 12 stones that were placed into the breastplate:
“… and the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes” (Ex. 28:21).
Putting these testimonies together therefore, it would seem that the Urim and Thummim were placed in the Breastplate, representing the names of Israel upon the heart of the High Priest. Each stone would shine with refracted light, which were individually complete, hence the plural terms used. There is other evidence also:
HOW DID THE STONES WORK?
The suggestion that there were only two stones logically means that there would only be “yes” or “no” answers. The Scriptures themselves provide very little information on the actual use of the stones, but the descriptions we do have suggest that whole conversations could take place.
1 Samuel 23 describes the future king David during his flight from Saul. He made enquiry at the Breastplate thus:
“David knew that Saul secretly practised mischief against him; and he said to Abiathar the priest, Bring hither the ephod” (1 Sam. 23:9).
The Ephod, of course, would come with the breastplate of judgment, and therefore also the stones that were upon it. David made enquiry:
“O Yahweh Elohim of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake. Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand?” (vs10-11)
The answer came back—not “yes” or “no”, but a complete sentence:
“And Yahweh said, He will come down” (vs11)
David asked again:
“will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?”
And again, the reply came back as a complete sentence:
“and Yahweh said, They will deliver thee up” (vs 12).
There is also another occasion where the Urim and Thummim were invoked, in 1 Samuel chapter 30, the context being that David’s people had been carried away captive:
“… and David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech’s son, I pray thee, bring me thither the ephod. And Abiathar brought thither the Ephod to David” (vs 7)
Then David made enquiry:
“David enquired at Yahweh, saying, Shall I pursue after this troop? Shall I overtake them?”
And again, the answer came, not as “yes” or “no”, but a complete sentence:
“and He answered him Pursue: for thou shalt surely overtake them, and without fail recover all” (vs 8).
So it would appear that when the Urim and Thummim were used, it was not a case of answering “yes” or “no”, but whole conversations could take place. This would indicate that they were not simply two stones giving affirmative or negative.
But how did the stones work? One suggestion is that there was some kind of code, with the stones lighting up to give a message. In support of this, the word “Urim” means “lights”, and the judgments that came through the stones is said to be “judgment of Urim” (Num. 27:21). Against this, there is no record in Scripture of such a code being used, or how to interpret the flashing lights.
Another suggestion is that being as that the stones were contained in the High Priest’s garments, when he wore them he was inspired by Yahweh to speak. By this means, a conversation could be held, and a message imparted verbally through the High Priest as wearer of the Ephod
How the stones worked is not something that is particularly revealed to us, but we can see how that the precious stones shining with complete light foreshadow the work of Messiah and his brethren. They, individually comprise the tribes of Israel of the age to come, and so it is written that: “they shall be mine, saith Yahweh of hosts, in the day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him” (Mal. 3:17). May we blessed to be part of that glorious treasure, shining forth with Yahweh’s Glory throughout the Ages to come.