The terms "Urim" and "Thummim" have traditionally been understood as "light(s)" and "perfection(s)" or as "perfect light." The Urim and Thummim were a means of revelation entrusted to the high priest. No description of them is given. This oracular means apparently consisted of a material object or objects since it was physically stored in the breastpiece of the high priest ( Exod 28:30 ; Lev 8:8 ). Most scholars today think that the Urim and Thummim were a lot oracle, but this is by no means certain.
Besides being mentioned by their full name ( Exod 28:30 ; Lev 8:8 ; Ezra 2:63 ; Neh 7:65 ; in reverse order with possessives, Deut 33:8 ), the Urim and Thummim could also be referred to by Urim alone ( Num 27:21 ; 1 Sam 28:6 ). Sometimes the mention of the ephod (on which the breastpiece housing the Urim and Thummim were fastened) includes a reference to the Urim and Thummim ( 1 Sam 23:9-12 ; 30:7-8 ). Also the verb "inquire of" followed by "the Lord" or "God" when no means of revelation is specified refers to a usage of the Urim and Thummim.
The Urim and Thummim were used at critical moments in the history of God's people when special divine guidance was needed. The civil leader was expected to make use of this means for all important matters for which he needed direction. Although referred to in ezr 2:63 and Nehemiah 7:65, there is no convincing evidence that the Urim and Thummim were used after the time of David.
The reason for the demise of the Urim and Thummim is not explicitly given. Since the Urim and Thummim, in whatever way they functioned, were a physical means of revelation, it appears that God was taking his people away from the easy certainty inherent in a mechanical means of revelation to the more consistent use of prophecy and the Word alone. This would require the more difficult application of the norms for true and false prophecy ( Deut 13:1-4 ; 18:20-22 ) and thus necessitate a faithful teaching priesthood ( Deut 33:10 ; Mal 2:7 ).
Although the lot theory has wide support today, there are significant difficulties with so identifying the Urim and Thummim. It is questionable whether the key evidence, the Greek text of 1 Samuel 14:41, is really to be preferred over the Hebrew text. Also, the vocabulary of lot casting is not used, and the answers contain more information than the casting of lots could yield ( eg 1:1 5:23-24 ). This last point suggests the involvement of prophecy and the divine inspiration of the high priest in giving revelation. It can also be noted that the use of the actual object(s) constituting the Urim and Thummim appears to have been self-authenticating. Even in extremely difficult circumstances, the guidance of the Urim and Thummim is followed ( Jud 20:18-28 ). It could be theorized that a perfect light that miraculously shone from the gem(s) constituting the Urim and Thummim (which belonged to God, Deut 33:8 ) gave the needed authentication to the actual answer spoken by the high priest under divine inspiration. In this way the judgment of the Urim, the light, may have been given ( Nu 27:21 ). Such authentication would not have been out of place in Old Testament times when special signs were provided more often.
Cornelis Van Dam
Bibliography. C. Van Dam, ISBE, 4:957-59.
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(light and perfection ). When the Jewish exiles were met on their return from Babylon by a question which they had no data for answering, they agreed to postpone the settlement of the difficulty till there should rise up "a priest with Urim and Thummim." ( Ezra 2:63 ; Nehemiah 7:65 ) The inquiry what those Urim and Thummim themselves were seems likely to wait as long for a final and satisfying answer. On every side we meet with confessions of ignorance. Urim means "light," and Thummim "perfection." Scriptural statements. --The mysterious words meet us for the first time, as if they needed no explanation, in the description of the high Priests apparel. Over the ephod there is to be a "breastplate of judgment" of gold, scarlet, purple and fine linen, folded square and doubled, a "span" in length and width. In it are to be set four rows of precious stones, each stone with the name of a tribe of Israel engraved on it, that Aaron "may bear them on his heart." Then comes a further order. In side the breastplate, as the tables of the covenant were placed inside the ark, ( Exodus 25:16 ; 28:30 ) are to be placed "the Urim and the Thummim," the light and the perfection; and they too are to be on Aarons heart when he goes in before the Lord. ( Exodus 28:15-30 ) Not a word describes them. They are mentioned as things-already familiar both to Moses and the people, connected naturally with the functions of the high priest as mediating between Jehovah and his people. The command is fulfilled. ( Leviticus 8:8 ) They pass from Aaron to Eleazar with the sacred ephod and other pontificalia . ( Numbers 20:28 ) When Joshua is solemnly appointed to succeed the great hero-law-giver he is bidden to stand before Eleazar, the priest, "who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim," and this counsel is to determine the movements of the host of Israel. ( Numbers 27:21 ) In the blessings of Moses they appear as the crowning glory of the tribe of Levi: "thy Thummim and thy Urim are with thy Holy One." ( deuteronomy 33:8 deuteronomy 33:9 ) In what way the Urim and Thummim were consulted is quite uncertain. Josephus and the rabbins supposed that the stones gave out the oracular answer by preternatural illumination; but it seems to be far simpler and more in agreement with the different accounts of inquiries made by Urim and Thummim, ( 1 Samuel 14:3 1 Samuel 14:18 1 Samuel 14:19 ; 1 Samuel 23:2 1 Samuel 23:4 1 Samuel 23:9 1 Samuel 23:11 1 Samuel 23:12 ; 28:6 ; Judges 20:28 ; 2 Samuel 5:23 ) etc., to suppose that the answer was given simply by the word of the Lord to the high priest comp. ( John 11:51 ) when, clothed with the ephod and the breastplate, he had inquired of the Lord. Such a view agrees with the true notion of the breastplate.