2 Views on Urim and Thummim: Meaning and Use in the Bible

Have you ever found the words “Urim and Thummim” while reading the Bible? Sometimes we may have noticed the words, and sometimes we may have skipped them simply without knowing the meaning. Therefore, in this article, we will discuss it in detail: what do Urim and Thummim mean? What was it used for? How is it used? And so on.

The Bible verses for Urim and Thummim

Urim and Thummim have appeared only a few times in the Old Testament Bible.

Urim and Thummim may be in the breastplate of Aron. There were 12 stones in the breastplate of the high priest, representing the 12 tribes of Isreal. Along with the 12 stones, Yahweh commanded Moses to keep the Urim and Thummim in the breastplate of the high priest. Therefore, we can affirm 100% that Urim and Thummim were kept in the breastplate of the high priest.

What did Urim and Thummim Look Like?

What do you think about the Urim and Thummim? How did it look like? Actually, we don’t know much about it. Even though it was not documented properly in the Bible or anywhere else, except for the high priest of those times (and probably some other people as well), no one knows about it. We even don’t know how it would be used in those times.

Though we don’t know what Urim and Thummim looked like, we know about their use. It was used to know the will of Yahweh God. God used to speak with His people through it to give the ‘”yes” or “no” answer. However, as we discussed above, we don’t know how the high priest used to use it. Therefore, there are views on this topic.

Urim and Thummim

Views on Urim and Thummim

We will discuss the main two views in this article. Both views are most popular, and I will tell you which view I accept at the end of the discussion.

The First View

This view says that Urim and Thummim were the two stones that were used to represent “yes” and “no.” And it was used as a lottery. According to them, the word “Urim” came from the root word ‘arar, which bears the meaning curse. Therefore, the Urim stone would represent God’s will as ‘no.”

Similarly, they opine that the ‘Thummim’ word came from the Hebrew root “tamam,” which means to finish, complete, or perfect. Therefore, they say, this stone would represent God’s will as ‘yes.”

Use of Urim and Thummim according to the first view

According to this view, Urim and Thummim were inside the ephod of the high priest. Both stones were similar in size, so the high priest could not tell the difference without looking at them. So, the stone that would represent God’s will as “yes” was white, and “no” was black.

Therefore, when the Israelites had any queries to Yahweh on any case and needed to find out by using those stones, the high priest used to reach out his hand into the ephod and take out a stone. If the black stone comes out in the hand of the high priest, it means God is answering ‘no’ in that case, so Isreal would not do that. However, if the stone is white, then God is answering ‘yes,” and Isreal could move on in that particular case.

It seems simple and easy to know the will of God in a particular case. However, I don’t agree with this view because, if we see 1 Samuel 28:6, it is written that God didn’t answer either by dream or by prophets and Urim. It means God used to answer by Urim, nor by Thummim. The answer would come from the Urim alone.

If it were just black and white stones representing ‘no’ and ‘yes,’ one stone would come into the hand of the high priest, and he would declare that God’s will is yes or no. That’s why its use in this verse contradicts this view.

The Second View

We can find this view in ancient Jewish sources. According to this view, Urim represents the light. And the Thummim represents the decision. [Here, Urim means light, and Thummim means decision].

Therefore, this view says that there was a Urim, which means light. Similarly, there were two similar stones in size and surface, which were known as Thummim. Those two stones were bearing the symbols of ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ This view also says that there were black and white stones: black for the ‘no’ symbol and white for the ‘yes’ symbol.

Use of Urim and Thummim according to the second view

According to this view, the high priest would keep those three stones—Urim and the other two similar Thummim stones—inside the ephod. The high priest was the one who performed the acts of Urim and Thummim to know the will of God in a particular case.

If Isreal is in need of this method to know the will of God, the high priest would reach out his hand in the ephod and take out one of the Thummim stones. Please note that there were two Thummim stones, one for yes and another for no.

Now, there would be one Thummim (the decision), yes or no, in the hand of the high priest. However, the high priest used to use the Urim (the light) to know whether the decision on his hand (i.e., Thummim) was from God or not.

How would it happen? The answer was simple. If the Urim (the light) is lighting or giving the light, the high priest would know that the Thummim (the decision) on his hand is from God. However, if the Urim is not giving the light, it means the decision (Thummim on his hand) is not from the LORD, or He doesn’t want to speak on that particular matter.

Looking back to the case of 1 Samuel 28:6, according to this view, there was one Thummim on the hand of the high priest (no matter whether it was a white or black Thummim stone), but when he took out the Urim, it was not giving the light. That’s how the author of 1 Samuel says, God didn’t answer King Saul by Urim. And I agree with this view personally. 

What Happened With Urim and Thummim?

The book of Ezra and Nehemiah mentions that after 70 years of the Isralites’ exile and their return to the homeland, there were no priests who would serve Yahweh with Urim and Thummim. It means those stones were no longer there at that time.

However, we will never know what happened to those stones. Maybe it was destroyed during the Babylonian final attack on Judia, or the high priest hid it somewhere during that attack. Maybe the Babylonians took those stones and kept them somewhere in the king’s place, or they lost them. We never know what happened, when, where, or by whom.

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