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Thursday, June 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Dictionaries
Urim and Thummim

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

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The high priests of the Jews, we are told, consulted God in the most important affairs of their commonwealth, and received answers by the Urim and Thummim. What these were, is disputed among the critics. Josephus, and some others, imagine the answer was returned by the stones of the breastplate appearing with an unusual lustre when it was favourable, or in the contrary case dim. Others suppose, that the Urim and Thummim were something enclosed between the folding of the breastplate; this some will have to be the tetragrammaton, or the word יהוה , Jehovah. Christophorus de Castro, and after him Dr. Spencer, maintain them to be two little images shut up in the doubling of the breastplate, which gave the oracular answer from thence by an articulate voice. Accordingly, they derive them from the Egyptians, who consulted their lares, and had an oracle, or teraphim, which they called Truth. This opinion, however, has been sufficiently confuted by the learned Dr. Pococke and by Witsius. The more common opinion among Christians concerning the oracle by Urim and Thummim, and which Dr. Prideaux espouses, is, that when the high priest appeared before the veil, clothed with his ephod and breastplate, to ask counsel of God, the answer was given with an audible voice from the mercy seat, within the veil; but, it has been observed, that this account will by no means agree with the history of David's consulting the oracle by Abiathar, 1 Samuel 23:9; 1 Samuel 23:11; 1 Samuel 30:7-8; because the ark, on which was the mercy seat, was then at Kirjathjearim; whereas David was in the one case at Ziklag, and in the other in the forest of Hareth. Braunius and Hottinger have adopted another opinion: they suppose, that, when Moses is commanded to put in the breastplate the Urim and Thummim, signifying lights and perfections in the plural number, it was meant that he should make choice of the most perfect set of stones, and have them so polished as to give the brightest lustre; and, on this hypothesis, the use of the Urim and Thummim, or of these exquisitely polished jewels, was only to be a symbol of the divine presence, and of the light and perfection of the prophetic inspiration; and, as such, constantly to be worn by the high priest in the exercise of his sacred function, especially in consulting the oracle.

Michaelis observes: That in making distributions of property, and in cases of disputes relative to meum [mine] and tuum, [thine,] recourse was had to the lot, in default of any other means of decision, will naturally be supposed. The whole land was partitioned by lot; and that, in after times, the lot continued to be used, even in courts of justice, we see from Proverbs 16:33; Proverbs 18:18; where we are expressly taught to remember, that it is Providence which maketh the choice, and that therefore we ought to be satisfied with the decision of the lot, as the will of God. It was for judicial purposes, in a particular manner, that the sacred lot called Urim and Thummim was employed; and on this account the costly embroidered pouch, in which the priest carried this sacred lot on his breast, was called the judicial ornament. "But was this sacred lot used likewise in criminal trials?" Yes, says Michaelis, only to discover the guilty, to convict them; for in the only two instances of its use in such cases which occur in the whole Bible, namely, in Joshua 7:14-18 , 1 Samuel 14:37-45 , we find the confessions of the two delinquents, Achan and Jonathan, annexed. It appears also to have been used only in the case of an oath being transgressed which the whole people had taken, or the leader of the host in their name, but not in the case of other crimes; for an unknown murder, for example, was not to be discovered by recourse to the sacred lot.

The inner sanctuary, within the veil of the tabernacle, observes Dr. Hales, or most holy place, was called the oracle, 1 Kings 6:16 , because there the Lord communed with Moses, face to face, and gave him instructions in cases of legal difficulty or sudden emergency, Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89; Numbers 9:8; Exodus 33:11; a high privilege granted to none of his successors. After the death of Moses a different mode was appointed for consulting the oracle by the high priest, who put on "the breastplate of judgment," a principal part of the pontifical dress, on which were inscribed the words Urim and Thummim, emblematieal of divine illumination; as the inscription on his mitre, "Holiness to the Lord," was of sanctification, Exodus 28:30-37; Leviticus 8:8 . Thus prepared, he presented himself before the Lord to ask counsel on public matters, not in the inner sanctuary, which he presumed not to enter, except on the great day of national atonement, but without the veil, with his face toward the ark of the covenant, inside; and behind him, at some distance, without the sanctuary, stood Joshua, the judge, or person who wanted the response, which seems to have been given with an audible voice from within the veil, Numbers 27:21 , as in the case of Joshua 6:6-15; of the Israelites during the civil war with Benjamin, Judges 20:27-28; on the appointment of Saul to be king, when he hid himself, 1 Samuel 10:22-24; of David, 1 Samuel 22:10; 1 Samuel 23:2-12; 1 Samuel 30:8; 2 Samuel 5:23-24; of Saul, 1 Samuel 28:6 . This mode of consultation subsisted under the tabernacle erected by Moses in the wilderness, and until the building of Solomon's temple; after which we find no instances of it. The oracles of the Lord were thenceforth delivered by the prophets; as by Ahijah to Jeroboam 1 Kings 11:29; by Shemaiah to Rehoboam, 1 Kings 12:22; by Elijah to Ahab, 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 21:17-29; by Michaiah to Ahab and Jehoshaphat, 1 Kings 22:7; by Elisha to Jehoshaphat and Jehoram, 2 Kings 3:11-14; by Isaiah to Hezekiah, 2 Kings 19:6-34; 2 Kings 20:1-11; by Huldah to Josiah, 2 Kings 22:13-20; by Jeremiah to Zedekiah, Jeremiah 32:3-5 , &c. After the Babylonish captivity, and the last of the prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the oracle ceased; but its revival was foretold by Ezra 2:63 , and accomplished by Christ, who was himself the oracle, under the old and new covenants, Genesis 15:1; John 1:1 . See BREASTPLATE .

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Urim and Thummim'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​u/urim-and-thummim.html. 1831-2.
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