The Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28)

God used various methods to guide the ancient Israelites, including the Urim and the Thummim. The high priest carried these objects in his “breastpiece of decision” and used them in seeking God’s will (Exodus 28:29-30). Reliance on this unique means of revelation (Numbers 27:21, Deuteronomy 33:8) seems to have ceased after David’s reign, although an attempt to revive the practice occurred during the postexilic period, in the fifth century B.C. (see Ezra 2:63, Nehemiah 7:65).

The Urim and Thummim may have been small objects or stones or sticks inscribed with symbols, possibly the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet based on the fact that the first letter of Urim (aleph) and the forst letter of Thummim (tau) are the first and final letters of this alphabet, respectively.

Most likely, as Biblical passages imply, the Urim and Thummim were cast as lots in order to obtain yes or no answers from God. Casting of lots is widely attested in the Bible (cf. Leviticus 16:8, Numbers 33:54, Proverbs 16:33, Acts 1:26). But two passages suggest that asking God a series of questions and using a process of elimination to determine His answers yielded more sublte revelation, such as a person’s hiding place or a complex battle strategy (see 1 Samuel 10:20-22, 2 Samuel 5:22-24). Some Biblical historians believe that the high priest would disclose an oracle and that the Urim and Thummim would be used to confirm its truth.

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