Urim and Thummim

I was reading 1 Samuel again, for the first time in a many moons, this time in the English Standard Version. So I came upon two words that I knew were in Exodus, used to describe the high priest Aaron’s vestments (“the breastpiece of judgment”, Ex. 28:30). When I wrote, “I knew”, it’s really more of a vague recollection; something read, and then forgotten and being unimportant, dismissed as part of those picayune laws that God laid out for the primitive Hebrews.

Ah, but the Lord surely works in mysterious ways. Here was that obscure formula, “Urim and Thummim.” One of the hazards of a word-for-word translation, such as the ESV, is that the editors chose to use transliterations of ancient Hebrew words, rather than give approximate translations into English. The meaning of these two words may be inferred from context: in Exodus (and elsewhere within the five Books of Moses) as being a means of transmitting God’s will to the people, through the priest who wore the breastpiece of judgment. In 1 Samuel, the Urim and Thummim are used simply as the flipping of a coin by the Deity: Heads, its Saul; tails, its Jonathan. From 1 Samuel 14:

41Therefore Saul said, “O LORD God of Israel, why[h] have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O LORD, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped. 42Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.

A better rendition than just “heads” or “tails” is found in the Jewish Encyclopedia online

Objects connected with the breastplate of the high priest, and used as a kind of divine oracle. Since the days of the Alexandrian translators of the Old Testament it has been asserted that mean “revelation and truth”, or “lights and perfections.”

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