Urim and Thummim: Right Decisions and Judgements

‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord’ ~ Proverbs 16:33

One of the priestly garments God instructed to be made was the breastpiece. He says, ‘Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions’ (Exodus 28:15). The breastpiece was a double-folded linen with ‘four rows of precious stone on it’ (v17). Each row had three different types of precious stones, making a total of twelve precious stones on the breastpiece, ‘one for each of the names of the sons of Israel’ (v21). God then explains, ‘Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord’ (v29). He continues, ‘Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the names of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord’ (v30).

The Priest did not only offer atonement for people’s sins, but was also a key decision maker. He settled disputes, enforced God’s law, and even decided on the smallest of personal matters, such as what to do when one’s skin broke out with a pimple. Thus, the Priest was the focal point for all decisions one would take as an individual, and collectively as a nation. This was important because God’s chosen people had to always go God’s way. As a result, it was the Priest’s duty to enquire of the Lord on all matters. The Priest ministered before the Lord with Urim and Thummim in order to render just and perfect decisions from God Himself. They were strictly for priestly use. Since God’s Spirit did not rest on mankind because Christ had not been revealed, God selected the use of Urim and Thummim as means to communicate His mind and will to man. Consequently, the Priestly office was highly regarded. For instance, when the Israelites returned from exile, ‘The governor ordered from them not to eat any of the most sacred food until there was a priest ministering with Urim and Thummim’ (Ezra 2:63).

Among the selected Priests, specific roles were assigned by casting lots, which was birthed from the use of the Urim and Thummim (since many decisions were increasingly sought). So, for selection of some priestly duties, ‘They divided them impartially by drawing lots, for there were officials of the sanctuary and officials of God among the descendants of both Eleazer and Ithamar’ (1 Chronicles 24:5). It is also recorded that, ‘Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as Priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense’ (Luke 1:8-9). In another instance, when an apostle was sought to replace Judas Iscariot who had hanged himself, they prayed, ‘Then they cast lots and the lot fell on Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles’ (Acts 1:26). Thus, enquiry was done by praying and casting lots, and God’s reply and decision would be manifested through the Urim and Thummim the Priest had, or the place the lot fell.

David, who always sought God’s will before taking any course would summon the Priest and tell him to, ‘Bring the ephod’ (1 Samuel 23:9; 30:v7), and then enquire from God. After an enquiry, God would directly answer David, and not by a lot falling on either side. David pursued God’s heart directly, and so God answered him directly. However, the casting of lots was the norm so that even at the distribution of the Promised Land, God says, ‘Be sure that the land is distributed by lot . . . Each inheritance is to be distributed by lot among the larger and smaller groups’ (Numbers 26:55,56). Back then and even to date, casting lots was also widely used outside the godly context. For instance, when the soldiers had crucified Jesus, ‘they divided up his clothes by casting lots’ (Matthew 27:35). As of now, casting lots is used for gambling, witchcraft, and other ungodly activities, thus missing the mark.

The use of the Urim and Thummim, however, would only respond when used in line with God’s will. When Saul finally enquired of the Lord after constantly taking his own way, ‘the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets’ (1 Samuel 28:6). Saul then ends up enquiring from a medium and it is said of him; ‘Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord, and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not enquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse’ (1 Chronicles 10:13-14). This goes to show that proper judgements and right decisions matter significantly to God, and how we go about obtaining them. That is why the people He assigns are always given sound judgment. ‘For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind‘ (2 Timothy 1:7). When God chose Joshua, for instance, He instructed him ‘to stand before Eleazer the priest who will obtain decisions for him by enquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in’ (Numbers 27:21). So, Joshua had to follow God’s instructions to the latter, even as the Israelites followed him.

But with the advent of Jesus Christ, Believers have been made ‘kings and priests unto God’ (Revelation 1:6). This means that a Believer always ought to make right judgements and sound decisions in all things. In fact, Jesus Himself did not ‘judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears’ (Isaiah 11:3) because ‘The Spirit of the Lord rest(ed) on him’ (v2). So Christians, God’s Priests, minister before Him using the Holy Spirit which reveals the mind and will of God, like the Urim and Thummim Priests of old used. That is why Paul urges we stand firm ‘with the breastplate of righteousness in place’ (Ephesians 6:14), just like the Priests of old wore the breastpiece for decision making, on the ephod. Righteousness comes through faith in the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, who then gives us the Holy Spirit to discern what is godly. ‘Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is’ (5:v17). For ‘it is the Spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding’ (Job 32:8), and not anything else. With God’s Spirit, we make right judgements because we are confident that ‘one perfect in knowledge is with you’ (36:v4).

Those who reject Jesus or are lukewarm in their stand reject the Holy Spirit. In turn, they falter at every decision they make, like Saul did, because they do not know what God’s will is. The Urim and Thummim were just a symbol of God’s Holy Spirit to come. ‘In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:11). So, Believers, God’s Priests, are adorned with His Spirit which replaced the Urim and Thummim, and the casting of lots. Though the Holy Spirit it is not visible like the Urim and Thummim, He is just as effective and even more efficient, forwe speak not in words taught us by human wisdom but words taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to spiritual men’ (v13). In fact, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there is no mention of the Urim and Thummim, or of casting lots in the Bible. So, those who are ignorant and rebellious of God’s will use crystal stones and cast lots in hopes to determine their course. They take the way of Saul and consult spiritists, mediums, and astrologers, instead of seeking God. They ignore Jesus’ words; ‘The Spirit of truth . . . will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking what is mine and making known to you’ (John 16:13-14). So, ‘Stop judging by mere appearance and make a right judgement’ (7:v24) by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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