Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Urim and Thummim: Breastpiece of Decision

In the previous post, we were looking at the construction of the breastpiece of the High Priest.  For details of how it was to be made, read  the posts on Exodus 28:15-21 and Exodus 28:22-30.  After studying Exodus 28:15-30 carefully, we had a fairly clear idea of the appearance of this breastpiece.  Now, in this post, we will deal with several questions which probably arose in your mind, as they did in mine:

What was this breastpiece of decision and what were the Urim and Thummim?

Let me take these questions one at a time.

Obviously, the breastpiece of decision had something to do with, well, making decisions.  Not 'what-should-I-have-for-breakfast' types of decisions, but instead, decisions which had to do with what God wanted the people of Israel to do as a nation.  Otherwise, the high priest, who represented the nation, wouldn't have had to have one.

What I usually do when there is a subject in the Bible which I don't fully understand, is to look at all of the passages in the Bible which speak about that subject.  Now, you could do that several ways, like reading through the whole Bible and listing the passages which speak of the matter, and then studying them to get the full picture.  However, a quicker way to do that is to look up the subject in a concordance, where all of the references for passages which contain that particular word/subject are listed.  Then you can look each reference up in the Bible.  You don't have a concordance?  Don't worry, there are concordances online which can be freely used.  You  may also be able to use one at a library, if they have one.

Another Bible study help is a commentary.  Commentaries contain just that:  comments upon a particular word or passage or concept.  Use a variety of them, as many as you can find.  I have found that most will have some nugget of information which you can use.  Many will also give you an outline of each book of the Bible, its historical background, and helpful maps and drawings or pictures.  Recognize that the writers are also fellow humans, and thus, can make errors or come to wrong conclusions.  I compare what they write with the Bible, to see if what they say rings true.  Remember that only the Bible is the source which is always true.

Now, back to our study.  Let's look at some of the Bible passages which speak about the breastpiece.  Most of the references to the breastpiece seem to be in the books of Exodus and Leviticus.  Check it out:

Exodus 25:7

Leviticus  8:8

Most of the references above are regarding the construction of the breastpiece or how it was placed in relation to the high priest's outfit.  The highlighted references above may yield some other facts, so let's take a look at them more closely:

Exodus 28:15  "Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions -- the work of a skilled craftsman.  Make it like the ephod:  of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen."

[As we already noted, this breastpiece was somehow to be used in making decisions for the nation.]

Exodus 28:28-30  "The rings of the breastpiece are to be tied to the rings of the ephod with blue cord, connecting it to the waistband, so that the breastpiece will not swing out from the ephod.  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.  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 means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD."
[There was great care taken to fasten the breastpiece securely to the ephod so that it was not left swinging about in an undignified manner.  Aaron bore the names of the tribes of Israel over his heart.  The Urim and Thummim were put into the breastpiece, so that Aaron would always have the means of making decisions for the Israelites.]

The NIV Study Bible comments on this verse noted that "...the Hebrew for the phrase 'Urim and Thummim' probably means 'the curses and perfections'...Urim begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and Thummim begins with the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  They were sacred lots and were often used in times of crisis to determine the will of God (see Numbers 27:21).  It has been suggested that if Urim (curses) dominated when the lots were cast the answer was "no," but if Thummim (perfections) dominated it was "yes."  In any event, their "every decision" was "from the LORD" (Proverbs 16:33)."

I must confess that I find this method of decision-making a bit odd.  It seems that it was only used in a crisis situation, though, so perhaps it was done this way so that the people would not have to worry if the decisions being made were just coming from out of the high priest's own mind and not from God.  Or perhaps it underlined the fact that they were relying upon the LORD for direction in the crisis.

Leviticus 8:8   "He placed the breastpiece on him and put the Urim and Thummim in the breastpiece."
[This was part of an account where Moses was ordaining Aaron and his sons as priests of the LORD.]

Here are some verses where the the Urim and Thummim, or just the Urim, are mentioned.  There are not a lot of such verses, but perhaps they can shed some light upon how they were used or in what kinds of circumstances they were employed:

Exodus 28:30
Leviticus 8:8
Numbers 27:21
Deuteronomy 33:8
I Samuel 28:6
Ezra 2:63
Nehemiah 7:65

Some verses where King David called for "the ephod," [which implied the accompanying articles of the high priest's garment, including the breastpiece, which held the Urim and Thummim] are as follows:

I Samuel 23:9-12
I Samuel 30:7-8

That is all that I know at this time regarding the Urim and Thummim.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

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