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 Vol. 6, No. 6 

June 2004

~ Page 15 ~

The Urim and the Thummim

By Hugo McCord

Image A question has come about the meaning of two Hebrew words found in our English versions (KJV, ASV, NASB, NEB, NRSV, NIV) left untranslated: "the Urim and the Thummim" (Exodus 28:30).

God had commanded Moses to "make a breast-plate of judgment, the work of the skilful workman . . . of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen . . . a span [9 inches, Webster] will be the length thereof, and a span will be the breadth thereof. And you will set in it settings of stones, four rows of stones: a row of sardius [ruby], topaz, and carbuncle [emerald] shall be the first row; and the second row an emerald [carbuncle], a sapphire, and a diamond [sardonyx]; and the third row a jacinth [amber] and agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl [chalcedony], and an onyx [beryl], and a jasper; they will be inclosed in gold in their settings. And the stones will be according to the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names" (Exodus 28:15-21). "And you will put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim [the Lights and the Perfections]; and they will be upon Aaron's heart, when he goes in before Jehovah [Yahweh]; and Aaron will bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before Jehovah [Yahweh] continually" (Exodus 28:30).

There was "something in the high priest's breastplate that gave an oracular response" (Robert Young, Analytical Concordance, p. 1018). An "oracle" was "the word of God" (2 Samuel 16:23; Romans 3:2; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11).

"It was a matter of dispute" among Jewish scholars what the Urim and the Thummim were (Wilhelm Gesenius, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, p. 24). Some said that the Urim and the Thummim were themselves two precious stones, one is embarrassed when asked how such stones could find a place in the 9 inch squared breastplate, already filled with twelve stones. Furthermore, no precious stones have the names "the Urim and the Thummim," meaning "the lights and the perfections."

On the other hand, the Jewish scholar Josephus wrote that "God declared beforehand by those twelve stones. . . when they [the twelve tribes] should be victorious in battle, for so great a splendor shown forth from them . . . that all the people were sensible of God's being present" (Antiquities, III, pp. 8-9). If Josephus was correct, then one could say that God's Word to the high priest meant lights and perfections, a miraculous splendor to encourage Israel going into battle.Image

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