What were the Urim and Thummim? Lessons on “Inquiring of the Lord”

Posted On August 25, 2023 By Peter In

Throughout the Old Testament, there’s a constant theme about “inquiring of the Lord.” We read that Joshua “did not inquire of the Lord” with the Gibeonites (Josh.9:14) which resulted in disaster. And yet, David was constantly “inquiring” (see 1 Sam 23:4; 9, 30:8; 2 Sam.2:1; 5:23; 6:14) And why? Because God continually gave him specific strategies.

When David asked God about the Philistines, the Lord was so specific: Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees. 24 As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” 2 Sam.5:23-25

And God still wants to speak like this!

Before my wife and I planted our church, Substance, in Roseville, MN (a suburb of the Twin Cities), we had been targeting the city with prayer – asking God to make it clear if he wanted us to plant there. We hadn’t told a soul that we were considering the big move, outside of a few mentors. Yet, guess what, as we prayed and fasted, three different people had dreams that we moved to plant a church. One person even said: “I know you guys would never do this but… you moved to a Suburb called Roseville in Minneapolis to plant a church!” It was almost jaw dropping how clear God was! And God was equally clear in the Old Testament. However, God’s people had a few extra tools that I’m often asked about.

For example, in the Bible we read about all sorts of strange things: the ephod, the Urim & Thummim, not to mention, casting lots. So, what are these things, and should we still be using these things to discern God’s will?

Well, before I address the latter question, let’s start by explaining all of these strange “tools of inquiry.” And once I explain them, all sorts of passages will suddenly come alive.

The Bible teaches us that Moses “spoke to God face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exod.33:11). But after Moses, God sought to establish a tradition where God’s leaders and God’s priest would be forced to interact with one another in a healthy give and take. Thus, God created some “discernment tools” that he wanted to be built into the priestly garments. Specifically, in Exodus 28:29 the LORD
prescribed an “Ephod” – a vest-like garment that sat over the shoulders of the priest – with a breast plate on the front – filled with stones (see pic). In addition to this ephod, there were stones called the Urim and Thummim (oowe’-reem and too’meem.)[i] We don’t know exactly how they were attached to the vest. We simply know that God wanted them close to the priest’s heart. Many believe it was a pocket inside of the vest.


Now, there’s a lot of debate about what they were and how they worked. Most describe them like a magic-8-ball of sorts that gave answers to tough questions. Indeed, “casting lots” was essentially like determining the Lords will through dice-rolling – much like we do “paper-rock-scissors” – but it was for sacred things – as they believed the Lord would sovereignly control the lots as they would roll. Indeed, the Urim and Thummim were considered a “type of casting lots” (see 1 Sam.14:42). Presumably, they would ask the Lord in prayer: “Should we do [this or that]? If you want us to do [this], then light up the Urim.” Some describe them as magical stones that would light up when a question was asked (as the Hebrew word can be translated as “Lights” or “revelations”).[1] Others describe them like a type of dice that meant ‘guilty or innocent” (as Thummim means innocence, integrity or even perfection.)

But, however they worked, they were presumably helpful for tough decisions. Thus, the Lord told Moses to design the ephod in such a way where he should:  30 …put the Urim and the Thummim in the breast-piece, 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.” (Exod 28:30).

And in a similar way, after Moses and Aaron, 19 Have him [Joshua] stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. 20 Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. 21 He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord.” Num.27:19-21

And thus, King David followed suit by regularly asking his priest to: “bring the ephod” (1 Sam 23:9) which was the priestly garment that held these stones.

 But it still begs the question, How did the Urim & Thummim really work?

As an example of how this process worked, we read about Saul “inquiring of God” in 1 Sam. 14:41,

41 Then Saul prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, “Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault,[d] respond with Thummim.” Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared. 42 Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken.

43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.”

So Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now I must die!”

44 Saul said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan” (1 Sam.14:41).

Some Jewish sources claim that they were comprised of a black and white stone. And when the high-priest would put his hand into the ephod pouch, he would pull one out:  either a black stone or a white stone. Hence, he would get a binary answer: Yes or No. Hence, some postulate that, this is what God had in mind in the Book of Revelation when it says:

when God promises in, To the one who is victorious, …I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17 It is suggested that, this is a reference back to the Urim and Thummim (suggesting that Jesus, the high priest, will “affirm them“).

However, if this binary process is true, the following scripture would make no logical sense: For example, in 1 Samuel 28:6 it says, “Saul inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.” 1 Sam 28:6  I.e., if the black or white stone automatically meant, “yes” or “no” then, this ‘non-answer” would be impossible. It would be like flipping a coin and suddenly not getting either heads or tails.

Others say, the black and white stones were both Thummim, and the high priest would grab the Urim plus one Thummim (either black or white). And if the answer was truly from the Lord, the Urim would light up in some way[ii] adding a supernatural confirmation to the yes or no stone.

Yet, this approach is also problematic in the 1 Sam.14:41 passage because, Saul asked the Lord to give him either a Urim OR a Thummim. Not a Urim plus one of two Thummim.

A third theory I’ve come up with, that resolves both of these passages, is that the Urim and Thummim would each be assigned an answer, and then only one would “light up” if the Lord wanted to answer.

I say this because, all of the stones in the High Priest’s breast plate are what geologists call: “Anisotropic Stones” – which means, they are stones which glow in the presence of pure light! And this can’t be an accident.

Believe it or not, modern scientists didn’t even discover that stones could do this until 1912! A German Physicist named Max Von Laue discovered “cross-polarized light” (the closest thing to pure light). And he found that certain minerals would magically glow like a Christmas light when a certain light was present. And wouldn’t you know it: all twelve gem-stones in the high-priest’s vest are anisotropic. Indeed, God’s walled city in Revelation is made out of the same 12 stones (see Rev. 21:19-21).

Now, why is this so crazy? Well, the mere existence of the Ephod/breast-plate is nothing short of a scientific miracle from God because, anisotropic stones are somewhat rare. God had Moses make this ephod thousands of years before minerologists discovered any of this![iii] The odds of a person randomly choosing 12 ALL anisotropic stones out of the stones that were available would have roughly been 1 in 16,715!

I’m just sayin’, the Bible is filled with “hidden gems” (ba dop-bop!)

All dad-jokes aside, many believe that the Urim and Thummim were also anisotropic stones that would light up in the Presence of God. After all, “God is light” (1 Jn 1:5). And Saul’s lack of an answer would indicate that “God’s presence” had left him by this point due to his disobedience.

Again, 1 Sam.28:6 says: “Saul inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.” 1 Sam 28:6  

Naturally, this tells us that Urim weren’t the only way to inquire of the Lord. Certainly they were used as late as Ezra & Nehemiah (see Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65); yet, the prophetic seemed to be the preferred option as the Bible moved towards the Babylonial exile. Hence, King Jehoshaphat said, in 2 Kings 22:7 “But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?”

But it begs the question: Should we be looking for a Urim and Thummim? Right now, I can hear the soundtrack of Indiana Jones in my head. And it sounds like this might be another epic plot line. But, the truth is: NO. We shouldn’t be looking for them because, they are with Jesus!

Jesus is now our great high priest (Heb.4:14). And he is “the Light” (Jn 1:9) the Urim! And he is our “perfection” (Heb.4:15) the Thummim! And even if someone claimed to find them (like Joseph Smith who started the Mormons), Jesus would be the only one qualified to use them.[iv]

But what about casting lots? Should we cast lots today? After all, the Apostles used lots to pick Judas’ replacement, right? (See Acts 1:26).

Well, not so fast. Just because it was done in the New Testament doesn’t mean that it’s the model for the rest of us. It’s similar to polygamy. Just because it was done doesn’t mean we should do it. Indeed, some scholars think that, despite the Apostles pure intentions, God selected Paul to be the 12th Apostle.[v] After all, Jesus told his disciples to “wait.” And Jesus, the new high priest, showed up to him. However, I’m not sure we can definitively say what’s right either way – about casting lots that is! (I’m pretty sure polygamy is wrong haha – see 1 Timothy 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6 if you’re confused).

Keep in mind, all forms of casting lots tended to be done after God’s leaders had already consulted his Word and godly prophets. It was not used for doctrine (see Acts 15). Rather, it was a tie breaker between two “good ideas.” It was a last resort.

But rather than emulating “implicit behaviors,” it’s safer to follow explicit teachings on this. And what does the New Testament teach?  We are explicitly taught that God speaks in three ways:

Through The Bible (His Word) (see Heb.4:12; 5:11-14; 1 Tim.4:16; 2 Peter 3:16; Josh 1:8)

Through Godly Mentors (His Church) (See Heb. 13:17; 1 Cor. 15:33; Prov. 13:20) and

Through Prophetic Insights (His Spirit) (see 1 Thess. 5:19-20; 1 Cor.14:1).

Now, if you are only grounded in only one of these three, you will surely get strange and cultic! That’s why we need the tension of all three to keep us rooted in Christ.

Think of it like a Venn diagram, where these three sources of wisdom can overlap in the middle. We all prefer one type of wisdom to the exclusion of the others – as Paul addressed in (1 Thess.5:19-20). But, on big decisions, we need all of it!

Indeed, the reason why God designed his insights to flow through these three things is because, if we maintain a strong relationship with his Word, his Church, and His Spirit – we have good chances that we’re going to stay in sync with God. As Solomon put it, A cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Eccl.4:12).

And if you want extended teachings on this, check out my video messages on Hearing God’s Voice here.

But, if I was you, I’d put away my Magic 8-ball… and I’d stop looking for the Urim and Thummim as though you are Indiana Jones. Yes, it’s helpful to understand how these things worked in the Old Testament. But today, I would rather you devote yourself to memorizing scripture, seeking Godly mentors, and learning to listen to God in prayer. And don’t just choose one of them: Choose ALL of them. And I assure you, you are going to experience a lot of miracles too!


For Further Research:  See “The Urim and Thummim” Jacob Migrom or “The JPS Commentary: Numbers” Nahum M. Sarna (ed.), (Philidephia and New York, 1990) p 484-486


[1] in the Talmud, (Yoma 73b), Rabbis suggested this illumination.

[i] Some translate Urim as “lights, or illumination/revelation” and Thummim as “perfection or integrity.” Ultimately, the etymology of these words is unknown. But these translations are often used as hints regarding how they worked: Perhaps the Urim spoke to yes/no, or Thummim to morally right vs. wrong? Sometimes you’ll hear Rabbis refer to them as Urim Ve-Thummim (pronounced “vay”) as the Hebrew letter/word “Va” means “and.”

[ii] For more, see: https://youtu.be/lk9_TMimHaM?si=YzGoDrjX97s8b_VV

[iii] For details See: https://www.christianevidence.net/2018/09/the-12-foundation-stones-in-new.html

[iv] Ironically, the Latter Day Saints believe that their founder, Joseph Smith, “rediscovered” the Urim and Thummim as “spectacles” – in New York of all places – along with golden plates covered in a foreign language. And from all this, he used them (plus a “seer stone”) to translate these new scriptures into the Book of Mormon. https://www.ldsliving.com/10-things-we-know-about-the-urim-and-thummim/s/90115  Indeed, many Mormons believe that he found the original Urim and Thummim from the Bible. (sigh). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urim_and_Thummim_(Latter_Day_Saints)

The current whereabouts of these spectacles and plates are “unknown” as the Angel Moroni conveniently took them (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:, p. 225). https://askgramps.org/what-happened-to-the-urim-and-thummim-after-the-book-of-mormon-was-translated/

Obviously, I don’t believe God needs us to listen to “new gospels” from angels nor rediscover Old Testament stones – as the Bible directly warned us (Joseph Smith included),  “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” Galatians 1:8. So, the Bible is quite clear: Don’t be listening to unique angels or taking Jesus’ stones.

[v] https://www.gotquestions.org/Matthias-Judas-Paul.html

Or see: https://jesusalive.cc/paul-the-twelfth-disciple/


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