BIBLE STUDY SERIES #176, 177 and 178

2 April, 1995


By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

We have, during the present series of Bible Studies, been drawing our focus to the Great Plan which The Almighty God has instituted for the reconstitution of His Creation to accordance with His will. In order to accomplish this, we have followed the Biblical account, verse by verse, from the Call of Abram in Genesis 12, to the Exodus and arrival at the foot of Mount Sinai in Exodus 28, where we are presently viewing, in our imagination, the work of God's servant, Moses, as he receives instruction regarding the organization and design of the nation of Israel and its pattern of worship of the Only true God.

My normal practice is to read consecutive portions of Scripture, relating these to other parts of God's Holy Word. I normally insert comments, either of my own, or from recognized and authoritative sources. On our last programme, we were discussing the subject of those mysterious and wonderful guides and means of conveyance of God's intentions which were associated with the Breastplate of the High Priest of Israel, and which, in Scripture, are known by the names "Urim and Thummim."

Today, we are continuing to meditate upon the Scripture portion which is found in Exodus 28:30, and which states:

30. And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goeth in before the LORD: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually.

There is a book written by E. Raymond Capt, entitled "The Gem Stones In The Breastplate." In this small book, Mr. Capt outlines generally the same ground which we have recently been covering from other commentaries and references. It is a useful book, however as Raymond Capt has a background in geology as well as being an archaeologist. He basically agrees with what we have covered in the past studies., but he goes on to add material on the Urim and Thummim in an Appendix to this work, and I would like to take time today, in order to read some of that portion from his book, at least as far as our time permits us to do so in this present talk. He writes:

"The 'Urim and Thummim' were something pertaining to the Breastplate of the High Priest. The literal signification of these names is 'Lights' and 'Perfections.' Unfortunately, the Scriptures gives no account of them and only briefly mentions them. No directions are given to Moses relative to the making of the Urim and Thummim, while the other parts of the dress of the High Priest are described in minute detail. Until such time as additional information is forthcoming, it is impossible to determine exactly what they were. This condition has given rise to a great variety of conjectures.

Moses seems to allude to the Urim and Thummim as things well known to the Israelites, therefore needing no description. It seems that the Urim and Thummim (were) with the rest of the pontifical garments, but were of antiquity and had been in use among the patriarchs. Some authorities have suggested the words 'Urim and Thummim' (lights and perfections) were engraved on a golden plate and put into the Breastplate, which was double. Another thought is that they were engraved on the Breastplate itself, to signify illumination of doctrine and integrity of life. These were the qualities required in the High Priest, who was pastor, teacher and prince.

The Vulgate Bible Text seems to take this same view, for in Ezra 2:63, where the Hebrew Text reads, 'Till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim,' the Vulgate renders, 'Till there stand up a priest learned and perfect.' (Sacerdos doctus atque perfectus) And in Ecclesiasticus 45:10, where the Hebrew Text reads of Aaron, that he had 'the breastplate of judgment with Urim and Thummim;' the Vulgate reads concerning him, as of 'a wise man endued with judgment and truth.' (Viri sapientis, judicio et veritate praediti - vs. 12)

Another opinion is that the Urim and Thummim were two little images or 'teraphim,' which were put into the doubling of the Breastplate, as into a purse, and which gave answer by an articulate voice to the questions of the High Priest. But this idea (is) closely akin to the heathen oracles and (is) so contrary to the general tenor of the Scriptures, that it cannot be seriously considered. But, however obscure may be the question of what Urim and Thummim were, we are informed by Scripture of their use. This was to inquire of God, and receive an oracular answer of His will by them. An example is found in Numbers 27:21, that Eleazar the priest should ask counsel for Joshua, 'after the judgment of Urim before the Lord.'

The manner of consulting the Lord by Urim and Thummim, and the method by which the answer was returned, is not explained in the Scriptures. Rabbinical tradition suggests that the manner of inquiring was as follows: The priest put on his robes. Then he went not into the sanctuary, (where he could go but once a year) but into the sanctum, or holy place, and stood before the curtain or veil, that divided the sanctuary from the sanctum. There he stood upright, facing towards the Ark of the covenant; behind him, stood the person for whom he inquired, ...right in line with the priest, facing the back of the latter, but outside the sanctum.

Then the priest inquired of God concerning the matter required, in a low voice, like one praying half audibly. Keeping his eyes upon the Urim and Thummim, the priest received the answer to his question. Some scholars believe it was not lawful for private individuals to make such inquiries only the king could do so or a person on whom the affairs of the congregation lay. With respect to the manner in which the answer was returned, some Christian commentators believe that when the High Priest inquired of the Lord, standing in his robes before the veil, that an audible answer was returned within.

Rabbinical tradition suggests that the answer was given by certain letters engraved on the stones in the Breastplate becoming prominently lustrous, in proper order, so as to be read by the High Priest into words. for instance; when David inquired of God whether he should go up to one of the cities of Judah (II Sam. 2:1) the answer was 'go up,' alah, the letters... became in order prominently lustrous, and thus formed the word. One objection to this theory is that the names of the twelve tribes engraved on the stones did not contain all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and consequently were not adapted to answer every question. Also, the Rabbinical tradition is contrary to the statement made in Lev. 8:8, that the Urim and Thummim were placed within the Breastplate.

Probably one of the best known writers on the subject of Urim and Thummim is Josephus. (Antiquities Book III, viii p. 9) He connects the Urim and Thummim with the two stones on the shoulder-straps of the Ephod worn by the High Priest. He also says 'the one of them shined out when God was present in their sacrifices,' and in a footnote (in the popular English edition) we read: 'These answers by the oracle of Urim and Thummim...denote nothing further, that I see, but the shining stones themselves, which were used, in this method of illumination, in revealing the will of God... These answers were not made by the shining of the precious stones, after an awkward manner...but rather by an audible voice from the mercy seat.'

Josephus further says: 'Now this Breastplate, and this Sardonyx left off shining two hundred years before I composed this book.' From this remark, it would appear that there was a Breastplate in existence after the Babylonian Captivity. If so, it was most likely a copy, and the stones were not necessarily all the same or in the same order as the original. This would account for the differences which appear in the Septuagint Text. However, it should be pointed out that Josephus' statement(s) are not supported by Scripture, but are purely legendary.

It should also be noted that Josephus' statement is sufficiently contradicted by Ezra 2:63, where the governor of Jerusalem, refused to allow certain men to eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim, to decide whether they were or were not priests. Neither the Breastplate, nor the Urim and Thummim are mentioned again in the Scriptures.

There are many and varied conclusions arrived at by different writers as to the nature of the Urim and Thummim. But they nearly all have no Scriptural authority, or fall in the category of 'witch-craft (I Sam. 15:23) and teraphim,' or 'familiar spirits, and the wizards and the images.(') (II Kings 23:24) However, a suggestion put forth in the 'Jewish Encyclopedia' may supply us with a plausible explanation. The Urim and Thummim may be in the form of sacred dice. This view is upheld by Hasting's 'Dictionary of the Bible' which claims that the Urim and Thummim were two stones, used by the priest casting lots.

As our time is drawing to a close, I shall postpone the reading of the concluding portion of that quotation until our next programme when we shall continue our examination of this topic, namely, the provision, at various times in Israel's history, of God's directions to its leadership through such means as are described in our present study. May I, in closing, leave with you the thought that we ought, perhaps more than at any time in the past, to be praying that our leaders will humble their pride, and seek and accept the directions of The Almighty God for the nations of His people; not by the old means, perhaps, but through the same attitudes of humility of heart and repentant spirits. Lacking that guidance, they are sure to make terrible and costly mistakes.

9 April, 1995


By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

We began this continuing weekly series of Bible Studies on God's Great Plan, for the re-constitution of the Creation several years ago, with the Call of Abram, as recounted in Genesis 12. We have taken the story as the Scriptures tell it, and given connected comments as and when these seemed appropriate.

We followed the descent of Abraham's line, selected by God for special service, through Isaac and Jacob to the developments which unfolded as his twelve sons each became head over a tribe, and this whole family moved to Egypt to escape a famine and later fell under bondage from which The Almighty provided a way of escape through the miracles of the Exodus.

Now we have reached Exodus 28 and we are presently examining the wardrobe of the High Priest in Israel, as it is being explained and described by The Almighty to Moses on Mount Sinai while the gathered tribes of Israel, encamp below, to await the outcome of this divine revelation.

On the last two programmes we have been considering the High Priest's Breastplate with its gem stones, and the contained Urim and Thummim whereby God's will is to be divined. This was apparently to occur by a process which involves the casting of lots to arrive at a "Yes" or "No" reply, with the option of a "No Answer" return under certain circumstances.

Most recently, I have been reading from the small book by E. Raymond Capt entitled "The Gem Stones In The Breastplate" and today I wish to continue to develop information by readings from the remaining portions of that work. Mr. Capt explains:

"The ancient Hebrews recognized three principle means whereby the Divine Will might be revealed to men. These three channels are noted 'When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.' (I Sam. 28:6) I Sam. 24:41 (Septuagint) exhibits the most explicit 'modus operandi.' It reads as follows: 'And Saul said, Lord God of Israel, why hast thou not answered Thy servant this day? If this iniquity be in me, or in my son Jonathan, Lord God of Israel, give Urim, but if it be in Thy people Israel, give Thummim. Then Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot.'

From what Saul said it appears that the Urim and Thummim were a means of casting lots, thereby discovering the guilt or the innocence of the suspected one. We can draw four deductions from Saul's request: (1) Urim and Thummim were the recognized media for discerning guilt. (2) That one question was answered at a time. (3) That it was agreed beforehand the way the lot was to be interpreted. (4) That the casting the lot was the prerogative of the priest.

We have scriptural support for assuming the Urim and Thummim were two stones used for casting lots. The Greek translators sometimes rendered 'Urim' by the adjective 'deloi,' intending the reader to mentally supply the word 'stones.' (lithoi) And the Hebrew word for 'lot' (goral) originally signified a stone or pebble, which is also inferred from the Arabic root. The placing of the stones in the pouch or bosom folds of the upper garment of the High Priest is indicated in Prov. 16:33: 'The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.'

We find confirmation of the conclusion that Urim and Thummim were two stones (or dice) in the nature of the reply obtained when the stones were used. A careful study of each passage of Scripture in which reference is made to: (')inquiry of the Lord,' will reveal that a simple answer of 'Yes' or 'No' will fit each case - an answer that two stones would be well fitted to give - if the question were tailored to take a 'Yes' or 'No' answer."

Mr. Capt then provides a plausible sequence of questions whereby the Biblically recorded results of certain appeals to God for His direction might have been obtained through such an arrangement. This sequence, as presented by Mr. Capt, reads as follows in regard to the incidents recorded in Judges 1:1-2 as the children of Israel, after the death of Joshua, requested directions regarding the continuing conquest of Canaan:

"(1) Question: Judges 1:1: 'Who shall go up?'
Answer: Judges 1:2: 'The Lord said, Judah.'
Analysis: Taking each tribe separately in order - 'Shall Judah go up?' Answer, Yes or No. (The answer was Yes)"

Mr. Capt then turns to examine the sequence found in Judges 20:23, at which time there occurred a fratricidal war against the Tribe of Benjamin for harbouring evildoers who were of their tribe. The first onslaught had failed, and the rest of the children of Israel were naturally doubtful regarding their course of further action. This is a possible sequence of questions and answers as he envisions the matter:

"(2) Question: Judges 20:23: 'Shall I go up again?'
Answer: Judges 20:23: 'And the Lord said, go up.'
Analysis: 'Shall I go up again?' Answer, Yes or No. (The answer was Yes)"

Having further losses, they again asked directions in Judges 20:28, and were told that the third time they would be successful. Mr. Capt relates the probable sequence thus:

"(3) Question: Judges 20:28: 'Shall I yet again go out or shall I cease?'
Answer: Judges 20:28: 'And the Lord said, Go up,...'
Analysis: 'Shall I yet again go out?' Answer, Yes or No. (The answer was Yes)"

In regard to the occurrence found in I Samuel 10, at which time The LORD confirmed His choice from among the tribes, of the Benjamite, Saul, the man who was to become the first King over Israel, the sequence of questions proposed is this:

"(4) Question: I Sam. 10:20: '...the tribe of Benjamin was taken.'
Analysis: The name of each tribe was probably submitted in order, e.g. 'Is Thy choice this tribe (Judah)?' Answer, 'No.' 'Is it this tribe (Benjamin)?' Answer 'Yes.' 'And the tribe of Benjamin was taken.'"

As Saul was not present, the process continued, and might have been done in this manner:

"(5) Question: I Sam. 10:22: 'Therefore they enquired of the Lord further, if the man should yet come thither.'
Answer: I Sam. 10:22: 'The Lord answered, He hath hid himself.'
Analysis: 'Will the man come thither?' The answer being 'Yes.' Probably the words, 'He hath hid himself,' were inserted as an explanation of their difficulty in finding Saul. It might be read as 'He had hid himself.'"

Mr. Capt continues: "From the above analysis of the Scripture usage of the 'Urim' and 'Thummim' a reasonable conclusion is that they were:

(1) Instruments ordained of God.
(2) Kept within a pouch, or in the folded material of the Breastplate.
(3) Worn and used by the High Priest alone, when clothed with the sacred Ephod.
(4) The recognized media for judicial inquiry of God, to ascertain His will and guidance.
(5) A means for casting 'lots' whereby simple replies were received in answer to questions submitted by the priest.
(6) Symbolized 'divine light and perfection,' reminding the priest of the character of God who gave perfect 'judgment, truth, and instruction.'
(7) A method of inquiry of God which ceased before the return of the Judeans from captivity in Babylon.

We can further postulate that Urim and Thummim were two stones engraved with some symbol that was regarded as the 'yea' and the other as 'nay.' They could have revealed God's choice of answer by the chosen stone reflecting the light and glory of the Shekinah. (manifestation of the presence of God) It is possible they were engraved with the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which constituted a synonym for God Himself. 'Aleph' is the initial letter of the word 'Urim,' and is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 'Tau' is the initial letter of 'Thummim,' and is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It seems logical to conclude that one stone (Urim) with its Aleph came to mean 'yes,' and the second stone (Thummim) with its Tau came to mean 'no.'

In the Old Testament, God is represented under the synonym of 'Aleph' and 'Tau,' the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, signifying that He is the beginning and the ending of all things. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the New Testament, designated Himself (in Rev. 22:13) as 'Alpha and Omega,' the 'beginning and the end, the first and the last.'

Urim and Thummim, along with the golden Ark of the Covenant with its sacred contents, disappeared when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple and sacked Jerusalem. It is not unreasonable to believe that someday they may be rediscovered, thereby adding their testimony to the cuneiform tablets of ancient writers (hidden and preserved through many centuries, to be discovered and deciphered by men of modern times) proving that our Bible is what it claims to be, a revelation - inspired of God."

That is the end of the excerpt from the book written by Mr. Raymond Capt. I realise that it was a long quotation, but it is all, I believe pertinent to our study of the meaning of the Urim and Thummim.

Next week we shall continue with these studies on further robes of the High Priest. Do keep in mind throughout this study that each High Priest in Israel was, through the generations of the Old Testament, providing a sort of teaching aid, an enactment if you will, of the work which was to be undertaken, indeed could only be undertaken in its full and meaning-filled measure, by The Lord Jesus Christ. Everything connected with the High Priest's robes, equipment and activities was designed to explain the great truths regarding the magnificent rescue of His people by Christ at the time appointed in history for that to take place. As Christians, we are attempting to grasp some of the deeper truths which will enhance our appreciation of the great gift which He has offered to His people. We do this in the expectation that such realization will provide not only insight but loving devotion and appreciation of that which was performed so long ago, and which continues now and for all time in its effectual provision of Redemption of Israel and Salvation for all whom the Holy Spirit shall call. May this thought enlarge our appreciation of His great gift to ourselves at the present time.

16 April, 1995


By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

This series of Bible Studies is designed to further our understanding of the Great Plan of The Almighty God for the renewal of His Creation. We began with the Call of Abram and traced the line of descent through the Patriarchs, Isaac, Jacob (Israel), and Jacob's sons, the Patriarchal heads of the Tribes of Israel through whom God was to work in bringing to pass that mighty plan. Through this work, He was bringing Redemption to Israel herself and Salvation to all whom the Holy Spirit calls. We, today, have a planned part in this whole design, and so it ought to be of great interest to us to see how that plan was instituted and how it unfolds through history to the present hour and into the future.

We began with Genesis 12, the Call of Abram, and we have now arrived at Exodus 28, wherein Moses is receiving the design of the garments of the High Priest. All the robes and insignia worn by the High Priest will have immense symbolic meaning, and all should be carefully studied by those who are to inherit the benefits of God's mercy.

Our studies have recently centred upon the High Priest's Breastplate, and now we must look again at the clothing which supported this gem-studded regalia. A. Widdison, in his "Outlines of Lectures on the Tabernacle in the Wilderness" gives brief notes on that Breastplate. He says: "This word is never used again. Same materials, four square, doubled. Within, the Urim and Thummim were placed. On the Shoulder Stones were inscribed the names of the tribes of Israel in order of their BIRTH- a collective thought. On Breastplate in order of the Camp- an individual thought. The Rings speak of divine favour; the Chain of Gold of divine links of power; the RIBBAND OF BLUE of divine grace and heavenly ties.

Twelve Stones- ALL Israel represented there. Young, old; strongest, weakest; and thus worn continually on Aaron's heart. The names were engraved on costly jewels, deeply cut. No two stones were alike, yet all were most precious. They were different in colour, brilliancy, form and origin. They were gathered from different sources. It is said the white agate came from Sicily; the green jaspar from Greece; the yellow topaz from the Red Sea; the blue Jacinth from India; the crimson sardius from Babylon. All different but alike precious. So with His saints. The casing of Gold secured and rendered falling out impossible."

Perhaps, before we continue, we ought to insert a final thought regarding the Urim and Thummim which is found in Keil and Delitzsch. They point out that these were to bring the right of the children of Israel before the Lord, and that the breastplate was called "breastplate of righteousness" because the Urim and Thummim were in it. They further add "The Urim and Thummim are to be regarded as a certain medium, given by the Lord to His people, through which, whenever the congregation required divine illumination to guide its actions, that illumination was guaranteed, and by means of which the rights of Israel, when called in question or endangered, were to be restored, and that this medium was bound up with the official dress of the high priest, though its precise character can no longer be determined. Consequently the Urim and Thummim did not represent the illumination and right of Israel, but were merely a promise of these, a pledge that the Lord would maintain the rights of His people, and give them through the high priest the illumination requisite for their protection." We now pick up the further verses of our present Scripture passage at Exodus 28:31.

31. And thou shalt make the robe of the ephod all of blue.
32. And there shall be an hole in the top of it, in the midst thereof: it shall have a binding of woven work round about the hole of it, as it were the hole of an habergeon, that it be not rent.

For those who do not have a dictionary handy, the definition of an habergeon is "a piece of armour to defend the neck and breast." Continuing:

33. And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about:
34. A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about.
35. And it shall be upon Aaron to minister: and his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the LORD, and when he cometh out, that he die not.

The particular inclusion of bells on the hem of the robe is considered in The New Bible Commentary (Revised) thus "The sound of the bells was an announcement of the continuation of the ministry of intercession." Of the words "Lest he die" it says "holy things are to be handled with due reverence and obedience." However there might be an added consideration. Lacking these bells, those awaiting the re-emergence of an elderly High Priest from beyond the veil would not have any means of certainly determining if he had perhaps expired during an uncomfortably long period of silence. This doubt was eliminated by the bells as the continuing sound within would offer reassuring evidence of movement to those outside the veil.

A note on the ephod in The Companion Bible points out that the word comes from Hebrew 'aphad, to bind on, because it held the breastplate in its place. It adds that an ephod was worn by Aaron the priest, by Samuel the prophet in I Samuel 2:18, and by David the king in II Samuel 6:14. It further points out that Christ combined all three offices. However The New Bible Dictionary, under the entry "Dress" says that the ephods worn by Samuel and by David in the above references must be distinguished from the ephod of the High Priest, as those were simple linen ephods while that of the High Priest was "made of costly material (byssus - ses), worked with gold, purple, scarlet or the like." The materials used to create the ephod, as we saw listed in verse 8, are gold, blue, purple, scarlet and fine twined linen, and The Companion Bible notes that, once more, as with other aspects of the Tabernacle, they number five, the number which represents Grace.

Regarding the Ephod, there are, of course, many sources to which we might have recourse. The New Bible Commentary, in describing the ephod of verse 6, says "The outer garment, the chief purpose of which was to carry the stones of memorial and the breastplate, was of the same material as the inner covering and the vail of the tabernacle, with the addition of gold thread... The functions of the High Priest and of the tabernacle itself were thus intimately connected. The ephod seems to have been a short garment, perhaps no lower than the waist. It was joined only at the shoulders (7), leaving the two sides open, but held together by an embroidered girdle which was of one piece with the ephod (8)."

A. Widdison, in his "Outlines of Lectures on the Tabernacle in the Wilderness" says The Ephod "was the Garment par excellence. Same materials as the curtains and doors of Tabernacle with the addition of Gold. Gold beaten into wires, and woven among the other materials. Gold first, emphasises divine glory; and the wires, almighty strength. The Doors set forth divine grace; the Garments, divine glory. His Priesthood is based upon His Sonship.

Keil and Delitzsch note that, while the ephod was of the same materials as the inner drapery and curtains of the tabernacle "instead of having the figures of cherubim woven into it, it was to be worked throughout with gold i.e. with gold thread."

Of the Robe of the Ephod, A. Widdison, in his "Outlines", begins by stressing that it was wholly of blue. He continues: "It sets forth the heavenly character of Christ's Priesthood." Mentioning that this is the first use of the word 'robe', he continues: "We infer from later use of word that it was a robe of special dignity - a robe of office, which gave a princely character to the High Priest. All blue, seems thus to typify our great High Priest whose Name is Prince of Peace; Lord of Peace. His Priesthood is of the order of Melchisedec, a Royal Priesthood. It was of one piece, woven from top throughout, a seemless robe."

He notes of the Hole of an habergeon, as in breastplate of armour, "Could not be 'rent'", saying that it "Speaks of strong, unchangeable love of Christ. Of the Pomegranates and Bells, he says: "A fruit packed with the seeds of productive power. His work for us in the Sanctuary concerns our walk and fruitfulness. Every movement of the priest brought forth the music of the bells."

We of the British-Israel-World Federation are conscious of the identity of the modern Anglo-Celto-Saxon world as descendants of those ancient tribes of Israel which were deported by Assyria before 700 B.C., and thus anything which explains the symbolism of Israel's High Priestly garments in ancient times ought to be of interest to such people today, and this is especially so when we realise that the High Priest in ancient Israel was set, in regard to both clothing and ceremony, as a sort of teaching aid for later generations regarding the work and person of The Lord Jesus Christ.

We can see the habergeon of the High Priest's blue robe as representative of the seamless robe worn by Our Lord to His Crucifixion. John 19:23-24 says "Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout." The meaning of the blue colour of the robe is revealed in Numbers 15:38-40, which says:

38. Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:
39. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring:
40. That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.

May we, the modern day descendants of Israel, look to the fulfilment which was carried out by Jesus Christ at The Crucifixion, and may we join ourselves in heart to Him as we continue to contemplate His great gift to us, and to meditate thereon.