God continues to give Moses detailed instructions for the building of the Tabernacle and all that is involved with it. In this reading, we are told how to manufacture the priestly robes, including the breastplate of judgment, the procedure for anointing the priests, and the construction of the altar.
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I don’t know why there is so much detail in these last chapters of Exodus, but today’s reading mentions something that has been a mystery to every biblical scholar of modern times, and that mystery is: what the heck are the Urim and Tummim?
The Hebrew words mean Lights and Perfections, and there has been an on-going argument over whether they are a separate part of the breastplate or incorporated into it. There is no question that they are an essential part of receiving the divine will when matters of great importance are discussed but what are they? Are they some kind of dice? And, whatever they were, how were they utilized?
I believe that the throwing of lots had to be a binomial action, meaning when asking God to indicate his will, the questions had to be presented as a “Yes” or “No” option. There are many references in movies to seers throwing pieces of bone with letters on them and diving an answer, but I don’t think that is how the Urim and Tummim worked; however, I really can’t say anything for sure since I don’t have any idea of what they were.
Another interesting fact about the Urim and Tummim is that they seem to have been used only up to the time of David, and the only mention of them after 1 Samuel 28:6 is in Ezra, where they were used to determine the genealogy of those who couldn’t identify their families when making aliyah from Babylon to Jerusalem.
I have my own idea about the loss of these devices and will share it with you. Again, this is my thought and is not to be taken as a definitive answer to what happened to them.
I believe the use of the Urim and Tummim was rejected because the kingship decided that it was able to make its own decision. There was the king, who had advisors, the prophets and the assigned Cohen. These people seem to be the ones who decided what to do, and even though we often read of David consulting Adonai with regards to what actions he should take, we don’t really read that much after Solomon’s rule. Actually, mention of any of the later kings of either Judea or Israel even consulting God is rare. Of course, the kings of Israel wouldn’t have consulted Adonai because they worshiped the pagan gods, but I would have expected that the kings of Judea, at least those who did right in God’s eyes, would have consulted him often, but I really don’t recall a lot of references to that.
We know that under Solomon, Israel had peace and Solomon had the supernatural wisdom that God gave him, so maybe a need for the Urim and Tummim didn’t exist? After many years of not being used, their existence could have been more or less forgotten, or maybe how to use them was lost?
To me, from the time of Shaul as king, and more so down the line of kings, it seems that the prophet took precedence over the priest with regard to knowing God’s word, and since the high priest was the only one with access to the Urim and Tummim, perhaps that is what led to the loss of their use?
No one knows, and probably will never know, what the Urim and Tummim were or how they were used, or why they weren’t used (except for one mention) after David’s kingship.
The Urim and the Tummim are a mystery, and people love to solve a mystery, and when I run across a mystery within the Bible I always check to see how it stacks up to my Acid Test question, which is: “How does this affect my salvation?”
And, as far as knowing all about the Urim and Tummim, the answer is: it doesn’t. It is an interesting mystery, and since I can’t answer it, and (frankly) no one ever has, I will leave you with this reminder from Moses (Deuteronomy 29:29):
Things which are hidden belong to ADONAI our God. But the things that have been revealed belong to us and our children forever, so that we can observe all the words of this Torah.
In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff and stay focused on what matters, which is to follow the instructions God gave us.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!