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Where did the Urim and Thummim come from?

TitleWhere did the Urim and Thummim come from?
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1973
AuthorsMeservy, Keith H.
Issue Number10
Date PublishedOctober 1973
KeywordsMoses (Prophet); Urim and Thummim

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The book of Exodus mentions the Urim and Thummim. What was its place in Moses’ time? Where did it come from? Can its history and usage be traced through the rest of the Old Testament?

Keith H. Meservy: We first learn of the Urim and Thummim in Israel when it was given as a right of the priesthood to Aaron, the first high priest in the Levitical Priesthood. (Ex. 28:31; Lev. 8:8.) Part of his ministry was gaining the knowledge pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, which administered the Mosaic law. (D&C 68:14–21; D&C 84:18–27.) Kings were to submit to the counsel he received from the Lord though various means. One of the most important was the Urim and Thummim. When Moses called and set apart Joshua as his successor, the Lord instructed that Joshua should “stand before Eleazar the priest who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at his [Eleazar’s] word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he [Joshua and, impliedly, subsequent rulers] and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.” (Num. 27: 21. Italics added.)

This suggests that the Urim and Thummim was the appointed instrument through which divine revelation and decisions should be obtained.

Through its means, Saul once sought to fix guilt for an offense (1 Sam. 14:41; see the Greek and Hebrew texts); David sought divine guidance to know in advance what kinds of situations would develop (1 Sam. 23:6–13); we infer that the Urim and Thummim were in the Ephod. Saul complained that the Lord neither spoke to him nor revealed his will to him by any means, including the Urim. (1 Sam. 28:6.)

We hear nothing more of the Urim and Thummim in the history of Israel until it becomes obvious after the Babylonian captivity that the Jews no longer are in possession of it. We would take it for granted, however, that until then, righteous kings and peoples used the Urim and Thummim when they sought counsel from the Lord. It is interesting to note that if a Urim and Thummim had been available to the Jews after exile, the problem of lost genealogy could have been solved. This problem was significant for those Jews since priesthood prerogatives were based upon descent from Levi or Aaron. (Ezra 2:62–63.)

We do not know exactly when the Jews lost use of the Urim and Thummim. However, the people were rejecting the prophets in Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s time, although the Lord warned them that a time was coming when they would no longer enjoy the light of revelation. Thus one wonders if they lost the Urim and Thummim through wickedness rather than conquest or carelessness. (See Documentary History of the Church, vol. 1, pp. 21–23, for an experience of Joseph Smith. Cf. D&C 3:11; D&C 10:2.)


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