The Ancient Scriptures and the Modern Jew/Appendix I
|The Ancient Scriptures and the Modern Jew by
THE URIM AND THUMMIM
NOTE TO CHAPTER I., PAGE 26.
ALL that has been written on the subject, from Philo and Josephus down to this day, is more or less conjectural and much of it pure fancy. Apart from the views quoted below, it has been maintained by some that the response to an appeal to the Urim and Thummim was given by an audible voice to the high priest arrayed in full pontificals, and standing in the holy place with his face turned towards the ark; while some commentators have given it as their opinion that the Urim and Thummim were two small oracular images which were placed in the cavity or pouch formed by the folds of the breastplate and which uttered oracles by a voice—a view most objectionable, and altogether abhorrent to the spirit of Scripture.
The most thorough handling of this difficult subject is that by a Hebrew Christian brother,1 which I reproduce. It gathers up the Jewish and Rabbinic views and may be taken as the most probable explanation.
The white linen habiliments of the priests signified purity and sanctity. They consisted of a coat, a girdle, and bonnet, and were common to priest and high priest, as described in Exod. xxviii. 40-43. There were several other garments peculiar to the high priest, when engaged in his holy office, especially when he had to enter into the Most Holy, on the Day of Atonement. Some of these glorious and significant garments deserve particular notice and attention. The high priest first put on a long robe, which was called "the Robe of the Ephod," or Meeil.
1 Benjamin Weiss in his book, "A Christian Jew on the Old Testament."
pieces sewed together; it was woven throughout (Exod. xxxix. 31, 32). It had apertures left for the neck and for the hands. Such seems to have been the coat of our Saviour for which the soldiers cast lots (see John xix. 23, 24). At the bottom of this garment were fringes like the pomegranates of blue, of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof. Between every two pomegranates a golden bell was fastened; so that between every two bells there was a pomegranate, and between every two pomegranates a bell. This long and curious robe was tied round about with a girdle, which was woven and embroidered with the same colours as those of the robe. The reason for putting bells on the hem of this robe is given in the following words: "And his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the sanctuary before the Lord, and when he cometh out, that he die not" (Exod. xxviii. 35). This makes it evident that the sound of the bells was intended to impress upon the Israelites who stood in the outer court when the high priest entered the Most Holy, the awful holiness of that place, and to show unto them the shortness of time which the mortal high priest was allowed to remain in the presence of the Shechinah. Otherwise we can give no explanation why the sound was to be heard, "when he goeth in unto the sanctuary before the Lord, and when he cometh out, that he die not."
Over the long garment described above the high priest put on another short coat, called "Ephod." This was woven of blue, of purple, of scarlet, and of fine twined linen, and woven with gold threads, and curiously embroidered. It covered his front from his neck unto his girdle, where it was tied round about with a girdle of the same materials, and of the same workmanship. It had also two shoulder-pieces, which were to be joined behind, with two precious buttons. These two buttons were made of two onyx stones, set in sockets of gold. On these two precious stones the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were engraven—six names on each of them, according to the birth of Jacob's twelve sons. See Exod. xxviii. 6-12. In the 12th verse we read, "And thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulders of the ephod, for stones of memorial unto the children of Israel; and Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord, upon his two shoulders, for a memorial." An express intimation was thus made unto Israel that they could not stand before the holy Jehovah in themselves. They required a Mediator to carry them, to atone for them, and to reconcile them to the Holy One of Israel. But even the high priest himself (type as well as antitype) could not appear with their names, to reconcile them to God, without the blood of atonement. In the above-described ephod there was left a square aperture over the breast. Into this aperture was placed a most wonderful piece of ornament.
This ornament was the Choshen Mishpat, "the breastplate of judgment," which, according to the description in Exodus, was made as follows: Its materials were the same as those of the ephod, and were wrought with cunning work. It was made four-square and doubled. It was a span in length and a span in breadth. This breastplate filled up exactly the aperture left in the ephod and was fastened to it by golden rings and chains above, and by the girdle of the ephod below. Into the front of this breastplate four rows of precious stones were inserted; each of these rows had three different stones, making twelve in all, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. On these stones the twelve names of the tribes of Israel were graven, one name upon each stone. Thus one had the name "Reuben" on it, in Hebrew letters, another "Simeon," a third, "Levi," and so on. The four rows of precious stones were set in pouches of gold, and so fastened that they could not fall out.
In Exod. xxviii., from verse 15 to 28, a minute description is given of this breastplate, and also of the stones and their different names. In the 29th verse we have the reason given for which that glorious ornament was made. "And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel, in the breastplate of judgment, upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the sanctuary, for a memorial before the Lord continually." The expression "Aaron shall bear the names of Israel upon his breast before the Lord," is exactly the same with the reason given in the 12th verse, concerning the two stones of the ephod "And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord, upon his two shoulders, for a memorial."
So we see clearly that both the two stones of the ephod, with the names of the tribes of Israel on them, and the twelve stones of the breastplate with the same names, served the selfsame purpose, namely, that Aaron might bear the names of Israel as a memorial before the Lord.
Now there remains one thing to be considered. It is this. Why was this ornament, with the twelve precious stones, called Choshen Mishpat, "the breastplate of judgment," while the two stones of the ephod, which had also the twelve names of the tribes of Israel engraven on them, and which had seemingly the same signification as the twelve stones of the breastplate, were called only Avneh Sicharon, "stones of memorial," and not "stones of judgment"? This question will be answered when we read Exod. xxviii. 30 "And thou shalt put into 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." From this verse we draw the following conclusions: 1st. The breastplate, without the Urim and Thummim within it, had the same signification as the two stones of the ephod. So these twelve stones could also have been called Avneh Sicharon, "stones of memorial," as the some signification is ascribed to both. In verse 12 we are told that the two stones of the ephod were for a memorial, and in verse 29 we are told that the twelve stones of the breastplate were for the same purpose. 2nd. We see, from the 30th verse, that the ornament with the twelve stones received the name Choshen Mishpat, "the breastplate of judgment," only because the Urim and Thummim were put into it. When we read that Moses was commanded to put the Urim and Thummim into the breastplate there is no mention made any more of a memorial, as is done in verse 29. We merely read, "And Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before Jehovah continually." As soon as the Urim and Thummim were put into the breastplate it was changed from a "breastplate of memorial" into a "breastplate of judgment."
In Deut. xxxiii. we are told that Moses blessed the children of Israel before his death. In the 8th verse we read, "And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one" (viz., with the priests of Levi's tribe). And again, "They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law" (Deut. xxxiii. 8-10). From this it is evident that the priests were to be instructed by the Urim and Thummim in all matters of judgment.
Therefore, when the Urim and Thummim were put into the breastplate it was called "the breastplate of judgment." Israel was commanded to have recourse with every hard matter of judgment, which could not be decided in the small towns, unto Jerusalem, unto the priests of the tribe of Levi, and unto the judge who was in office at that time (Deut. xvii. 8-n). In the 12th verse we read, "And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die." When the prophet Malachi complains that Israel has neglected to obey the priests, and has therefore violated the law, he speaks thus, in the name of God: "The law of truth was in his mouth (namely, in the mouth of the high priest), and iniquity was not found in his lips; he walked with me in peace and equity and did turn many away from sin. For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they (Israel) should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts." All these expressions refer to the oracle of the Urim and Thummim, by which the priest was instructed of God in every matter of judgment.
Every hard thing and every doubtful argument about the law was settled by it; and as this oracle was directed by God there was no fear of the priest erring; as the prophet says, "The law of truth was in his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts."
There was no need of instruction by the Urim and Thummim, all the days of Moses, with whom the Lord spoke in an audible voice from between the cherubim, out of the Most Holy. This oracle, therefore, was intended for the future after the death of Moses, as we read, "And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deut. xxxiv. 10). This evidently refers to the great privilege which the Lord was pleased to bestow upon Moses in speaking unto him in an audible voice (see Numb. xii. 6-9). When Moses ordained Joshua to be the leader of Israel in his place, we read as follows: "And he (Joshua) shall stand before Eliezer the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of the Urim before the Lord; at his word shall they go out, and at his word shall they come in, both he and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation" (Numb. xxvii. 21). Here we see, first, that the audible voice, in which the Lord spoke to Moses, was to cease after Moses was dead; secondly, that Joshua was to stand before the priest, who was to ask for him the judgments or directions of the Urim.
How absurd, then, is the opinion of some who maintain that the answer of the Urim was also by an audible voice! If such had been the case, would not the voice rather have continued to speak from between the cherubim? Such an opinion is surely against all testimony of Scripture, which says that after Moses there arose none unto whom the Lord spake directly. The APPENDIX
manner of the visions of the prophets is described in the twelfth chapter of Numbers, " If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make Myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream" (see verses 6-8). By the Urim and Thummim, therefore, must have been given signs and directions only, as it is said, " He shall ask counsel for him (viz., the priest shall ask for Joshua) after the judgment (or directions) of the Urim," not " after the words of the Urim," for it never answered by words. We have seen now how Joshua was ordered by God to come before the priest with every doubtful matter, and ask direction of the Urim. Let us now see what was the first difficulty in judgment that occurred in the times of Joshua, and how he asked counsel of the Urim. When Achan committed a trespass, in that he took of the accursed things of Jericho, the wrath of God was kindled against Israel, and they were defeated in their expedition against Ai. Joshua, therefore, rent his garments, and cast himself down in dust and ashes before the ark of the Lord (see Josh. vii. 7-9). Then we read in verse 10, " And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up, wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face ? Israel hath sinned ; they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them ; for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and have put among their own stuff." It was evident that the Lord spoke these words unto Joshua in the same manner as he spoke to the other prophets, namely, in a vision. When Joshua lay upon his face mourning and supplicating, he fell into a trance, and the Lord communicated unto him the reason of the punishment which he had sent upon Israel. But the name of the criminal the Lord did not tell unto him.
As this was a public affair, the searching and finding out of the guilty individual was to be done by the oracle Urim, and publicly. Therefore the Lord was pleased, to show unto Joshua, for the first time, how to use the oracle and how to find out the guilty person who had the accursed things. We read : " Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against to- morrow : for thus says the Lord God of Israel, there is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel ; thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you. In the morning, therefore, ye shall be brought according to your tribes, and it shall be that the tribe which the Lord taketh shall come according to the families thereof ; and the family which the Lord shall take shall come by households ; and the household which the Lord shall take shall come man by man " (Josh. vii. 13, 14).
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From this direction given unto Joshua, we see that there was no such a thing as an audible voice here. Had this been the case, what need was there of so much trouble? The oracle could have said at once who the guilty person was, and to what tribe he belonged. We also see that the oracle was to be asked single questions ; and only single answers were to be expected, as the words of verse 14 show. The tribes were first to present themselves, and the oracle was to indicate the tribe to which the guilty person belonged. That tribe was then to present itself, and the oracle was to indicate the family of which the guilty person was a member. That family was then to present itself, and the oracle was to point out the guilty individual.
We shall now describe the nature and construction of that wonderful oracle, and the manner in which its answers were given. We have already seen how the breastplate of judgment was made like a four-square box, a span in length, and a span in breadth. Into the front of it were inserted twelve precious stones of different natures and colours. They were set in golden frames, and were fastened to the breastplate, and formed the splendid front of the same. On each of these twelve stones the name of one of the sons of Jacob was engraven in Hebrew letters. One bore the name " Reuben," the other " Simeon," and so on. The front of this breastplate which contained these gems was not very thick, and the breastplate itself was empty within. Into the inside of the breastplate the Lord commanded Moses to put the Urim and the Thummim. The Hebrew word " Urim " signifies "lights," or "illuminators." It was no more than a lamp, with twelve lights, put into the breastplate. Within, each light was directed towards one of the precious stones, by which means the brilliancy and lustre of the gems were heightened to a great degree. But all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet did not occur in the twelve names on the breastplate. These four, p, . t3- n- were wanting. To supply this defect Moses was directed to make another stone with these four letters on it. This stone was called "Thummim," which signifies "the com- pleters," or " the perfecters"; inasmuch as these four letters upon it completed the alphabet, and perfected the oracle for the purpose of giving answers. These lights and perfecters were put into the breastplate whenever the high priest had to enter the Most Holy, or when a matter of difficulty occurred in Church or State affairs. The Urim, or illuminating lights, were supplied with holy oil, and kindled with that sacred fire which came down from heaven upon the altar at the dedication of the tabernacle
(Lev. ix. 24). This fire was carefully preserved in the tabernacle till the time of Solomon. When that king dedicated the Temple and brought sacrifices upon the new altar which he had made, fire came down again from heaven upon the altar (2 Chron. vii. 1-3).
The wonderful manner in which the Divine revelations were made by this oracle may be explained in the following illustra- tion. When Joshua came unto Eleazar the high priest (according to his received commandment, Numb, xxvii. 21) that he might ask counsel for him, according to the judgment of the Urim, before the Lord, the high priest put on his holy pontifical robes, and above it the ephod with the breastplate, which was illumi- nated by the Urim, and had the Thummim joined to it, on the side thereof. The high priest then directed his face towards the Most Holy, entreating the Lord to reveal the guilty individuals, while Joshua presented himself with the twelve elders of the tribes of Israel, in the open court of the tabernacle. Then the high priest put the simple question, " Which of the twelve tribes have sinned ? " He looked upon the illuminated breastplate with its brilliant stones and saw that the first stone in the second row, which bore the name of Judah, was darkened and ceased to shine.
Then he called with a loud voice, " Judah ! " The eleven princes were then dismissed, and the prince of Judah presented himself again with the fathers of the families of his tribe. The priest then again put the question, " Which family has sinned ? " He looked again upon the breastplate and found that the family of the Zarchites was taken. But as this name is composed of four different letters, , PI, 1 T. which were not to be found complete in any of the twelve names of the breastplate, he found these different letters in different names. Thus he had to look over all the stones. He then saw, first, that the letter T. in the name jSlST (Zebulun), was taken (viz., darkened) ; he next saw that the letter >, in the name pixn (Reuben), was taken. And when he saw no more letters upon the breastplate taken, and could make nothing of the two letters, 1, T. which he had already got, he looked upon the Thummim on the right side of the breastplate and found that of its four letters the letter Pi was taken. But no name was yet completed. He therefore looked once more upon the twelve stones, and found that the letter , in the name Joseph, was taken. Now he had a complete name, ^mt (Zarchi) ; he therefore called aloud that " Zarchi " was taken. In the same manner, when the family of the Zarchites appeared man by man, and when the priest asked,
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" Which man has sinned ? " he looked upon the stones and saw letter after letter taken, of which, when he put them together in the same order in which they were taken, he made the name HIT (Zabdi). He then communicated this name unto the public, and when they brought the household of Zabdi man by man, Achan was taken. When he was examined by Joshua he confessed his crime, in consequence of which he and all those who were involved in his crime were put to death as the Lord had commanded.
Such wonderful services this holy breastplate, and the Urim and Thummim, rendered unto Israel all the time of Joshua. By it the land of Canaan was divided (Josh, xviii. 6-10). By it Israel was directed in battle. By it every difficulty was removed, and every great and hard matter of controversy in judgment was decided. After the death of Joshua Israel asked the Lord which tribe should go first to fight against the Canaanitcs. The Lord's answer by this oracle was quite brief. " Jehudah yaleh " (" Judah shall go ") (Judges i. 1-12). When Israel asked again who should go first to fight against Benjamin, the answer was, " Judah first " (Judges xx. 1 8). That this was done by the oracle is evident from the ninth verse of the same chapter, where Israel says, " We will go up by lot against it." Compare this with verse 18, " And the children of Israel arose, and went up to the house of God " (or to Bethel, where the tabernacle stood at that time, as verse 27 shows), "and asked counsel of God." Compare this with Numb, xxvii. 21, "Who shall ask counsel for him, after the judgment of the Urim, before the Lord." In every passage in the^Old Testa- ment scriptures where it is said that Israel or any person asked the Lord, and He answered, reference is made to the oracle Urim and Thummim, except in the lifetime of Moses, with whom the Lord spake face to face. King Saul, in his victorious war against the Philistines, asked the Lord if he should pursue his enemies the second day, but received no answer, because Jonathan his son had ignorantly transgressed against his father's oath in eating of the honey. Then Saul brought the people before the oracle, and said unto them, " Be ye on one side, and I and Jonathan, my son, on the other." He then said, " Lord God of Israel, give a perfect lot." So Jonathan and Saul were taken. Again the priest asked between Saul and Jonathan, and Jonathan alone was taken. Jonathan then confessed his guilt, and his readiness to die for it ; but Israel prevailed with his father to spare his life (i Sam. xiv. 18-20, 26-46). In Saul's last and unfortunate battle the Lord would not answer him by the Urim
and Thummim because of his manifold transgressions (i Sam. xxviii. 6). He therefore betook himself in his despair to the witch of Endor (xxviii. 7-25). When he destroyed the priests of Noph, Abiathar, the son of the slain high priest, escaped and fled unto David, with the ephod and the oracle, Urim and Thummim. This rendered great and important services unto David, for he was instructed by it in all his afflictions and dangers.
David was the first person who consulted it without the taber- nacle and was answered by it, for all the former consultations took place in the tabernacle, or at least before the ark of the covenant. But the Lord was pleased to answer David by this oracle in any place. According to the documents whence we have drawn the above information, this oracle ceased to answer after the death of David. Afterwards there was no other means of receiving instructions than by the prophets. Ezra and Nehe- miah indeed wished that the Urim and Thummim would be restored unto Israel in the second Temple (Ezra ii. 62-64; Neh. vii. 64-66), but neither ark nor cherubim, nor Urim and Thummim, were ever restored unto Israel.
1 Josephus indeed fpeaks of the breastplate occasionally shining during the second Temple, which shining, he says, ceased two hundred years before he commenced his work. But Josephus might have saved himself the trouble of making such an assertion, for we affirm on undeniable authority that neither were Urim and Thummim in the second Temple at all, nor did they in the first Temple return answers by shining, as that historian seems to imagine. Josephus would have acted much more honestly if he had let this matter alone altogether.