Spirit & Truth # 264
“The Urim and Thummim: How to Hear from God”
By Greg Smith
How do you hear from God? Many people who are desperate for wisdom and understanding want to know. In prayer, people since the dawn of time have spoken to God, telling God their deepest feelings and asking for an answer to their problems. But does God ever speak to us? How can we hear from God?
In the earliest laws of ancient Israel, chief priests were given a tool for understanding the will of God. While God didn’t usually speak with audible voice, priests were able to “hear” from God through a tool called the Urim and Thummim. The English translation for “Urim” is “lights” (or “curses,” or “guilty” depending on the context). “Thummim” is translated “perfections” (or “advice” or “innocent” depending on the context). Nodody knows what these looked like exactly, but they were likely stones or slivers of wood engraved with the fist letter of Urim (the Hebrew character aleph), and the first letter of Thummim (the Hebrew character tau). One may have been black and the other white.
How were the Urim and Thummim used? They were placed in a pouch and worn around the high priest’s neck, over his heart. By touch, they were indistinguishable from one another, but when someone came with a “yes” or “no” question, the priest could reach into the pouch, pull one out and read the negative Urim or affirmative Thummim. The answer was not seen to be mere chance, but the will of God. Not everyone could use the Urim and Thummim, but only the priest. In fact, Leviticus 18 forbids people from trying to contact God through similar methods (unless they are authorized users of the Urim and Thummim, we may presume).
Today, we have a different way to hear from God—We have God’s word, the Bible. The Old Testament sheds light on the guilt of humanity; the Law curses those who do not trust God for forgiveness. The Old Testament is the Urim. The New Testament declares all who receive Jesus to be innocent before God. It gives advice on how to live day to day, and helps us to live in the perfections of Christ. The New Testament is the Thummim. So we no longer need such devices as a bag of stones around a high priest’s neck. We have the Great High Priest, Jesus, who can show us the will of God.
The aleph and tau show up one more place in the Bible, but readers of the English and Greek New Testament often miss it. When Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” (Revelation 1:8, 22:13) He simply meant the first and last letters of the alphabet. However, Jesus was probably not speaking Greek but Aramaic or Hebrew. The first and last letters of Hebrew happen to be aleph and tau. Symbolically, Jesus was saying, “I am the aleph and tau. I am the Urim and Thummim. If you want to hear from God, you have to come to me. I am the voice of God to all who would hear.” Greater even than the word of God (the Bible) is the living Word of God, Jesus. It is He who not only hears our prayers, but answers them from on high.
If you want to hear from God, read the Bible. Pay special attention to the words of Christ. Then, listen to what His Spirit speaks to your heart. He who is the first and last word from God, and everything in between, will help you discern God’s will for your life—this day, and every day to come.