Old Testament Symposium: Possessor of Urim and Thummim was seer after 'manner of old times'

The following is excerpted from a paper delivered by Monte S. Nyman at the Sidney B. Sperry Symposium on the Old Testament. A professor of ancient scripture at BYU, he is a member of the Edgemont 7th Ward Ward, Provo Utah Edgemont Stake.

The Old Testament first mentions the Urim and Thummim by name in Exodus 28:30, when Moses is instructed to give it to his brother Aaron.However, from latter-day revelation we know that Abraham had a Urim and Thummin hundreds of years earlier. (Abr. 3:1.) And from the Doctrine and Covenants we learn that the brother of Jared, who lived before Abraham, also had a Urim and Thummim. (D&C 17:1; see Ether 3.) It seems evident that the references to the Urim and Thummim before Moses' time were some of the plain and precious parts deleted from our present day text of the Bible. (See 1 Ne. 13:24-29.) . . . Because the Urim and Thummim was an instrument used by God to teach man how to receive revelation, it is reasonable that Satan would want the knowledge concerning that sacred instrument lost.

An early biblical indication of the existence of the Urim and Thummim before Aaron received it from Moses (Lev. 8:7-8), is the account of Rachel having stolen "the images" from her father Laban. (Gen. 31:19.) The word "images" . . . could have been translated as the Urim and Thummim.

The references to the Urim and Thummim in the book of Exodus are in connection with the clothes to be worn by Aaron and his sons. The ephod . . . was a linen garment worn by all priests (1 Sam. 22:18), but the one worn by the high priest had provision to fasten a breastplate upon it. The breastplate was to hold the Urim and the Thummim. (Ex. 28: 4, 15, 28, 30.)

Although there are no references to Aaron's using the Urim and Thummim, there are many references to his successors', the first born of Levi, using the instrument. (See Deut. 33:8.)

We learn from the Book of Mormon that the possessor of the Urim and Thummim was to be called a seer after the manner of old times. (Mosiah 8:13; 28:16.) The concept of the seer possessing the Urim and Thummim was also taught to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni as he described what was deposited with the gold plates. (See Joseph Smith - History 1:34-35.)

When the Lord instructed Moses to set Joshua over the children of Israel as his successor, the Lord instructed him to have Joshua stand before Eleazar the priest, who would "ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord." And Moses did as the Lord instructed. (Num. 27:12-23.)

Another indirect evidence of the use of the Urim and Thummim among ancient Israel is the sacredness with which it was handled and used. It was probably kept in the Ark of the Covenant along with other sacred things. . . .

Samuel is known in the Old Testament as the last of the judges and the first of the prophets after the reign of the judges. He is referred to as a seer. (1 Sam. 9:11, 19; 1 Chron. 9:22, 26:28.) . . . Saul was the first king appointed by Samuel the Seer. Throughout the revelations that Samuel received for Saul, there are no direct indications that he used the Urim and Thummim; however, such use is implied. When Saul sought revelation from the Lord on his own "the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets." (1 Sam. 28:6.) Had Saul not received previous answers by inquiring of the priest through that sacred instrument, it does not seem reasonable that it would be mentioned. In David's day, he asked that the Ark be brought "for we enquired not at it in the days of Saul." (1 Chron. 13:13, another indication that the Urim and Thummim was housed in the Ark.)

Just when was the Urim and Thummim taken from Israel? The books of Ezra and Nehemiah both tell us that it was not among the Israelites when they returned from their captivity in Babylon. . . . It was the custom of Israel to inquire of the Lord through the priest and the Urim and Thummim. The main point . . . is that they did not have the Urim and Thummim among them. Consequently, it had to have been lost before or during the Babylonian captivity. There is evidence that it was lost before that captivity.

In the Apocrypha, it is reported that the Lord commanded the prophet Jeremiah to hide up the Ark of the Covenant in a secret mountain. . . . As the Apocrypha contains many things that are true and also many interpolations of men, the truth of this passage must be determined by the Spirit. The passage is consistent with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that the Urim and Thummim was not with the Israelites when they returned from Babylon. According to Dr. Sidney B. Sperry, there is an old Jewish tradition that the Urim and Thummin was lost with the Babylonian captivity. This might again suggest that the Urim and Thummim was kept in the Ark of the Covenant and was sealed up with it. Another possibility is that the Lord took it and gave it to the Nephites . . . [suggestingT that there was only one Urim and Thummim. Because of the importance of the Urim and Thummim to the Israelites, they looked forward to the day of its restoration.

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