Chances are you read the title of this post and said something akin to “Huh?” That’s exactly what I said when I came across it in my Bible this week. Michael and I are going through a Bible reading plan together, and this week had us finishing up 1 Samuel. In 1 Samuel 28, Saul is frantically trying to figure out if he should attack the encamped Philistine army or not, but God is not answering Saul because of his previous sin. Verse 6 says that, “the LORD refused to answer him, either by dreams or by sacred lots, or by prophets.”
The term “sacred lots” drew my attention. My understanding of what “casting lots” or “drawing lots” was all about was that it was a sort of gambling entertainment, but was also used to make quick work of decisions when there was no clear best-choice. In every respect, I have always thought of it as a pagan activity (Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ clothing, etc.).
I decided to research this some, and as it turns out the sacred lots, known as Urim and Thummim, were prescribed by God himself as a part of the High Priest’s holy garments. Exodus 28:15-30 lays out in detail how the chestpiece of the High Priest should be designed, and Urim and Thummim are mentioned. From Wikipedia:
There is no description of the form of the Urim and Thummim in the passage describing the high priest’s vestments…. Nevertheless, the passage does describe them as being put into the breastplate, which scholars think implies they were objects put into some sort of pouch within it, and then, while out of view, one (or one side, if the Urim and Thummim was a single object) was chosen by touch and withdrawn or thrown out; since the Urim and Thummim were put inside this pouch, they were presumably small and fairly flat, and were possibly tablets of wood or of bone. With the view of scholars that Urim essentially means guilty and Thummim essentially means innocent, this would imply that the purpose of the Urim and Thummim was an ordeal to confirm or deny suspected guilt; if the Urim was selected it meant guilt, while selection of the Thummim would mean innocence.
So, from what I can tell, it appears that the Urim and Thummim were two objects, or possibly one two-sided object, that were carried within the ephod that the High Priest wore when in the holy of holies inside the Tabernacle/Temple. And when trying to ascertain God’s will in a given situation, the High Priest, or possibly a king or prophet, would call for the sacred ephod, pray and ask their question, then reach into the folded pouch and draw out a stone, trusting that the one pulled out represented God’s will in the given situation.
I have discussed this at length with a couple of people that I know and trust, but I have to be honest – I’m still having a hard time wrapping my mind around this one. To put it succinctly, I just don’t know if I could pray, asking God for an answer, then flip a coin and trust that the outcome represented God’s will.
What do you think? Are Urim and Thummim just something that the Israelites used a long time ago to discern God’s will? Do you think God still works like that? Are you comfortable with the idea of a “holy coin toss”? Am I just over-thinking a moot issue? Weigh in and let me know…