Urim and Thummim revisited

Last week I ran across a reference in 1 Samuel 28:6 to something called the “sacred lots”. My interest was piqued because I had always thought of casting lots as something pagan and akin to gambling. As I researched “Urim and Thummim”, as they (it?) were (was) known, I discovered that Urim and Thummim were part of the prescribed holy garments worn by the High Priest when performing his duties in the Temple. From Exodus 28:30:

“Insert the Urim and Thummim into the sacred chestpiece so they will be carried over Aaron’s heart when he goes into the Lord’s presence. In this way, Aaron will always carry over his heart the objects used to determine the Lord’s will for his people whenever he goes in before the Lord.”

I’ll be honest, this discovery caused me no little amount of distress. I just couldn’t comprehend that part of God’s plan for revealing his will to the Israelites involved them performing what amounts to a prayer and a coin-toss. And I certainly couldn’t imagine doing that today for some important decision in my life. It just seems like such an arbitrary and capricious way to try to learn God’s will.

I asked several people who I trust what they knew/thought about Urim and Thummim, and about the concept of the “Holy Coin Flip”, as I began calling it. As is usual when God is answering a question for you, nearly everything that people said to me matched up with each other and with what I know from scripture. Here goes…

1) We have to look at stuff from the Old Testament that sounds unbelievable to us “through the lens of Christ”. That means that we can’t just throw it out – it’s still part of God’s revealed Word after all – but that we must sort of “apply” the New Testament to it. Every instance of using Urim and Thummim in the Old Testament, and the one recorded instance its (their?) use in the New Testament, have one thing in common: the Holy Spirit is not present. Shortly after the instance in Acts 1:21-26, the Holy Spirit was given to the believers at Pentecost. From that time on, there is no mention of casting sacred lots to make decisions. As the early Church began to receive and understand the gift of the Holy Spirit and the leading in God’s will that the Spirit provides, there wasn’t any need to “pray and flip a coin”, so to speak.

2) A general principle in life (spiritual life included) is that action is nearly always preferable to inaction. Therefore if, after praying and seeking God’s will, there is no clear leading from the Spirit, and both choices seem equally good or equally bad, then why not pray, flip a coin, and go? If the choices are basically equal, it’s better to just pick one and go then to be paralyzed with fear and indecision for an extended period of time. There are a remarkably small number of choices in our lives that are truly monumental and permanently life-altering. For the most part our decisions are rectifiable if they go amiss.

So, that was extremely helpful to me. I don’t know if any of you had the same sort of crisis I had, but if you did I hope this was helpful to you, too.



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