The Ephod, Breastplate, Urim, ThummiM, and Teraphim
In the instructions the Creator gave Moses about the construction of the tabernacle and everything to be used in it were instructions regarding the ephod, breastplate, urim, and thummim which the high priest was to use as he performed his priestly duties. This section will focus on the ephod, breastplate, urim, thummim, and the teraphim which are all mentioned as being used to communicate with the Creator.
In the Book of Hosea, there is an extremely curious prophecy pointing to the betrayal of Jesus and an interim period of time before his return and the establishment of the Kingdom of God in which the tribes of Israel will be without a king and a prince and without images, an ephod, or a teraphim:
"And the Lord said to me, Go again. Love a woman loved by a friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the Lord toward the sons of Israel, who turn to other gods, and love raisin cakes of grapes. So I bought her for myself with fifteen pieces of silver, and for a homer of barley, and a half barley. And I said to her, You shall stay with me many days. You shall not be a harlot, nor be to a man; and I also will be for you" (Hos.3:1-3 Para.).
This shows the spiritual adultery of national Israel (raisin cakes represent the desirability of sin and idolatrous worship) and the price which was paid to Judas for the betrayal of Jesus. An homer of barley was divided into ten parts, and each part was worth one shekel of silver at that time; hence, the price of Jesus' life was 30 shekels of silver (15 shekels of silver and 1.5 homers of barley equal 30 shekels of silver).
Because of what is said in verse 3 about Israel being restored as a wife to the Creator God (Jesus Christ), it is clear that this prophecy continues on into verses 4 and 5, which speak of the removal of the sacred objects through which the high priest and others communicated with the Creator God:
"For the sons of Israel shall be many days without a king [civil ruler], and prince [spiritual leader], and without a sacrifice, or images, or ephod and teraphim. Afterward the sons of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king. And they shall fear the Lord God and his goodness in the end of the days" (Hos.3:4-5 Para.).
Clearly, the time when David will reign over national Israel again (Ezk.37:24-25) is after the return of Christ when Israel will have been restored to its national sovereignty under the Kingdom of God. Everything noted after the civil ruler is mentioned (i.e., sacrifice, images, ephod, teraphim) pertains to the worship of God and the method through which he communicated with the high priest and others of Israel.
It is important to note that the things mentioned have no tie to any pagan religion; they are all things the Creator God sanctioned as a part of the first agreement with national Israel and were only removed from national Israel because of its rebellion against the Creator God.
There is little doubt that the removal of these things took place over many hundreds of years and culminated in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.. After this, the priesthood and the sacrifices were discontinued because of the lack of a proper place in which to worship.
There are many opinions as to exactly how each of the items worn by the high priest were made, what they looked like, and what their actual and symbolic purpose was. Although it would be interesting to understand these things in exact detail, it is not necessary in order to understand the benefits that came from wearing and using these items. Therefore, this section provides only brief comments as to how each sacred item relates to Hosea's prophecy and the elect of God who will live during the time just before Christ returns.
The High Priest's Garments
"And take Aaron your brother, and his sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar from among the children of Israel, so that he and his sons may minister to me in the priest’s office. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother for glory and for beauty. And you shall speak to all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister to me in the priest’s office" (Ex.28:1-3 Para.).
The sacred garments represent the glory and beauty of the high priest's office as he represents the people to God and God to the people. Moreover, God had given special wisdom to certain people in order for them to make these sacred garments which consecrated Aaron to his office.
"And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, and his sons, that he may minister to me in the priest's office" (Ex.28:4 Para).
Verse four lists the items the high priest had to wear while performing the various duties of his office.
"And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and make the ephod with cunning work. It shall have the two shoulder pieces joined at two edges, and will have a girdle on it, which will be of the same material as the ephod. And you shall take two onyx stones, and engrave the names of six of the tribes of Israel on one stone and six on the other, according to the order of their patriarch's birth, and place the stones in golden holders upon the shoulders of the ephod to be a memorial to the children of Israel before the Lord upon Aaron's shoulders" (Ex.28:5-12 Para).
"And you will make the breastplate of judgment of similar material and work as the ephod. It will be square and doubled; and a span in length and width. And you shall set in it four rows of stones in golden holders: in the first row a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle, in the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond, in the third row a ligure, an agate, and a amethyst, and the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper. And on each stone will be the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel" (Ex.28:15-21 Para).
"And you will make chains and rings of pure gold and place them on the breastplate in order to attach it to the fittings that hold the shoulder pieces of the ephod, and to attach the breastplate to the sides of the ephod. And Aaron will bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goes in to the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually" (Ex.28:24-29 Para).
In addition to being symbolic of the tribes of Israel, the breastplate of judgment which covered the ephod was used in actual communication with God. The Septuagint renders the Hebrew word hoshen (i.e., breastplate) as oracle, which indicates that the breastplate was an object through which the high priest could gain insight from or contact with God (i.e., oracle of judgement). Although the Septuagint may or may not be correct concerning the exact meaning of the Hebrew word hoshen, it is correct as to its conceptual meaning. The breastplate of judgement was clearly a necessary part of all the objects required in order for the high priest to communicate with God.
The Urim and Thummim
"And in the breastplate of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim; and these shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goes in before the Lord: and Aaron will bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually" (Ex.28:30).
The Hebrew word urim means light(s) and the Hebrew word thummim means integrity of perfection. These two objects were to be placed over Aaron's heart and were to be used to determine God's will in certain matters pertaining to the people of Israel.
The scriptures clearly show that the symbolism of light as knowledge and perfect integrity is one of the attributes of God. Moreover, the breastplate of judgment, along with the ephod, urim and the thummim were devices through which God conveyed his will and instructions to his people.
The following are some of the many events recorded in the Bible in which the ephod, breastplate, urim, thummim, and teraphim were used to gain insight and knowledge from God or to determine his will in certain matters.
Moses, Joshua, and the Urim
When Moses asked God to appoint someone to replace him as Israel's leader, God told Moses that Joshua would replace him and he must take him to Eleazar whose responsibility it was to use the urim to ask for God's will and counsel (Num.27:15-23). This account shows the importance of the urim and thummim in gaining insight and knowledge into the will of God.
After the death of Samuel, Saul found himself and Israel confronted with the prospect of being conquered by the Philistines:
"And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa. And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled" (1.Sam.28:4-5 KJV).
Knowing that the armies of Israel were no match for the Philistines, Saul sought counsel and help from God:
"And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by the Urim, nor by prophets" (1.Sam.28:6 KJV).
Although Saul sought God's counsel through authorized methods, he did not answer him, which caused Saul to become so discouraged and frightened that he decided to seek insight and guidance through a source which was not authorized by God:
"Then said Saul to his servants, Seek me a woman that has a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that has a familiar spirit at Endor. And Saul disguised himself, and put on other clothing, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray you, divine to me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name to you" (1.Sam.28:7-8 KJV).
It is important to understand that Saul violated God's law in regard to witchcraft through his attempt to communicate with the spirit of Samuel. God condemns all such practices and imposes the death penalty upon those who practice them. See Lev.19:31; 20:6; 2.Chron.33:1-25; Isa.8: 19-20.
Another important thing to learn from this account is that no human has the ability to force God to give them insight or knowledge or to reveal his will to them. It is God's prerogative whether or not he will communicate with an individual.
On two different occasions, when David was in great distress, he called for the priest Abiathar to come to him and bring the ephod so that he could ask God for insight and guidance. On both occasions, God honored David's request and answered him. See 1.Sam.23:6-12; 30:1-8.
The Return From Captivity
Both Ezra and Nehemiah record that, after the people returned to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon, there were a number of men who wanted to serve in the temple as priests, but could not prove they were descended from Aaron. These men would not be allowed to serve until a priest consulted with God through the urim and thummim to determine the men's genealogy (Ezr.2:61-63; Nehe.7:63-65).
This account shows that at least 300 years after Hosea's prophecy about the removal of the sacred objects of counsel from Israel, these objects were still being used by the priesthood to gain insight and knowledge from God.
Gideon was a man who followed God's instructions and knew how to worship him through the sacrificial system. After Gideon had performed all the things God asked him to do in order to remove pagan worship and the enemies of Israel, the Israelites asked Gideon to rule over them (Jdg.8:22-23).
Up to the time of Gideon's rule, the biblical record shows that the ephod was only used by the priesthood; however, Gideon who was not a priest told the Israelites to give him the materials to make an ephod. Although there is nothing said about Gideon using the ephod, the fact that he had it made probably means he used it to gain insight and knowledge from God while ruling the people.
It is important to note that nothing negative is recorded about Gideon or his use of the ephod, other than the fact that he and his sons had much trouble, because the people began to worship the ephod instead of the Creator God who gave insight and knowledge through it (Jdg.8:27).
The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that, because of the sins of the people, the lights that radiated from the two stones on the shoulders of the high priest's ephod and the stones of the breastplate ceased to shine 200 years before he wrote his history (circa150 B.C.). This seems to be the beginning point of the fulfillment of Hosea's prophecy (Hos.3:4-5), which spoke of the cessation of God's communication through the sacred items associated with the priesthood.
The Hebrew word teraphim means idolatry, idols, or images. There is no doubt that Israelites, as well as other people used idols, images, and other objects in order to gain insight and knowledge which they could not have gained through natural means.
The teraphim is neither mentioned in the list of items that God had instructed to be made for the tabernacle nor included in the list of items which comprised the high priest's sacred garments; however, it is very possible that the teraphim is referred to by another name.
The teraphim is noted as something associated with the high priest, which was removed because of Israel's rebellion, but will be a part of the things restored when national Israel is again established as a nation after Christ returns (Hos.3:4-5 ). Therefore, we should be able to solve at least some of the mystery surrounding the teraphim and its use.
The Ephod and the Teraphim
The death of Samson was accompanied by the end of the judges of Israel as national leaders. At this point in history, it is unclear what had happened to the tabernacle, the priesthood, and the system of worship over which they officiated. What is clear is that the northern tribes again began to practice worship systems which were in opposition to God. During this time, there was a loose confederation of the tribes of Israel. This is the time when the scriptures say there was no ruler in Israel and every man did what was right in their own eyes (Jdg.17:6).
Chapter 17 and 18 of the Book of Judges tell the story of Micah, a man from the tribe of Ephraim, who had an ephod, a teraphim, and both carved and cast images made. Eventually Micah hired a Levite from Bethlehem to be a priest to him and his household and to use the ephod, images, and teraphim. One day, a group of men from the tribe of Dan asked the Levite to consult God for them to see if they would be successful in their conquest of a nearby land. The Levite consulted God through the ephod and the other objects that belonged to Micah and gave these men a positive answer from God.
This account reveals the following things about the ephod and the teraphim:
- Although Micah's ephod, images, and teraphim did not come from the tabernacle, God still honored their use in seeking guidance from him.
- Although the Levite was not the high priest from the tabernacle, God granted his request for knowledge and guidance and told him what his will was in this matter.
- God honored the Levite's request because he used objects which were designed to be used in seeking his guidance.
Because the word "teraphim" is a plural word, there has been some speculation that "teraphim" was another word used to describe the urim and thummim, which may have been small replicas of the tabernacle and the mercy seat. This may have some validity, because God told Aaron that, when he went into the Holy of Holies, he would appear to him in a cloud above the mercy seat (Lev.16-1-2). Moreover, when Moses went into the tabernacle of the congregation, God would speak to him from between the cherubim which were above the mercy seat. See Num.7:89; 1.Chron.13:6.
Whether or not the ephod, the urim, and the thummim will exist again and be used by the high priest at the temple in Jerusalem before Christ returns is unclear from Hosea's prophecy (Hos.3:4-5). However, it is clear that these objects will exist after Christ returns.
For the elect of God today, knowing what the ephod, teraphim, urim, and thummim were made of or what they looked like is not important. What is important is to understand that God used these physical objects to give insight and knowledge and to communicate his will to his people.
By B.L. Cocherell b9w29a