According to the LDS Bible Dictionary, “Urim and Thummim” is a “Hebrew term that means ‘Lights and Perfections.’ An instrument prepared of God to assist man in obtaining revelation from the Lord and in translating languages…. Using a Urim and Thummim is the special prerogative of a seer….”[i] Orson Pratt said, “The Urim and Thummim is a stone or other substance sanctified and illuminated by the Spirit of the living God, and presented to those who are blessed with the gift of seeing.”[ii]
The first word, urim, could be widely used to describe any of the divinely designed revelatory instruments in the scriptures. Examples are the Urim and Thummim, seer stones, interpreters, directors and Liahona.[iii] Alma equates the “stone” that the Lord gave to his servant, Gazelem, with “interpreters.[iv]
There are several versions of the Urim and Thummim mentioned in the scriptures. The one used by Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon and receive revelation was the ancient Urim and Thummim used by the Brother of Jared.[v] Lucy Mack Smith described the two stones in this revelatory instrument as triangular: “smooth three-cornered diamonds.”[vi] Joseph Smith said the Urim and Thummim consisted of “two transparent stones set in the rim of a [silver] bow fastened to a breast plate.”[vii] When they are not in use, they are carried over the heart.[viii]
In His appearance to the Apostle John, the resurrected Lord said, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”[ix] The Doctrine and Covenants speaks of this white stone in connection with the Urim and Thummin:
The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth;
But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.
The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim.
This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.
Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.[x]
“The Prophet Joseph Smith provided an interesting insight into this passage when he said that the ‘Urim and Thummim is a small representation of this globe,’ meaning the celestialized earth.”[xi] The passage also reveals that the celestial sphere on which God and angels reside is a vast Urim and Thummim, capable of manifesting all things for its inhabitants’ glory, including an unrestricted view of all things past, present and future.[xii] Commenting, Brigham Young said, “This Earth will become a celestial body—be like a sea of glass, or like a Urim and Thummim; and when you wish to know anything, you can look in this Earth and see all the eternities of God.”[xiii]
The Urim and Thummim constitutes “the greatest manifestation of power granted unto men.”[xiv] The seer who approaches the Urim and Thummim in faith can “look in them”[xv] and see all things as if with the eyes of God. For instance, Abraham learned about the universe through the Urim and Thummim,[xvi] and the brother of Jared used the instrument to view “all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be…even unto the ends of the earth”[xvii] – “there never were greater things made manifest.”[xviii] “The Urim represented the word of the Lord to ancient Israel, for when the high priest inquired of the Lord, his word came by Urim. Not only did the Urim and Thummim convey and represent the word of the Lord, it also belonged explicitly to him, as Moses said to the Lord, ‘Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one’ (Deuteronomy 33:8).”[xix]
In our day, Joseph Smith likewise accessed the power of the Urim and Thummim by “inquiring of the Lord,” after which he would look into or upon the stones and receive the Lord’s answer in addition to more light on additional subjects that the Lord wanted to reveal.
In the millennial day, the Urim and Thummim will become a part of temple service. Elder Orson Pratt said:
Here comes in, again, the use of a Temple of the Lord. The Most High says—“I deign to reveal unto you hidden things, things that have been kept hid from the foundation of the world.” Among these hidden things that are to be revealed are the books of genealogy, tracing individuals and nations among all people, back to ancient times.
It may be inquired—“How can all this be done?” We answer, by the Urim and Thummim, which the Lord God has ordained to be used in the midst of his holy house, in his Temple. You may inquire—“What is the Urim and Thummim?” We reply, it is a divine instrument, prepared in ancient times, by which he who possessed it could call upon the name of the Lord, and receive from him answers to all matters it was necessary that he should know…. When that instrument is restored to the house of God, to the Temple of the Most High, our ancestry, that is, the ancestry of all the faithful in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will be made manifest. Not all at once, but by degrees. Just as fast as we are able to administer for them, so will the Lord God make manifest, by the manifestation of holy angels in his house, and by the Urim and Thummim, those names that are necessary, of our ancient kindred and friends, that they may be traced to the time when the Priesthood was on the earth in ancient days.[xx]
The Hebrew word, urim, can mean lights or “flames” or “fires.” The connotation of fire and light would have carried holy significance to the Hebrew mind. A luminous cloud by day and pillar of fire by night accompanied the ancient Israelites.[xxi] Elder Bruce R. McConkie called it the “Shekinah…the visible manifestation of the Divine Presence; the bright and flashing glory that rested upon Sinai when Jehovah conversed face to face with the man Moses; the divine brilliance out of which anciently a voice spoke from between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies.”[xxii]
Alma taught his son, Helaman about light-giving revelatory instruments. He spoke of the illuminating power of “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light.”[xxiii] Describing the stone’s light-making qualities, he used words like “made manifest,” “discover,” “brought out of darkness,” and “made known.”[xxiv] “The idea of manifestation is repeated nine times in the five sentences.”[xxv]
Light was also the central subject in the Lord’s instructions to Lehi and his family after they had received the Liahona. “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.”[xxvi] Of interest, the word,“Liahona appears to be a properly constructed Hebrew word [meaning]… more or less, ‘whither of Jehovah’ or ‘direction of the Lord.’”[xxvii]
According to Alma’s instruction to Helaman, the door to the vast library of God’s knowledge swings open on small hinges; likewise, the generator of God’s power is ignited with a small key. Mentioning various revelatory instruments, Alma used descriptive language such as, “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise….and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls…. Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show them marvelous works.”[xxviii] Alma also used the word “easy” and the phrase “easiness of the way” to describe how accessible are these revelatory instruments, if we exercise faith and diligence and give heed to the words of Christ that flow from them.[xxix]
Alma stated that the lowest common denominator of revelatory success is so obvious and simple that we often miss it. In fact, it is so “small and simple” and “the easiness of the way” is so plain that the solution might appear like “foolishness.”[xxx] The means to receiving revelation is so subtle that we are prone to look beyond the mark for something more complicated, something that cannot deliver the same illumination and power.[xxxi]
Are revelatory instruments, such as the Urim and Thummim and Liahona, really that easy to use? Evidently. Citing Alma, one need only “look to God and live.”[xxxii] Alma plea to Helaman becomes his plea to us: “O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so it was with our fathers; for so it was prepared for them, that if they would look they might live…”[xxxiii]
These statements hearken to a theme in one of Alma’s earlier sermons, “in which he had warned against being ‘slothful’ and spoken of Moses’s brass serpent, which, as a ‘type’ of Christ, was ‘raised up in the wilderness, that whosoever would look upon it might live’ (Alma 33:19, 21; also Numbers 21:8-9). Nephi had similarly taught that ‘because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many which perished’ because they would not look at the brass serpent (1 Nephi 17:41).”[xxxiv]
Seemingly, the Urim and Thummim and other revelatory instruments are meant to prepare the seer to become familiar with and fully internalize the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Eventually, that spirit becomes part of his nature and, over time, the seer relies less and less upon a tangible instrument to help him connect to the things of God. For example, Joseph Smith depended on the Urim and Thummim until he completed the translation of the Book of Mormon, then “he did not use the stone anymore.”[xxxv] Having had so much experience with the Spirit, the Prophet was able to receive revelation without the assistance of an instrument.[xxxvi]
Another instrument had taken the place of the Urim and Thummim: the scriptures. The disciples of Jesus Christ were to use the Book of Mormon and the revelations that would form the first sections of the Doctrine and Covenants to commune with God. The Lord commanded the three witnesses: “…you must rely upon my word.”[xxxvii] And to Oliver Cowdrey: “…the things which you have written are true; wherefore you know that they are true. And if you know that they are true, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written.”[xxxviii]
What have we learned about the Urim and Thummim and its counterparts?
- It is associated with lights, perfections and heavenly flames and fires.
- Seers use it to inquire of the Lord and receive answers. By its use, seers are enabled to access the vast library of the knowledge of God and see things past, present and future, as if through the eyes of God.
- It is made by God, belongs to Him and is lent to the seer as a gift for sacred purposes.
- It will be widely used in millennial temples and in the celestial kingdom.
- In its various forms, it leads, lights the way, makes manifest, discovers, dispels and brings out of darkness, prepares the way, and makes known.
- Although the seer must exert some effort and be willing to look into the Urim and Thummim with faith, diligence and a determination to give heed to its directions, the Urim and Thummim is “easy” to use, a “small and simple” revelatory instrument that is capable of delivering immense knowledge and power. The “easiness of the way” in receiving revelation might appear as foolishness because one need only “look to God and live.”
- The Urim and Thummim prepares the seer to become spiritually self-reliant. The time will come when he (or she) will have fully internalized the spirit of prophecy and revelation.
All that we have discussed would only be an exercise in triviality were if not for a statement made by Elder Richard G. Scott:
What does the Book of Mormon mean to you? Has it been a source of inspiration and power in your life? Will it continue to be? If you have not yet drunk deeply from this fountain of pure truth, with all of my soul I encourage you to do so now. Don’t let the consistent study of the Book of Mormon be one of the things that you intend to do but never quite accomplish. Begin today. I bear witness that it can become a personal ‘Urim and Thummim’ in your life.[xxxix]
The Book of Mormon was designed by God to become a personal Urim and Thummim!
The implications are astounding! They challenge the boundaries of our understanding and our uses of this sacred book. Does the Book of Mormon place within our reach the gift of seership? Are there limits to what we might learn by looking into it, as the Lord intends? Are there powers and privileges that lie outside our grasp because we do not use the Book of Mormon as a Urim and Thummim?
Consider the following statements from prophets:
- Joseph Smith: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”[xl]
- Bruce R. McConkie: “Few men on earth, either in or out of the Church, have caught the vision of what the Book of Mormon is all about.”[xli]
- Dallin H. Oaks: “That is the key: to use the Book of Mormon to become ‘built on the rock of Christ!’”[xlii]
- James E. Faust: “It is the text for this dispensation.”[xliii]
- Gordon B. Hinckley: “This book carries with it that kind of spirit when it’s read prayerfully and thoughtfully.”[xliv]
- Russell Ballard: “The Book of Mormon, above all other books that I know of, is the greatest source we have for answers to real-life problems…. The examples of spiritual guidance that emanate from the book are without number.”[xlv]
- Russell M. Nelson: “This book can help with personal problems in a very real way…. Read the Book of Mormon. It will bring you closer to the Lord and His loving power.”[xlvi]
President Ezra Taft Benson spoke about the importance of The Book of Mormon throughout his ministry as an apostle and the president of the Church. Notice the descriptive language in the following abbreviated list of uses:
- “There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book.”[xlvii]
- “It is the [keystone of our] of our witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. It is the keystone of our testimony.”[xlviii]
- “Now, we have not been using the Book of Mormon as we should…. How are we to use it? We are to get a testimony of it, we are to teach from it, we are to hold it up as a standard and ‘hiss it forth.’ Have we been doing this? Not as we should, nor as we must. Do eternal consequences rest upon our response to this book? Yes, either to our blessing or our condemnation.”[xlix]
- “The Book of Mormon has greater power – power to reveal false doctrine, power to help us overcome temptations, power to help us get closer to God than any other book.”[l]
- “Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not.”[li]
- “We are to use the Book of Mormon as the basis of our teaching. In section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states, ‘And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this Church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in…the Book of Mormon, which is the fullness of the gospel (verse 12).’”
- “The Book of Mormon has not been, nor is it yet, the center of our personal study, family teaching, preaching, and missionary work. Of this we must repent.”[lii]
- “It will hold us as close to the Spirit of the Lord as anything I know.”[liii]
President Benson called the Book of Mormon a “standard.”[liv] Do we view the Book of Mormon as the standard of the Standard Works? He said, “Not all truths are of equal value, nor are all scriptures of the same worth.” What better way to nourish the spirit than to frequently feast from the book which the Prophet Joseph said would get a man ‘nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book’?”[lv] Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “The way to achieve a high state of gospel scholarship is first to study and ponder and pray about the Book of Mormon and then follow the same course with reference to other scriptures.”[lvi]
President Benson issued a prophecy, charge and a vision concerning the Book of Mormon.
- “We will be lengthening our stride in the future. To do so, we must first cleanse the inner vessel by awakening and arising, being morally clean, using the Book of Mormon so that God will lift the condemnation, and finally conquering pride by humbling ourselves.”[lvii]
- “The Book of Mormon must be reenthroned in the minds and hearts of our people.”[lviii]
- “I have a vision of the whole Church getting nearer to God by abiding the precepts of the Book of Mormon.”[lix]
Is the way to receive personal revelation so easy that we have missed it? Are deliverance, protection, power and blessings gathering dust on a seldom-read book? When we pick up the Book of Mormon, do we simply read it or do we use it as a revelatory instrument to commune with God, ask Him questions and see things through His eyes?
When Alma was entrusting his son, Helaman, with the sacred records that would become the Book of Mormon, he taught him the doctrine of the Liahona, a type of the Urim and Thummim. “It is easy to give heed to the word of Christ,” he said. “O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way…And now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live.”[lx]
Have we become slothful in our use of the Book of Mormon? Are we willing break free of the Lord’s condemnation[lxi] and do the easy thing: “look to God and live” by using the Book of Mormon as the Lord intended?
Are we willing to repent and read the Book of Mormon “daily”[lxii] with the intention of drawing the Spirit near and opening the revelatory channel? Are we willing to be led by the Book of Mormon by exercising faith, diligence and heed to the inspiration we receive?[lxiii] Is there any restriction to what we might learn by using the Book of Mormon and our personal Urim and Thummim?
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Study the Book of Mormon…. Something will come that will be sweet and good and beautiful. Your testimonies will grow and you will find things that you never knew were there before.”[lxiv]
[i] See also Mosiah 8:13; 28:13-16. “The things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.”
[ii] Masterful Discourses of Orson Pratt, 552.
[iii] Stan Spencer, “Reflections of Urim: Hebrew Poetry Sheds Lights on the Directors-Interpreters Mystery,” Interpreter Journal, 6 March 2015.
[iv] Alma 37:23-24.
[v] LDS Bible Dictionary, “Urim and Thummim.”
[vii] Joseph Smith History 1:34-35.
[viii] Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8.
[ix] Revelation 2:17.
[x] D&C 130: 6-11.
[xi] Matthew B. Brown, Symbols in Stone, 150, quoting Words of Joseph Smith, 60.
[xii] Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, Religion 324-325, 323.
[xiv] Dennis L. Largey, ed., The Book of Mormon Reference Companion, “Seer,” 711.
[xv] Mosiah 8:13.
[xvi] Abraham 3:1-4.
[xvii] Ether 3:21-28.
[xviii] Ether 4:4.
[xix] Stan Spencer, “Reflections of Urim: Hebrew Poetry Sheds Lights on the Directors-Interpreters Mystery,” Interpreter Journal, 6 March 2015.
[xx] Journal of Discourses, 16:260-61.
[xxi] Exodus 13:21.
[xxii] Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 3:60.
[xxiii] Alma 37:23.
[xxiv] Alma 37:21-26, emphasis added.
[xxv] Stan Spencer, “Reflections of Urim: Hebrew Poetry Sheds Lights on the Directors-Interpreters Mystery,” Interpreter Journal, 6 March 2015.
[xxvi] 1 Nephi 17:13.
[xxvii] Stan Spencer, “Reflections of Urim: Hebrew Poetry Sheds Lights on the Directors-Interpreters Mystery,” Interpreter Journal, 6 March 2015.
[xxviii] Alma 37:6-7.
[xxix] Alma 37:41, 44, 46.
[xxx] Alma 37:6.
[xxxi] Jacob 4:14.
[xxxii] Alma 37:47.
[xxxiii] Alma 37:46. Of course, some work is involved. We recall that Oliver Cowdrey attempted to translate by means of the Urim and Thummim, but he failed because he simply asked without first studying it out in his mind. (See D&C 9:7-8)
[xxxiv] Stan Spencer, “Reflections of Urim: Hebrew Poetry Sheds Lights on the Directors-Interpreters Mystery,” Interpreter Journal, 6 March 2015.
[xxxv] David Whitmer, All Believers, 32. Note that the Prophet used the Urim and Thummim to receive early revelations, such as D&C 3, 6, 7, 11, 14, and 17, but D&C 20, given on April 6, 1830, was received “by the spirit of prophecy and revelation.”
[xxxvi] As the human body becomes more and more sanctified and becomes a home for the spirit of prophecy and revelation, it takes on the qualities of a Urim and Thummim: “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things” (D&C 88:67).
[xxxvii] D&C 17:1.
[xxxviii] D&C 18:2-3, emphasis added.
[xxxix] Richard G. Scott, “The Power of the Book of Mormon in My Life,” Ensign, Oct. 1984, 11, emphasis added.
[xl] History of the Church, 4:461, emphasis added.
[xli] Bruce R. McConkie, Millennial Messiah, 159, emphasis added.
[xlii] Dallin H. Oaks, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” CES Fireside, June 6, 1993, emphasis added.
[xliii] James E. Faust, “Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Jan 1996, emphasis added.
[xliv] Gordon B. Hinckley, BYU Married Students Regional Conference, Priesthood Leadership Meeting, Second Session, Feb. 10, 1996, emphasis added.
[xlv] M. Russell Ballard, “We Add Our Witness,” Ensign, March 1989, 8–9, emphasis added.
[xlvi] Russell M. Nelson, “A Testimony of the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 71, emphasis added.
[xlvii] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon – Keystone of Our Religion,” Conference Report, Oct. 1986, emphasis added.
[xlviii] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon – Keystone of Our Religion,” Conference Report, Oct. 1986, emphasis added.
[xlix] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon is the Word of God,” Conference Report, April 1975, emphasis added.
[l] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Gift of Modern Revelation,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, emphasis added.
[li] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon – Keystone of Our Religion,” Conference Report, Oct. 1986, emphasis added.
[lii] Ezra Taft Benson, “Cleansing the Inner Vessel,” Conference Report, April 1986, emphasis added.
[liii] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon is the Word of God,” Conference Report, April 1975, emphasis added.
[liv] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon is the Word of God,” Conference Report, April 1975, emphasis added.
[lv] Ezra Taft Benson, “A New Witness for Christ,” Conference Report, Oct. 1984, emphasis added.
[lvi] Bruce R. McConkie, “An Open Letter to Honest Truth Seekers,” July 1, 1980, 2, emphasis added.
[lvii] Ezra Taft Benson, “Cleansing the Inner Vessel,” Conference Report, April 1986, emphasis added.
[lviii] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Gift of Modern Revelation,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, emphasis added.
[lix] Ezra Taft Benson, “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” Conference Report, Oct. 1988, emphasis added.
[lx] Alma 37:44, 46-47.
[lxi] D&C 84:57.
[lxii] Ezra Taft Benson, “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” Conference Report, Oct. 1988.
[lxiii] 1 Nephi 16:28-29; Alma 37:40-44.
[lxiv] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Feasting Upon the Scriptures,” Ensign, Dec. 1985.