THE EPHOD, BREASTPLATE, URIM, THUMMIN, AND TERAPHIM

Within the Book of Hosea there is an extremely curious prophecy that speaks of  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 that 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 pertains to the worship of God and the  method through which he communicated with  the high priest and others of Israel.

It is also important to note that the things mentioned have no tie to any pagan religion; they are all things that the Creator God sanctioned as a part of the first agreement with national Israel and they 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 which the priesthood and the sacrifices were discontinued because of the lack of a proper place within which to worship.  

There are many opinions as to exactly how each of the items that the  high priest wore 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 these items. Therefore, this section gives 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's return.

Exodus 28:1-43 KJV Paraphrased

"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 unto me in the priest’s office" (vs.1-3).

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 that 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" (v4).

Verse four lists each of the items that the  high priest had to wear while performing the various duties of his office.

The Ephod

"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 patriarchs 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" (vs.5-12).

The Breastplate

"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" (v21).

"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" (vs.22-29).

The Robe

"And you shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue with a hole in the top and  middle of it: it will have a binding of woven work round about the hole, so that it will not tear. And on its bottom hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet; and bells of gold between each pomegranate: And it will be upon Aaron to minister: and his sound will be heard when he goes in to the holy place before the LORD, and when he comes out, so that he will not die" (vs.31-35).

The Turban and Mitre

"And you will make a plate of pure gold, and make engravings upon it as of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And you will put it on blue lace, that it may be upon the front of the mitre. And it will be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel will hollow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD" (vs.36-38).

"And for Aaron's sons you shall make coats, and you shall make for them girdles, and bonnets shall you make for them, for glory and for beauty. And you shall put them upon Aaron your brother, and his sons;  and anoint them, that they may minister to me in the priest's office. And you shall make them linen breaches that reach from the loins to the thighs: to cover their nakedness; when they come into the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever unto him and his seed after him" (vs.40-43).

It is important to understand that, in addition to the symbolic meaning of the breastplate that covered the ephod, it also had much to do with 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 one could gain insight from or contact 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 ('mishpat hoshen') was clearly a necessary part of all the objects that were required in order for the  high priest to communicate with God.

The Urim and Thummin

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 from the stones of the breastplate ceased to shine 200 years before he wrote his history (app.150 B.C.). This seems to be the beginning point of the fulfillment of Hosea's prophecy (Hos.3:4-5) that spoke of the cessation of God's communication through the sacred items associated with the priesthood:

"And in the breastplate of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummin; 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" (v30).

The Hebrew word 'urim' means 'light(s)' and the Hebrew word 'thummin' 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 concerning certain matters pertaining to the people of Israel.

The scriptures clearly show that the symbolism of light is knowledge and perfect integrity is one of the attributes of God. Moreover, the breastplate of judgment and the urim and the thummin were devices through which God conveyed his will and instructions to his people.

The following are some of many events recorded in the Bible in which the ephod, breastplate,  urim, thummin, and teraphim were used to gain insight and knowledge from God or to determine his will in certain matters:

Moses and 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 that he was to take him to Eleazar whose responsibility it was to use the urim to ask for God's will and council (Num.27:15-23). This account shows the importance of the urim and thummin in gaining insight and knowledge into the will of  God.

King Saul

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. Because God would not answer, Saul became so discouraged and frightened that he  decided to  seek  insight and guidance through a source that 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.

David

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  return to Jerusalem after their captivity, there were a number of men who wanted to serve in the temple as priests. However, they could not prove that they were descended from Aaron; therefore, they were not allowed to serve until a priest consulted with God through the urim and thummin 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 council from Israel,  these objects were still being used by the priesthood in order to gain insight and knowledge from God.  

Gideon

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 that God had 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 that he used it to gain insight and knowledge from God while ruling the people.

It is important to note that nothing negative has ever been  said about Gideon or his use of the ephod. However, the scriptures clearly indicate that the use of the ephod caused Gideon and his sons 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 Teraphim

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 that would have been outside their ability to gain through natural means.

The teraphim is not mentioned in the list of items that God had made for the tabernacle nor is it in the list of items that comprised the high priest's sacred garments; however, it is very possible that  the teraphim is referred to along with these items by a name other than 'teraphim'.

The teraphim is noted as something that is associated with the  high priest, and that 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's return (Hos.3:4). 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 were to officiate. What is clear is that the northern tribes again began to practice worship systems that 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 that there was no ruler in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes (Jdg.17:6).

Chapter 17 and 18 of the Book of Judges tells the story of Micah, a man of the tribe of Ephraim, who had an ephod, a teraphim, and carved and cast images made. Eventually, a Levite from Bethlehem happened to come to Micah's home to work. Micah paid the Levite to be his priest over his household gods. 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 Micah had made and gave these men a positive answer from God.

This account reveals the following things about the ephod and the teraphim:

1. Although Micah's ephod,  images, and teraphim did not come from the tabernacle, God still honored their use in seeking guidance from him.

2. 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.

3. God honored the Levite's request because he used objects that were designed to be used to seek his guidance.

Again, we see God using an object to communicate his will. Because the word 'teraphim' is a plural word, there has been some speculation that 'teraphim' was another word used to describe the urim and thummin, 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 in to 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 and the urim and thummin will exist again and be used by the high priest at the temple in Jerusalem before Christ's return is unclear from Hosea's prophecy (Hos.3:4-5). However, it is clear that these objects will exist after Christ's return.

For the elect of God today, knowing exactly what the ephod, teraphim, urim, and thummin were made of, or exactly what they looked like is not important. What is important to understand, however, is that God used these physical objects to give insight, and  knowledge  and to communicate his will to his people.

By B.L Cocherell, file b8w17