1 Samuel 14:37 So Saul asked God, “Shall I go down and pursue the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel’s hand?” But God did not answer him that day.

These questions can be answered with "yes" or "no". In fact, just 4 verses later:

41 Then Saul prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, “Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault, respond with Thummim.” Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared. 42Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken.

Now God answered these questions.


3 Answers 3


The Hebrew in this passage is tricky and numerous attempts have been made to render it sensible. Most, including the NIV have some justification as the text appears to possibly have some deletions. In its current condition, the NASB gives a good literal translation of V41:

Therefore, Saul said to the LORD, the God of Israel, "Give a perfect lot." And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.

The word translated "perfect" is תָמִ֑ים (tamim or thamim); "lot" is supplied and not in the Hebrew text. Several other versions (NIV, ESV, BSB, etc) have a longer text involving Urim and Thummim which is on the basis of two facts:

  • "Thummim" means "perfect" and part of the text about (perhaps) Urim may have been lost
  • The LXX includes the references to Urim and the longer text.

That is, versions with a longer text interpret "tamim" (reasonably) as "Thummim" and also follow the LXX. The Cambridge commentary summarizes this well:

  1. Give a perfect lot] This and not the marginal rendering “Shew the innocent” is the best explanation of an obscure phrase which occurs nowhere else.

The Sept. however has a very different reading, which with some emendation may be rendered, “And Saul said, O Lord God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant to day? If the iniquity be in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord God of Israel, give Urim: and if it be in thy people Israel, give Thummim.” If this reading is correct, it points to the conclusion that the “judgment of Urim and Thummim” was obtained by a special method of casting lots, which was employed on the present occasion. See further on 1 Samuel 28:6. The Heb. text implies that the ordinary lot only was used.

Now back to the main question. There was sin but not that of Jonathon, but of the King, Saul. As Barnes observes:

Saul's rashness becomes more and more apparent. He now adds an additional oath, to bring down yet further guilt in "taking God's name in vain" The expressions in 1 Samuel 14:36, 1 Samuel 14:40, indicate the fear in which the people stood of Saul. None dared to resist his will.

Benson then observes:

1 Samuel 14:41-42. Give a perfect lot — Or, Declare the perfect, or guiltless person. That is, O Lord, so guide the lot, that it may discover who is guilty in this matter, and who innocent. The people escaped — They were pronounced guiltless. Jonathan was taken — God so ordered the lot; not that he approved Saul’s execration, (1 Samuel 14:24,) or his oath that the transgressor should die, (1 Samuel 14:39,) nor that he would expose Jonathan to death; but that Saul’s folly might be chastised, when he saw what danger it had brought upon his eldest and most excellent son; and that Jonathan’s innocence might be cleared.


The [NIV] is an incorrect translation. - First compare the original Ivri (עִבְרִי) text of 1 Samuel - Chapter 14, verse 41. * Urim & Thummim are not mentioned.

1 Samuel 14:41 [MT]

"And Shaul said to-YHVH, "My-God of Yisrael, Give a perfect lot," whereupon Yonatan and Shaul were taken, and the people escaped." (וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שָׁא֗וּל אֶל־יְהֹוָ֛ה אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל הָ֣בָה תָמִ֑ים וַיִּלָּכֵ֧ד יוֹנָתָ֛ן וְשָׁא֖וּל וְהָעָ֥ם יָצָֽאוּ)

  • Tamim (תָמִ֑ים) is not != Ha-Thummim ( הַתֻּמִּ֔ים ).
  • Ha-Urim (הָֽאוּרִים֙) is also not mentioned!

[NIV] 1 Samuel 14:41

"Then Saul prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, “Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault,[a] respond with Thummim.” Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared."

Wow! - English translations like [NIV] of 1 Samuel 14:41, appear to add to the original text.

Now ask [who] has permission to use Urim & Thummim when inquiring of God? - "Ha-Kohen" (הַכֹּהֵ֔ן) / The-Priest.

Exodus 28:30 [MT]

[30] "You shall place the Urim and the Tummim into the choshen of judgment so that they will be over Aharon's heart when he comes before YHVH, and Aharon will carry the judgment of the children of Yisrael over his heart before YHVH at all times." (וְנָֽתַתָּ֞ אֶל־ח֣שֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּ֗ט אֶת־הָֽאוּרִים֙ וְאֶת־הַתֻּמִּ֔ים וְהָיוּ֙ עַל־לֵ֣ב אַֽהֲרֹ֔ן בְּבֹא֖וֹ לִפְנֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֑ה וְנָשָׂ֣א אַֽ֠הֲרֹ֠ן אֶת־מִשְׁפַּ֨ט בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֧ל עַל־לִבּ֛וֹ לִפְנֵ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה תָּמִֽיד )

What do Urim & Thummim mean?

  • "Ha-Urim" (הָֽאוּרִים֙) = The-Lights .
  • "Ha-Tummim" (הַתֻּמִּ֔ים) = The-Perfections .

Shaul was not a Priest & used his own imperative means to cast Lots referenced in 1 Samuel 14:42 "Happilu!" (הַפִּ֕ילוּ) = "Drop!" [ https://www.pealim.com/dict/1231-lehapil/ ]. - Whatever "Perfect" (תָמִ֑ים) lots were "Dropped" (הַפִּ֕ילוּ) answered Shaul's superstitions about Yonatan's disobedience.


1 Samuel 14:18
Saul said to Ahijah, "Bring the ark of God."

The high priest and the ark was with Samuel and he tried but it didn't work according to Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

But he answered him not . . .--When the mysterious gems refused to shine, or in any way to signify the Divine approbation or disapproval, the high-priestly questioner seems, as in this instance, to have concluded that some public transgression had been committed, and that special atonement must be made before the desired answer could be expected. The sacred gems probably remained dull and lightless the night was wearing on, and Saul chafed at the unexpected delay, and in his impetuous anger uttered the wild words on which we are about to comment.

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