Shortly after the Lord confounded the language of people at the tower of Babel and scattered them “upon the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9), a group of people led by a man named Jared and his brother traveled to the American continent. As they prepared to board barges to cross the sea, the brother of Jared formulated an innovative plan to provide light in these fully enclosed vessels. Forging sixteen smooth clear stones out of molten rock, he carried the stones up a mountain and petitioned God to touch the stones with His finger “that they may shine forth in darkness…that we may have light while we shall cross the sea” (Ether 3:4). In answer to his prayer, the Lord not only touched the stones but also showed Himself to the brother of Jared and ministered to him. Then He told the brother of Jared to write what he had learned and to store it with two stones which would have a special function:
For behold, the language which ye shall write I have confounded; wherefore I will cause in my own due time that these stones shall magnify to the eyes of men these things which ye shall write (Ether 3:24).
Thousands of years later, when the people of King Limhi found a set of plates containing engravings, he was thrilled to learn that another king, Mosiah, had the power to translate them. As one of Mosiah’s servants explained:
He has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And 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 (Mosiah 8:13).
Throughout the Book of Mormon, these “interpreters” were guarded and kept with the spiritual record of the people. Alma commanded his son Helaman to preserve the brass plates, the plates of Nephi, and the twenty-four Jaredite plates, “and that ye preserve these interpreters” (Alma 37:21). Moroni said that he had followed God’s commandment to seal up the plates and the interpreters, to come forth among the Gentiles when they choose to repent and “become clean before the Lord” (Ether 4:5-6).
On September 21, 1823, Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and revealed to him where he could find the records he had hidden in the earth. He said that the record was written on gold plates, and that with the record, he would find:
two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book (Joseph Smith—History 1:35).
Joseph used these stones to help him translate the Book of Mormon. He also received at least six revelations by inquiring of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim. (See section headers for sections 3, 6, 7, 11, 14, and 17 of the Doctrine and Covenants.)
In the Old Testament, a Urim and Thummim are mentioned multiple times. They were to be stored in the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus 28:30, Leviticus 8:8). The high priest was to use them to obtain the word of the Lord on behalf of the people (Numbers 27:12, 1 Samuel 28:6). After the return from the Babylonian captivity, the people concluded that a difficult issue could not be resolved “till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim” (Ezra 2:63, Nehemiah 7:65).
And what about us? Do we have tangible objects which facilitate the reception of personal revelation from God? President Dallin H. Oaks has taught:
A scripture is not limited to what it meant when it was written but may also include what that scripture means to a reader today. Even more, scripture reading may also lead to current revelation on whatever else the Lord wishes to communicate to the reader at that time. We do not overstate the point when we say that the scriptures can be a Urim and Thummim to assist each of us to receive personal revelation (“Scripture Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, January 1995).
Today, I will be grateful that Heavenly Father has prepared tools to assist us in receiving answers from Him. Because He provided the Urim and Thummim to prophets at various times in history, I have access to sacred revelations which have been recorded and translated so that I can understand them. Additionally, the scriptures can unlock revelation for me, enabling me to find answers to my questions and receive guidance for my life.