Casting Lots in the Bible

What is the “Lot” in Proverbs 16:33?

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Proverbs 16:33

This proverb concerns the decision making process. The “lot” here refers to a decision-making device. Casting lots in the Old Testament refers to the practice of throwing dice.

The dice would be rolled, and whatever the result was, the person followed it. Often casting lots referred to one type of divination. Divination is seeking to understand what the gods or even the God of Israel wanted you to do.

However, in Israel this practice is rare. The priests relied on the Urim and Thumim in their breastplate to inquire of the Lord. Many of the kings regularly inquired of the Lord whether or not they should go to battle. Got often told them whether they would win the battle or not.

But for the nations around Israel, the most common way to understand what the gods expected of them was through divination. Some of the most common forms of divination were looking at the inner parts of animals and casting lots.

While we consider casting lots or throwing dice in gambling today to be a game, it was used in the Bible as a form of idolatry. That is why this proverb is so interesting. The proverb speaks of decision making, finding out what the Lord once us to do, but saying that if we use dice or lots the Lord will return the result he wants us to do.

This was essentially the Israelite way of decision-making with casting lots but it not being an idolatrous practice. Because they sought the Lord’s counsel they expected the result of casting the lots was the Lord’s answer.

Instead of trusting in false gods to give them an answer through divination in casting lots, they cast lots trusting in the Lord to give them the answer through the dice. This practice ends in the Bible right before the Day of Pentecost for believers.

When the disciples in the Upper Room through prayer and scripture seek to replace Judas with a twelfth apostle, they cast lots and follow this proverb, expecting that the board will answer them through the dice (Acts 1:26).

But this is the last recorded instance of believers using lots to discover what the Lord wills them to do. On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, everyone in the Upper Room is baptized in the Holy Spirit. This empowers them to use the direct line to God through intercession of the Holy Spirit to make decisions from then on (Acts 13:2-3; 15:28; Romans 8:26-28).

Another possible interpretation of this proverb is that even if a person uses lots to make decisions, the Lord is the one who decides the course of action. It is much like another proverb that says the heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

Despite the approaches we make to our decisions, the Lord ultimately is sovereign and his pathway for us will be made clear and followed. This is especially important for believers in Jesus.

When we make decisions, there are ways we may use to find out what God wants us to do. Ultimately, the decisions of our lives fall to wanting to please and glorify God. In those decisions, no matter how we come about them, he guides our steps.

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