What do we make of “casting lots” in the Bible? Is there ever a situation where we should “cast lots” if we are uncertain of God’s will?
This was an interesting practice in the Bible, and especially in the world around the Bible. Casting lots was most common among the nations rather than Israel. It was actually a common form of divination, understanding the will of the gods.
Casting lots is today couched in the practice of gambling. Lots were dice that were rolled around in the hand and tossed on the floor, discovering the will of the gods through whatever result came from the tops of the dice. Sound familiar?
There were other forms of divination among the nations. Another common form of divination was to kill an animal and open its insides to see how the organs lay. One of the problems with divination is that you had to know how to do it.
Every result of the dice meant something different for the will of the gods. They had people qualified in divination that they would go to for answers to their questions of the gods. Even then, they could never be sure if they were pleasing the gods or not.
Urim and Thummim. These were kept in the breastplate of the high priest and were most likely small objects (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8). The Bible doesn’t describe them but they refused to discern God’s will (Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63).
Since no one knows what they looked like or what they actually were with the lack of description in the Bible, scholars postulate everything from a pair of rocks with markings on them to dice. Most suggest two items well others suggest three. They could have had numbers or letters on them.
The difference between the priests in Israel using the urim and thummim from the divination of the nations around them is that they expected God to direct the choice that would come up. They did not trust in false gods and idols to produce the result.
Casting lots was all about figuring out the will of the gods or God’s will in Israel. The Kings of Israel seemed to rely on some form to know whether or not to go to battle with this people or that. It’s unclear if they went to the high priest for these decisions or were able to ask God for themselves. David seems to have asked God for himself but Saul is unable to know after God’s Spirit leaves him.
In the New Testament, we see the soldiers at the cross casting lots for Jesus’ garments (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24). The next time we hear about casting lots is in Acts 1:26 when the disciples need to choose someone to replace Judas.
Before we talk about the act of casting lots, let’s look at a few important distinguishing marks of this choice. First, Peter outlined the reasons to fill Judas’ apostle spot using Scripture (Acts 1:15-20). Then he gave the criterion for the office of the apostle (Acts 1:21-22). And they suggested two men who fulfilled these qualifications.
Either one of the men would have fulfilled the qualifications. Either one would have been a fine choice. It was just a matter of which one the Lord wanted to fulfill the apostle’s place. In one sense, it wouldn’t have mattered which one was chosen because they were both fit for the office.
This is one they prayed and asked God who he wanted to fill the place of the apostle in the ministry (Acts 1:24-25). Only after all of these steps did they cast lots to decide between the two men (Acts 1:26).
I am pointing all of these things out so that we don’t get the idea that they just threw a couple of dice and one guy won the office over another. They deeply involved God in the process and longed to know his choice, not their own.
Now there is an important change that occurs directly after this event. And it forever changes the landscape of Christians discerning God’s will. In Acts 2, all of the disciples and everyone in the Upper Room is baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-11).
From this time on, casting lots is never used by Christians again. When they need to know God’s will, they pray and ask him and wait on the Holy Spirit to give them his answer. With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, even our prayers aligned with God’s will (Romans 8:26-27).
Christian practice ever since the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every Christian is to pray and ask God his will in every situation where you do not have guidance already. If the Bible tells us what we should do in a situation, then that is God’s Word on the matter.
But what if we have two or more options that are all godly and will please them? If you need the Spirit’s direction, he is only a prayer away. He will give you discernment in every situation that is not clear from Scripture alone.
Just ask and wait for his answer. Also consider asking godly leaders and people about your decision. They may provide more information or to be used by the Spirit to discern which choice you should make.