Thursday, August 9, 2007

Casting Lots and Determining God's Will

What is the deal with casting lots in the OT and why is it used in the NT? Was this a valid way to determine the will of God? Can we cast lots today to determine God’s will for ourselves?

When I first became a Christian and began to read through the Bible, This subject led to some very challenging questions that I could not find answers to. Recently, our pastor, David, has been taking the church through the book of Acts on Sunday nights and last Sunday we read about how the disciples used lots to decide who the replacement disciple would be for Judas Iscariot. This reminded me of my own question that I had before and how many others may also be questioning this as well. Why would believers use what would appear to be a system of chance in order to distinguish the will of God? To answer this question, let’s look at 3 things. First, we will need to understand just what “lots” is and what it was used for. Second, we will look at an OT passage in which it was used. Finally, we will look at a NT passage in which it was used. After we perform these three steps, it will become very clear how God intended for us to distinguish His will. After all, that is the underlying importance of our initial question. How can I know the will of God?

1) Easton’s Bible Dictionary states:
“Lot — (Heb. goral, a “pebble”), a small stone used in casting lots (Num. 33:54; Jonah 1:7). The lot was always resorted to by the Hebrews with strictest reference to the interposition of God, and as a method of ascertaining the divine will (Prov. 16:33), and in serious cases of doubt (Esther 3:7). Thus the lot was used at the division of the land of Canaan among the serveral tribes (Num. 26:55; 34:13), at the detection of Achan (Josh. 7:14, 18), the election of Saul to be king (1 Sam. 10:20, 21), the distribution of the priestly offices of the temple service (1 Chr. 24:3, 5, 19; Luke 1:9), and over the two goats at the feast of Atonement (Lev. 16:8). Matthias, who was “numbered with the eleven” (Acts 1:24–26), was chosen by lot. [1]

So it is safe to say that a lot was some material that would be symbolic for a person or animal or some choice to be made. A number of lots would be mixed together and whichever one was singled out was believed to be the person or choice chosen by God. It is well known that the casting of lots was performed by Jews and Gentiles alike in OT times. It is important to remember, however, as Easton points out, that the Jews cast lots to determine the will of God.

2) The book of Jonah contains a very clear example of casting lots in the OT. As you probably remember, Jonah was commanded by God to go to Nineveh to warn the people to repent of their wickedness (Jonah 1:2). He then boarded a boat to flee to Tarshish and while en route a great storm arose (Jonah 1:3-4). The crew decided to cast lots to see who was responsible for this terrible event and the lot singled out Jonah (Jonah 1:7). So it is evident here in this example as in several other OT examples that the casting of lots was indeed a way in which the Israelites determined the will of God (Lev. 16:8; Josh. 18:6; 1 Sam. 14:42; Neh. 10:34; Es. 3:7; Prov. 16:33).

3) There is only 1 known instance in the NT in which the casting of lots is performed. This is found in the book of Acts 1:12-26. Specifically, here in this passage the disciples realize that the Scripture commands that another take the place of Judas Iscariot, who was the disciple that turned against Jesus (Acts 1:20, ref. Ps. 109:8). They found two men who could take his place, brought them forward, and cast lots to determine who would be the next apostle. “The lot fell on Matthias and so he was added to the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:26).

All of that being said, it is now possible to answer the initial question: why does the NT teach by example that major decisions should be decided by lot?
The answer to this question is simple and will become clear for the reader quickly. This can be answered with another question: what one of the biggest differences between a new covenant believer and an old covenant believer? The new covenant believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of himself (John 14:17) and the old covenant believer did not (John 16:7). What is one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit? While He has all of the attributes of God one of these of particular importance here is the Holy Spirit’s omniscience which allows us to understand the deep intricacies of God of which His will is part of (1 Cor. 2:10-11). While we do not know everything of God (Romans 11:33) it is clear that the Holy Spirit is our source for His will. This being said, it is clear why the casting of lots is no longer a Biblical way to determine the will of God. Believers in Jesus Christ have the Holy Spirit and so the casting of lots is no longer necessary.

If you look back in passage in Acts, you will notice that the Holy Spirit was promised to be coming soon (Acts 1:5) but had not come yet. He would begin His earthly ministry after the casting of lots for Matthias (Acts 2).

So the single NT passage supporting the casting of lots to determine Gods will is valid because it was before the advent of the Holy Spirit in believers, but is not valid following Acts 2 and today because of the advent of the Holy Spirit in believers.

Does anyone else agree or have a differing opinion?


[1]M.G. Easton, Easton's Bible Dictionary (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897).

16 comments:

brandon said...

I agree.

Jody said...

Enjoyed the article. I have studied this topic a little and wonder if God would illuminate the stone with the answer.
Jody

Josh said...

Jody,

I have checked out your article as well. I am going to check onto your idea about God illuminating the lot. Sounds really interesting! To this date, I haven't been able to decide how it was that God singled the lot out of the group.

Anonymous said...

This was very intresting but please consider this point. The disciples had already received the HOLY SPIRIT before Act 2. In John 20:22 after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the diciples - he breathed on them and said, "receive ye the Holy Ghost."

So the remaining 11 diciples had already received the Holy Spirit before they cast lots to replace Judas - I don't have the answer to why they cast the lots. Acts 2 was about receiving the out pouring of the Holy Ghost - The Spritual Gift of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit -Coversion is when all believers receive the impartation of the Holy Spirit - It's the same spirit that rose Christ from the dead which now quickens my mortal body. My point is he 11 already had the Holy Spirit before they cast the lots in Acts 1. I don't know why they casted the lots I wish I did. However you do have a great point - The only other reason I can think of why they cast the lots would be because the out pouring in Acts 2 had not taken place yet - and the gentiles had not yet had a chance to receive the gospel. So maybe they were still following the Jewish Coustoms because they still didn't realize until later in the books of Acts that it was faith in Christ only - Could we be saved - that the law or works can not justify any flesh. Thanks - Tony

Anonymous said...

Good article...I love your conclusion. However, in Jonah's story, those who cast lots were not Israelites, they were heathens and use lots like many cultures in that ancient world. Thus, this scripture confirms that casting of lots was in great usage of the known world of that time and not Israel exclusively.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Thanks for you post. I found your site as I was studying the subject. You know, all most everybody who posts on this subject on the various websites says something along the lines of what your are saying. I am a conservative evangelical believer and it makes great sense to me. The interesting thing to me is culturally we all have a problem with this. It just seems too flippant and unscientific for us to base our beliefs on such a thing as casting of lots. But as I have thought through things, it isn't that incrediable to believe that God can and does supernaturally intervene in the daily affairs of men. We actually spend lots of time living our lives like this anyway. Who doesn't say things like, "God, if this is not your will, close the door." Or Father, show me your will, if you want me to do this, give me favor with people." I mean, yes, I agree with your statements above. Scripture is primary. And since we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and we can pray, then ofcourse we take all things to God in prayer. We ask him for wisdom. But how did Peter know that he was to replace the apostle anyway? They were corporately praying, he read a few disconnected scriptures, and they choose men, and they they took lots. Isn't the whole process actually a little subjective? And isn't the process they took, very similar to what we might prescribe today? I mean, for many churches if they need a new Elder, they would pray about it, serach the scripture, see who fits the scriptural qualifications and vote. We actually would just stop there right? Or if it were a tie take both elders or revote. What makes us more spiritual by never casting the lot in the odd circumstance that we have a tie in the voting process. THere are many things that we can be sure of about God's will (like our obedience to God), but somethings really are a toss up. I think of David. Here was a man who was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And when Johnathan was trying to decipher whether his father, King Saul, was intent to kill David (1 Samuel 20), they both agreed that if his Father got angry about David not being at the table for the New Moon Dinner, that it was the LORD saying that David should leave the kings presence because the king was going to try to kill him. After that David was on the run for like 10 years! In effect David and Jonathan were using Saul's response as a "lot" to decipher God's will. Don't we do the very same thing? Didn't Abraham's servant do the same thing when looking for a wife for Isaac? And if casting a lot is so bad for us NT Christians, isn't it interesting as to why the NT doesn't make any comment on this situation. I mean many people go so far as to say that Peter was mistaken here, because Matthais was never mentioned again. Really? An arguement from silence? That could be made for other disciples as well. I guess I am just saying that we may say that we don't believe that casting lots is necessary anymore because of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but in actuallity, at least I am not always as sure as I would like to be about various issues, and though I don't lay out a "Gideon's Fleece," I do end up looking for God guidance outside of my conscience or my own inner sense of the Holy Spirit. That is always tempered by Scripture of course. But doesn't almost everybody do this? Is that so wrong? I just think that we are not so different than those first Christians, who came to an impass, and had the guts to beleive that God can intervene even in the casting of lots.

Johnny, From South Carolina

Anonymous said...

not sure if my former post made it through. Here it is again. Please delete one, if I have sent the message below twice:

Hi. Thanks for you post. I found your site as I was studying the subject. You know, all most everybody who posts on this subject on the various websites says something along the lines of what your are saying. I am a conservative evangelical believer and it makes great sense to me. The interesting thing to me is culturally we all have a problem with this. It just seems too flippant and unscientific for us to base our beliefs on such a thing as casting of lots. But as I have thought through things, it isn't that incrediable to believe that God can and does supernaturally intervene in the daily affairs of men. We actually spend lots of time living our lives like this anyway. Who doesn't say things like, "God, if this is not your will, close the door." Or Father, show me your will, if you want me to do this, give me favor with people." I mean, yes, I agree with your statements above. Scripture is primary. And since we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and we can pray, then ofcourse we take all things to God in prayer. We ask him for wisdom. But how did Peter know that he was to replace the apostle anyway? They were corporately praying, he read a few disconnected scriptures, and they choose men, and they they took lots. Isn't the whole process actually a little subjective? And isn't the process they took, very similar to what we might prescribe today? I mean, for many churches if they need a new Elder, they would pray about it, serach the scripture, see who fits the scriptural qualifications and vote. We actually would just stop there right? Or if it were a tie take both elders or revote. What makes us more spiritual by never casting the lot in the odd circumstance that we have a tie in the voting process. THere are many things that we can be sure of about God's will (like our obedience to God), but somethings really are a toss up. I think of David. Here was a man who was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And when Johnathan was trying to decipher whether his father, King Saul, was intent to kill David (1 Samuel 20), they both agreed that if his Father got angry about David not being at the table for the New Moon Dinner, that it was the LORD saying that David should leave the kings presence because the king was going to try to kill him. After that David was on the run for like 10 years! In effect David and Jonathan were using Saul's response as a "lot" to decipher God's will. Don't we do the very same thing? Didn't Abraham's servant do the same thing when looking for a wife for Isaac? And if casting a lot is so bad for us NT Christians, isn't it interesting as to why the NT doesn't make any comment on this situation. I mean many people go so far as to say that Peter was mistaken here, because Matthais was never mentioned again. Really? An arguement from silence? That could be made for other disciples as well. I guess I am just saying that we may say that we don't believe that casting lots is necessary anymore because of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but in actuallity, at least I am not always as sure as I would like to be about various issues, and though I don't lay out a "Gideon's Fleece," I do end up looking for God guidance outside of my conscience or my own inner sense of the Holy Spirit. That is always tempered by Scripture of course. But doesn't almost everybody do this? Is that so wrong? I just think that we are not so different than those first Christians, who came to an impass, and had the guts to beleive that God can intervene even in the casting of lots.

Johnny, From South Carolina

Josh said...

Great comment Johnny! Thanks for the insight. First, I do not think that casting lots is necessarily bad but it appears as if we do not need this particular method of discerning God's will anymore because we have his spirit living inside of us. I agree with you that many times in life God’s will can appear to be a “toss-up”. I happen to believe that God’s will can encompass several different actions in one particular instance. The Word of God and I believe his Holy Spirit do not always give us one specific direction but do in fact allow us a certain amount of room for decision making. I have found that when we seek him out carefully considering his Word and abiding Spirit than we will make the right decision.
In reference to the possibility of utilizing lots as a way of determining the will of God let me ask you a question. If you had a big decision to make and two options to consider would you flip a coin to determine God’s will? Or would you pray, study the Word, and rely on the leadership of the Holy Spirit to make your decision? God certainly is sovereign over every single moment of “chance” but He desires for us to seek him out. That’s the gift that we have in Christ and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that those in O.T. times did not have and so it seems that according to the general witness of the Word that casting lots is no longer necessary because we have something better and much more personal…A direct relationship with the one who controls the lot!

Anonymous said...

I really had to make a big decision and the thought of lots actually came to mind. I found your site and it makes a lot of sense. I wish I could say I had a peace about this decision but I am still uneasy about it. Thanks for the article and the time you took to write it.

Josh said...

Great comment. The Lord's timing is always perfect so we must faithfully walk with him in prayer and complete dependence on the Holy Spirit. I trust that if you seek His wisdom with a dedicated heart you will surely glorify him with your decision. Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Yes but Jonah agreed with the results and confessed his sin against God which makes it seem that he understood the will of God through the casting of lots.

Johnny Hunsucker said...

Spot on! The more you obey Him the closer you are. Then His words are much clearer! Love this topic though. I agree with Johnny and Josh...

Formerheathen said...

Here's one more mention of lots:

Proverbs 18:18 (NIV)

18 Casting the lot settles disputes
and keeps strong opponents apart.

Thanks for the post!! :-)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog/ideas. However, a couple of other points: (1) The Holy Spirit is not unknown to Jews; it's called the Ruach HaKodesh. How do you think Jesus came up w/ this idea? It was already part of Jewish tradition! So I believe that they already perhaps HAD the Holy Spirit, and just didn't think of it the same way as those did after Jesus' resurrection? Also, Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit and was told that she would; again, the concept of the Holy Spirit was therefore not foreign to her, either.

So I think it may be a false extrapolation to think that because casting of lots wasn't mentioned again and they were waiting for the H. S., that therefore, one shouldn't use lots. It's like a=b:=c. Because, again, the Holy Spirit wasn't unknown to the Jewish people before all that.

Just MHO...

I don't think that the Word, prayer and HS are always clear. I believe that "Signs" are OK (or Lots), if not over-used or used in place of common sense. Especially, if one needs an immediate decision, and yes, I WOULD use it for huge decisions, if there is no one available to consult and the circumstances are that dire. I have been in such places. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Casting lots seems similar to asking God for a sign to me. It is easy to get misled by following signs. Anyone who has gotten caught up in gambling knows it can be tricky. Sometimes we can't find a way to make a decision rationally even using the scripture and prayer. So in those cases we are driven to the point of having to basically draw lots or throw the dice and hope. When the discpiles drew lots to choose a replacement for Judah they had 2 canidates they felt were equally qualified first. Of course who is to say that everything they did was in accordance with God's will? There are numerous times through the bible where men of God dis not make wise choices. We can criticize the men in the old Testiment but to question the disciples seems somehow sacrilegious. Did they even need a replacement for Judas? Sometimes there may be things that matter to us but God doesn't really care one way or the other. Perhaps on those types of things it is okay to cast lots. I love it when it seems like God has sent me a sign or unusual coincidence. However we have to be aware that not all signs and coincidences come from God and we can misinterpret the ones that do.

Josh said...

Regarding the February 18th comment by Anonymous, I just want to point out that they desired to replace Judas because God commanded it to be so, which Peter stated under the inspiration of God by quoting Psalms 69:25 and 109:8. Certainly, the disciples didn't do everything in accordance with God's will (they weren't perfect like Jesus), but in this case, I interpret their actions to be directed by God.