A gracEmail reader asks about the biblical practice of decision-making by casting lots. “My wife and I sometimes narrow the choices based on our best judgment, pray, then cast lots for a final decision. Does God still work that way today?”
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Casting lots is an ancient manner of seeking God’s will in a particular decision. The practice involved putting stones of various colors or markings in a vessel and shaking it until one stone came out, or by reaching in and drawing out a stone sight unseen. Pious Jews and Christians did this “before the Lord,” that is, while seeking God’s guidance in prayer (Josh. 18:6, 8; Acts 1:23-26). God then revealed his will by controlling what otherwise would have been left to chance. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33).
Joshua used this method to divide the land of Israel among the Jewish tribes (Josh. 14:1-2). Israelite officials used it on occasion to detect a guilty party (Josh. 7:13-15; 1 Sam. 14:38-42). The priests cast lots to determine the sacrificial animal on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:7-10). The prophet Samuel identified Saul by lot to be king (1 Sam. 10:20-21), and Temple servants received their various assignments by casting lots (1 Chron. 24:5; 25:8; 26:13). In the New Testament, Jesus’ earliest disciples cast lots to determine which of two qualified candidates should replace Judas as Apostle (Acts 1:23-26).
The New Testament does not mention Christians casting lots after Acts chapter one, perhaps because the next chapter records the descent of the Holy Spirit who thereafter guides and directs the people of God (Acts 2). While it is not a substitute for careful reasoning or for other methods of divine guidance, I can envision situations when casting lots might be an appropriate mechanism for seeking God’s will today. In such a case, the believing individual, family or church, having first applied all other available wisdom (scriptural, natural and bestowed) and still faced with multiple choices which appear equally proper and equally wise, prayerfully submits the final alternatives to God and trusts him to govern the outcome.