Was casting lots really used to determine God’s will? Yes, it was really done. Before we assume this is like playing the dice in Vegas, we need to put ourselves back in time. Back to Biblical times. When God interacted more directly with His people. And dare I say, when God’s people interacted more directly with Him. So before we cast dispersions on the practice of casting lots, let’s look back.
Seriously, casting lots, usually pebbles or stones, isn’t the first thing most of us today think of as a way to talk with God. And yet, we read about it in the Bible. More than two dozen times. We’ll look at seven of them. Four in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament. For example, you may remember, Jesus’ clothes were divided up after His death on the cross. That was done by casting lots.
We may think that was a pagan process, since it was done by the Roman soldiers. But there’s more to casting lots in the Bible. We’ll take a look at some of them, and then see what we think about this process. One that appears so odd today.
Casting lots in the Bible: #1 – Leviticus – Day of Atonement
There’s a rather long passage in Leviticus related to what’s called The Day of Atonement. The excerpt below shows the importance of the Day of Atonement for the Jewish people. It began after God delivered His people from slavery under Pharaoh by guiding them through the desert.
What is the Day of Atonement?
Atonement, Day of (Heb. Yom Kippur), a fast day on which no work was done, observed in Israel ten days after the fall new year (Lev. 23:27–32) to atone for the sins of the past year. An offering of incense was made by the high priest in the innermost chamber of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, the only time in the year he entered there. The sins of the people were symbolically placed upon the ‘scapegoat,’ which was driven into the wilderness. Hebrews 8–9 draw heavily on the Day of Atonement to explain Christ’s sacrifice. 1Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). In Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed., p. 80). San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Obviously, this is a big deal. So let’s read about what happened and how the casting of lots was for. The underlined portion is the key for our investigation.
16:2-34 pp — Lev 23:26-32; Nu 29:7-11
Lev 16:1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2 The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
Lev 16:3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
Lev 16:6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.
Lev 16:11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.
We can see, Moses was told to use the process of casting lots to pick which goat was sacrificed, and which was to be the scapegoat and set free in the wilderness.
Some historical background on casting lots
Let’s take a look at some history now, so learn more about casting lots.
Lots in the Ancient World
Ancient peoples used lot-casting as a form of cleromancy—a type of divination in which the random outcome was believed to reflect divine will. Ancients commonly used small stones labeled to reflect the possible outcomes of the decision (Lindblom, “Lot-casting,” 168). The Bible contains no description of the specific procedure for casting lots, undoubtedly due to the commonplace nature of the practice. Based on etymology, Kitz suggests the Israelites likely placed marked stones into a container, which was then shaken in such a way as to “cast” out a deciding stone (Kitz, “Terminology,” 207–14). Hittite and Akkadian texts also indicate that the casting of stones was used to determine an oracular answer to a series of questions (Kitz, “Urim and Thumim,” 401–10). 2Fleenor, R. (2016). Lots. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.hl.tv
Some people argue that pagans used the process before God directed His people to do the same. For some, this leads to difficulties. It’s hard to believe that the living God can or would use something that was common among the pagan gods. There seems to be a feeling that since the pagans did it first, supposedly, then God’s people were just copying the pagan rituals. However, that ignores a very real possibility.
In 1 Kings, there’s an incident where Elijah challenges the followers of the pagan god Baal. Both will set up a pile of wood. The pagans will call on Baal to set it on fire. Elijah will call on his God to do the same. But after the Baal fails to start the fire, Elijah calls for lots of water to be poured in the pile of wood for God. God successfully lights the soaking wet wood on fire.
Same challenge. Same exact process. But it’s used to show the Israelite God is alive and responds, while the pagan god is not alive and cannot respond. I encourage you to check it out, in 1 Kings 18:16-46.
So, who’s to say that God isn’t using the practice of casting lots to also show that He is alive and communicates with His people, while the pagan gods cannot and do not? It’s something that really should not be a problem for us as Christians.
Casting lots in the Bible: #2 – Numbers – Distribution of the Promised Land
Our second example comes from Numbers. Casting lots was used for the very important process of dividing the areas in the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel. Once again, it’s a very long passage, so I’ll only include the relevant verses and a bit of background. Feel free to use the links to read the entire passage.
Nu 26:1 After the plague the LORD said to Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, 2 “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by families—all those twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army of Israel.” 3 So on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them and said, 4 “Take a census of the men twenty years old or more, as the LORD commanded Moses.”
These were the Israelites who came out of Egypt:
Nu 26:52 The LORD said to Moses, 53 “The land is to be allotted to them as an inheritance based on the number of names. 54 To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one; each is to receive its inheritance according to the number of those listed. 55 Be sure that the land is distributed by lot. What each group inherits will be according to the names for its ancestral tribe. 56 Each inheritance is to be distributed by lot among the larger and smaller groups.”
Nu 26:63 These are the ones counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest when they counted the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. 64 Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. 65 For the LORD had told those Israelites they would surely die in the desert, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.
So we see, the division of the land by casting lots was called for by God. While we may think “lot” is similar to a “real estate lot” today, the Hebrew word indicates that it is to be done by casting lots – small stones.
And it’s not like God got credit even though He didn’t call for it. One of so many striking things about the Bible – old and new testaments – is that things aren’t “cleaned up” to make the people look good. Even reading the Talmud – centuries of important dialogues from the Rabbis – aren’t doctored in any way to make them look better than they really were. Accuracy was important above good impressions. So we can trust that if the Bible says casting lots was commanded by God – then that’s what happened.
Casting lots in the Bible: #3 – Proverbs – words of wisdom from Solomon
Two verses are included below. The first is about settling disputes. The second explains why casting lots really can settle disputes. At least, disputes between people who love God and revere His Word.
So here’s the Proverb about settling disputes by casting lots:
Pr 18:18 Casting the lot settles disputes
and keeps strong opponents apart.
That’s nice, but the question remains – why is casting lots the way to resolve disputes? Today, we look at this as a simple statistical situation. We can calculate the probability of every possible outcome. It’s plain and simple. Nothing of God here. Right?
Well, maybe not so right.
Pr 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD.
As often happens, this ends up being a matter of faith, trust and belief. Do we believe God really spoke, in various forms, to His people? And then, do we believe that, in those days, God directed His people to cast lots? Then, do we believe God controlled the outcome of the casting so that it was a reliable method of communication?
An important “side” question – do we believe the Bible?
All of these are also questions of do we believe the Bible is true? If we don’t, then we have a real problem! How can we, as Christians, not believe what we claim to accept as the word of God? These are indeed sticky questions. And yet, isn’t that often the case? Remember what the author of Hebrews wrote about faith:
Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
Heb 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
Next comes 29 verses talking about the faith of: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’ parents, Moses, the people who marched around Jericho before its walls fell, and Rahab,
Heb 11:32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37 They were stoned ; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Heb 11:39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
OK – this is Old Testament stuff. Does it still matter today? Of course, it does. Remember, this same Jewish Scripture that we call the Old Testament is also our source of prophecies about the Messiah. Jesus Christ, the Son of God. If we consider the Old Testament irrelevant, then what happens to those prophecies? Aren’t they irrelevant also? And then how do we have a Savior?
Faith is about believing things that others consider unbelievable. Things like God controlling the outcome after someone tosses a bunch of pebbles.
Casting lots in the Bible: #4 – Jonah – God responding to pagans on a sinking ship?
Maybe you remember this one? It’s from Jonah. Since this is about pagans casting lots and receiving an answer, I will include more details about what happened.
Jnh 1:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
God’s got a plan here. Something He wants accomplished. And Jonah is the one who’s going to do it.
Jnh 1:3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish . He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.
But Jonah doesn’t want to do it. Why not? Because Jonah is afraid that if he delivers God’s message, then the people in Nineveh will repent and be saved. But they’re mortal enemies, and Jonah doesn’t want them to be saved. He wants God to pour out His wrath on Nineveh.
We should pay attention to this for a couple reasons. First – when God wants something done, it will be done. Second – sometimes we have a choice. But then, sometimes we don’t.
Jnh 1:4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.”
So here’s the beginning of God working to be sure His plan is implemented.
We see a variety of pagan gods represented by the sailors. Each calls out to their god of choice. Obvifingously, it wasn’t working. Had any of those pagan gods responded to their cries, there would be no need to throw cargo overboard.
Meanwhile, the captain goes down below to find Jonah. Maybe Jonah’s god can stop this storm.
Jnh 1:7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.
Since nothing else is working, the sailors decide to cast lots to find out who caused the calamity. This is an odd thing to do. The pagan gods didn’t respond to the pleas to calm the storm, but the sailors turn to them again in the hope that they’ll at least point the finger at who caused this.
Jonah! The question becomes then, how did the lots come to point out Jonah as the cause? Did one of the pagan gods respond? Was it blind luck? Or did Jonah’s God, the God of the Israelites, call out His own wayward prophet?
Jnh 1:8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
Jnh 1:9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
At least Jonah decides to come clean and admit to what happened. Also, now the sailors know exactly who Jonah’s God is.
Jnh 1:10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)
Jnh 1:11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
Jnh 1:12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
Jonah tells the sailors they have to throw him overboard to save themselves.
In a move that says something about how these sailors value life, we see them actually try to save Jonah.
Jnh 1:13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried to the LORD, “O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.
Ultimately, the sailors recognize God’s power, make a sacrifice to Him, and also made vows to Jonah’s God.
Jnh 1:17 But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.
God does save Jonah, although not in a direct fashion. Rather, he’s swallowed by a large fish (nor necessarily a whale) and after three days is rather rudely deposited on dry land so he can deliver God’s message to the people in Nineveh.
So – did God control the outcome when the sailors cast lots? The only reasonable answer is yes. Remember, this is a mission God wants completed. He’s not going to leave it to chance. And unlike the false pagan gods, the God of the Bible can and does interact with His creation.
As a result of all this, the sailors did come to recognize God and make vows to Him as we saw. Also, by the end of the book,mere we find that Nineveh was not destroyed, since the people did turn to God. Unfortunately, it was only for a while, and destruction did eventually come to them.
But the point is, We see yet another case where God uses casting lots to communicate, and to have His will carried out. And on top of that, pagans came to know of God and turn to Him.
Casting lots in the Bible: #5 – Matthew – God responding to Roman pagans at the foot of the cross?
This next one is actually the first of two times we read about casting lots for Jesus’ clothes at the foot of the cross. Matthew’s account of the event merely records that it happens.
27:33-44 pp — Mk 15:22-32; Lk 23:33-43; Jn 19:17-24
Mt 27:32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 38 Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
Mt 27:41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” 44 In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Notice, we can’t tell anything about why lots were cast in this instance. We don’t know if it was part of God’s plan, for whatever reason that might be. Or was it for some reason done to have the pagan Roman gods decide? It might even be to avoid fights over who got Jesus’ clothes. We just don’t know.
Casting lots in the Bible: #6 – John – God ensuring prophecy is fulfilled at the foot of the cross?
In John’s telling of the events above, he does include some information about why lots were cast to divide up Jesus’ clothes. Let’s take a look.
19:17-24 pp — Mt 27:33-44; Mk 15:22-32; Lk 23:33-43
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Jn 19:19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
Jn 19:22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
Jn 19:23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
Jn 19:24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said,
“They divided my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.”
So this is what the soldiers did.
Jn 19:25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Do we want to blindly accept that this was a prophecy from scripture? Or do we want to verify it? Let’s verify. I left out most of the Psalm, since the goal isn’t to understand every verse it contains. Rather, the objective here is only to show that casting lots is foretold.
For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.
Ps 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Ps 22:14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.
Ps 22:15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Ps 22:16 Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.
Ps 22:17 I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.
Ps 22:18 They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.
Ps 22:19 But you, O LORD, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.
And there it is. Psalm 22 is a description of what happened at the cross with Jesus. And there, underlined by me, is the foretelling of casting lots for Jesus’ clothing.
So, this particular instance isn’t about responding to pagans. Nor is it even about converting the pagan Roman soldiers to Christianity. Rather, as John points out, the casting of lots is to fulfill prophecy. However, even in the act of fulfilling prophecy, we can’t lose sight of the fact that this is part of God’s plan. A plan for our salvation that could not be thwarted by Satan.
Casting lots in the Bible: #7 – Acts – Choosing a replacement for Judas
The final instance we’ll look at for casting lots in the Bible is when a replacement was selected for Judas. Here’s what took place.
Ac 1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
Ac 1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”
Ac 1:20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms,
“ ‘May his place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in it,’
“ ‘May another take his place of leadership.’ 21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
Ac 1:23 So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
OK – so lots were cast. But let’s take a look back to see how the original disciples were chosen. It shows that choices made initially by Jesus Himself were later done via casting lots. In other words, critical decisions were made via this process of casting stones, relying on God to use them to decide the outcome.
Jesus tells us how the original twelve disciples were chosen. The scenario is one where many followers left Jesus because the message was getting “too real” for them. When the crowds got large, Jesus delivered a message like that to essentially weed out those who were there for the free food, the show, and the miracles. The ones who remained were the true believers.
Jn 6:60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Jn 6:61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”
Jn 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Jn 6:67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Jn 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jn 6:70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
In verse 70, Jesus tells us that He chose all twelve of the original disciples. Furthermore, He tells them that one is “a devil”, foreshadowing the eventual replacement of Judas. That’s what’s happening in the above passage from Acts.
Now, there’s just one more piece of the puzzle to look into. What, or who, was behind Jesus choosing those particular twelve disciples. The answer to that question is found in a passage where Jesus’ authority is challenged by the Pharisees.
Jn 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jn 8:13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
This challenge from the Pharisees begins as “merely” saying Jesus cannot be His own witness. However, as we’ll see, it turns into much more.
Jn 8:14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
Jesus says He can testify on His own behalf, because of “The Father”. Jesus also makes it clear that the Pharisees don’t understand what He’s saying. Ultimately, that they don’t know God!
Jn 8:19 Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come.
As usual, the Pharisees walked right into it. The trap was laid. And the Pharisees jumped right into it when they asked where Jesus’ father is!
It always amazes me that the Hebrew/Jewish people can’t quite seem to come to grips with one simple word early in Genesis. Do you remember how, in Genesis, the very first words are:
Ge 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
That word we read as “God” is plural! Right there in the very first verse of the Jewish Scripture is the foundation for Christian belief in the Trinity of God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And yet, both Jews and Muslims (who also use the majority of the Jewish Scripture we call the Old Testament) have massive troubles with Jesus claim that He’s the Son of God and therefore part of that Trinity of God. That Jesus is one person of that plural word for God, a word that is somehow plural within a single God.
Yes, it seems hard to comprehend. Impossible, to a large degree. But, and here’s the key, we didn’t make this up. God said it of Himself! Are we really going to question Him? Or are we going to accept that He knows things we don’t understand?
Jn 8:21 Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”
Jesus answers the Pharisees, and us today, by letting us know the consequences of our unbelief and/or refusal to accept God’s own Word.
Jn 8:22 This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”
OK – that didn’t help at all. Some just never will believe.
Jn 8:23 But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be , you will indeed die in your sins.”
Jesus tries again to make His point.
Jn 8:25 “Who are you?” they asked.
“Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”
And once again, the people don’t/won’t believe.
Jn 8:27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30 Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.
But at the very end of the passage, we find that some people do believe and have faith in Jesus.
So what’s the bottom line about casting lots at the foot of the cross?
Now, having gone through all that, here’s the point:
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
Everything Jesus said and did was under the direction of the Father. That includes, along with everything else, choosing the original twelve disciples.
And now, when it comes time to replace one of the twelve, Judas – who was chosen by Jesus under the direction of the Father, look how it gets done. Matthias is chosen by casting lots!
Let’s look at that passage in Acts again:
Ac 1:23 So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
After prayer and petitioning to God, lots were cast to choose the replacement for a man Jesus chose Himself.
The reason all of this is so important is this: Ultimately, God chose both Judas and Matthias! Judas was chosen by God, the Father, under direction to Jesus. Matthias was also chosen by God, the Father, via controlling the results from casting lots.
This is the final instance of casting lots in the Bible.
Why aren’t lots cast anymore?
This begs a question. Why are there no more instances of casting lots in the Bible after that incident in Acts? Does this have anything to do with why casting lots isn’t done in the church any longer?
While I haven’t actually read anything about this, definitive or speculative, I have to believe the answer is found in that other person of the Trinity of God: the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament, God generally spoke to people directly, or via an angel of The Lord. Christians believe that, in many cases, that angel of The Lord was a pre-incarnate Jesus. Then, after Jesus was born, Immanuel, God with us, spoke to people directly. However, after Jesus’ death on the cross, we have the third person of the Trinity. Promised by Jesus. Sent by the Father.
Jn 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
Jn 14:22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
Jn 14:23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
Jn 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Jn 14:28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31 but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
“Come now; let us leave.”
And there we have it. Jesus will leave. But the Holy Spirit will return in His place. Somehow God. Somehow Jesus. And yet, obviously not the human Jesus. But it is going to be God’s way of communicating with us going forward from the time of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was available for all believers.
Conclusion – Was casting lots really used to determine God’s will?
It’s all beyond our understanding. We don’t know what the Trinity of God is. For that matter, we don’t even know much about any single member of the Trinity.
But then, if we’re honest, do we know how God controlled the outcome from casting lots? Do we have a clue how God made the little pebbles end up in the right manner as to convey the desired message? No. Of course we don’t. And yet, as Jesus says:
Jn 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
And just in case you didn’t notice, there’s one more thing to point out in that last passage:
30 I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31 but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
Once again, we see that Jesus did exactly what the Father wanted. Obviously, one of those things was telling us, letting us know, that the Holy Spirit is there for us.
Among other things, that means we shouldn’t rely on chance. On feelings. On our own desires. No. We should communicate with and rely on the Holy Spirit.
- 1Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). In Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed., p. 80). San Francisco: Harper & Row.
- 2Fleenor, R. (2016). Lots. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.