Q: #427. Can we cast lots to know God's will like they did in the Bible?
By: Steve Shirley
A: The Bible mentions the word "lot(s)" 99 times (KJV)(11 in the New Testament). The Hebrew word used for this in most instances in the OT is "goral," which according to Strong's means: "to be rough (as stone); prop. a pebble, i.e. a lot (small stones being used for that purpose)." We do not know exactly what the "lots" that they cast looked like, however, it is believed that they were likely made of stone (perhaps wood in some cases), and were somewhat like rolling dice or flipping a coin today.
We see two kinds of "casting lots" in the Bible. The first, much like we see today, was connected with gambling (i.e. the soldiers who cast lots for the garments of Jesus: Mt 27:35, Lk 23:34, Jn 19:24, Ps 22:18). However, nearly every verse which mentions "lots" speaks of using them as a way to determine God's will. God actually set the precedent for this as a way to know His will when He established what were called the Urim and Thummim. We do not know exactly what the Urim and Thummin looked like, but they were to be used only by the High Priest, and carried in a pouch attached to his breastplate and covering his heart (Ex 28:30). Four different verses show us that these were used to determine God's will (Num 27:21)(1 Sam 28:6)(Ezra 2:63)(Neh 7:65). I discuss the Urim and Thummim in more detail here.
Over half of the times that we see lots being cast in the Old Testament, they were cast to determine how land in the Promised Land would be distributed amongst the Israelites - See: (Num 26:55-56)(Num 33:54)(Josh 14:2). Lots were also cast to determine such this as: the divisions of priests (1 Chr 24:5-19)(Lk 1:8-9), musicians (1 Chr 25:8-9), and gatekeepers (1 Chr 26:12-16), who was guilty (1 Sam 14:40-43)(Jon 1:7), finding answers to questions (Prov 16:33), choosing who would go to war (Judg 20:9), what "scapecoat" would be sacrificed (Lev 16:8-10), and more. (The Urim and Thummin may have been used in some of these examples, but we don't know for sure.)
Perhaps the most significant example of "casting lots" was when the 11 disciples did so to determine who would replace Judas as the 12th disciple (Acts 1:21-26). It is primarily because of this example that some believe we can do this today. Yes, most of the examples of casting lots were in the Old Testament, but since the disciples did this in the NEW Testament, why can't we do this today??
I believe there are 3 reasons why this practice is not for Christians today.
1. All Christians today have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. The moment we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us (1 Cor 6:19-20)(1 Cor 3:16-17)(Rom 8:9), and "seals" (Eph 1:13-14)(Eph 4:30)(2 Cor 5:5)(2 Cor 1:22) us. This is the sign that we are saved. The Holy Spirit teaches us (Jn 14:26), guides us into truth (Jn 16:13), directs us (Acts 20:22)(Acts 11:12), and reveals things of God (1 Cor 2:10-16), among other things. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit did not permanently dwell in God's people. He generally came upon people to help them accomplish tasks or direct them, then He left the person. Therefore, they did not consistently have the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, direct, etc... like we do today. Therefore, God used the Urim and Thummin, or casting lots to show them His will.
***Note: Relating this to the disciples casting lots to replace Judas, since this event occurred before Pentecost, they did not yet have the Holy Spirit permanently dwelling in them to guide them, just as people in the Old Testament did not.
2. Today, we have the completed Canon of God's Word: the Bible. It reveals God's will for ANY situation. Obviously, they did not have this in the Old Testament.
3. When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain to the Holy of Holies was torn in two (Mt 27:51)(Mk 15:38)(Lk 23:45). This signified that through Jesus, all who belonged to Him could have access to the Holy of Holies (or God's presence). In the Old Testament, only the High Priest had access to the Holy of Holies, and this access was only once a year during the "Day of Atonement" (See: Lev Ch. 16). Now, ALL Christians have access to the Holy of Holies because Jesus has permanently made atonement for our sins (Heb 10:19-20). This means that we can go DIRECTLY to God the Father in prayer at any time (this is why we pray in "Jesus" name). As such, we can use prayer to determine His will.
Going back again to the disciples casting lots, it should also be noted that after Pentecost, we never again see lots being used to enquire about God's will. It is also interesting to note that many scholars believe the disciples may have stepped out of God's will or timing in choosing a man to replace Judas, because God may have wanted Paul to fill this position. (We never hear of Matthias again after Pentecost.)
Another important point I should add here is that when the Bible speaks of "casting lots" to determine God's will, this was NEVER done to know the future. That was the realm of sorcerers, witches, astrologers, etc, and is called "divination" and "soothsaying," which God condemned (Deut 18:10)(2 Kin 17:17)(Acts 16:16-18)(Mic 5:12). Instead, lots were cast to find God's answer to an immediate question or problem.
Sometimes, wouldn't it be nice to be able to cast lots and know EXACTLY what God wants us to do? There are times I would LOVE to do this. However, this is not what God has ordained for us today. Instead, we must strive to know God's will through prayer (conforming our will to God's will: Mt 6:10, Jn 4:34), the Bible (2 Tim 3:16), and through the Holy Spirit. And, honestly, isn't this SO much better than what they had in the Old Testament?
P.S. One final note: The Jewish festival of Purim celebrates how God delivered the Jews from being destroyed by the evil Haman in the Book of Esther. It is called "Purim" because "pur" means "lot," which is what Haman used to determine when he would destroy the Jews (See: Est 3:7, 9:24).