What is Casting Lots? Should Christians Cast Lots Today?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What does the Bible mean when “they cast lots?”  Is it sin today for Christians to make decisions based on this practice?  What does the Bible say about casting lots?

Why Did They Cast Lots?

Was casting lots a form of gambling? Absolutely not. In the Old Testament, when the Jews had to make a decision, they cast lots to decide. This was also practiced by the pagans as we read about in the story of Jonah (1:7). When the lot fell to Jonah, they knew it was he who was the cause of the storm. There are at least 88 accounts of casting lots in the Old Testament and seven times in the New Testament and it was something that God did not condemn then but there is no need to do so today. In ancient days, God allowed the Jews and King Saul to cast lots to find out who was guilty, just as in Jonah’s case. Even King Solomon knew that “Casting the lot puts an end to disputes and decides between powerful contenders” (Prov 18:18).   Casting lots was not restricted to the Old Testament because when they were seeking to have Judas replaced, “they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26). So in the time in which the Bible was written, there was nothing sinful about casting lots. It was the way that God allowed important decisions to be made, and ultimately, even the lots fell where God willed them to fall (Prov 16:33). Lots were also cast to determine priestly duties in the Temple (1 Chron 24:5), to determine scapegoats (Lev 16:18), and to divide the land (Num 26:55), but what exactly did casting lots involve?

What is Casting Lots?

Casting lots is not what most people think it is. It is not rolling the dice. Casting lots were actually white, smooth stones put into a cup, but there was usually one stone that was black, thus the expression today of being “black balled.” When they cast lots, each person took a stone out after they were shaken up and the one who received the black one was the guilty party. If it was disputes that were being settled, the same process was involved and the guilty party got the black stone. For decisions about priestly duties or dividing up land they would frequently have a symbol or name for the tribe or priest that was mixed together with the others, and whichever lot came out at a particular time, a decision was based upon that. There was no chance for the lot being cast for the wrong person or the wrong tribe because God is sovereign even over the lots.

Casting lots were actually white, smooth stones put into a cup but there was usually one stone that was black

Casting lots were actually white, smooth stones put into a cup but there was usually one stone that was black

Today, there is no need to cast lots, and most certainly to consults with mediums, palm readers or diviners is an abomination to God. We have direct access to the thrown of heaven by Christ Himself Who is our Mediator so there’s no need to cast lots, flip a coin or roll the dice. You can also seek godly counsel from an experienced Christian counselor, pastor, elder or deacon. You do not need to make major or even minor decision based upon luck when there are too many other biblical options open to you. To make a major decision or choice over chance is to put one’s self at risk; risk from making the wrong decision, and one that is not in the will of God.

Conclusion

Truly, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is the Lord’s alone” (Prov 16:33), but the most important question is, “Have you trusted in Christ?” There is no other way to heaven than through Jesus Christ (John 6:44). The path to hell is broad and wide, but there is only one, narrow path to heaven (Acts 4:12). You have to make a decision because to make no decision is to choose to reject Jesus Christ, and that will not go well for you the moment after you die, and no one knows when that will be. We all have an appointment for our death (Heb 9:27). At that moment, it will be too late to do anything about your eternal state. Like the rich man in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, you cannot cross over, nor can you go back and warn your family or friends (Luke 16:19-31). The fact is you will be there for all eternity, and when 10 billion years have passed, you will not have knocked off one second of your eternal punishment. Your eternity is been permanently cast if you reject Christ. Choose today who you will follow. Tomorrow may be too late.

Read more about Jonah: Bible Story Summary of the Book of Jonah

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

DocReits April 13, 2014 at 12:56 am

Interesting topic Pastor Jack,

I agree that there seems to be two functions for the casting of lots in the Bible, one supernatural and one natural. The natural casting of lots is your Proverbs 18:18 reference which helps settle disputes between factions from items like which brother gets the duty to take out the garbage that night, to which team kicks off and who receives the ball in the Sunday football game. In this instance I would think this Scripture “plays out”(sorry) every day.

The Supernatural casting of lots occurred chronologically for the last time in the Bible in your reference in Acts 1:26 with the choosing of Matthias. It is noteworthy, IMO, that this was immediately followed, in time, with Pentecost(the next verses in the Bible), when the Holy Spirit was shed abroad in the believers’ hearts upon the earth. From that point, in history, God’s Holy Spirit tabernacles or dwells within each believer.

Don’t you believe those same disciples, who had days before, cast lots between Barsabas and Matthias,(if they had waited until after Pentecost), would have had the choice revealed to them, as they sought direction through prayer, by the newly indwelling Holy Spirit? I believe it is this new tabernacling of God within the temples of our flesh(2 Cor 6:16), at Pentecost, which ended any further mention of casting of lots in the Bible. Your thoughts?

Blessings,

DocReits

Reply

Jack Wellman April 13, 2014 at 10:12 am

I agree my friend about the new temple or tabernacling (dwelling with or literally “pitching His tent”) inside the believer. As for waiting until after Pentecost that they choice would have been revealed to them, I don’t know but I do know that they way the lots were cast would have surely matched what would have been revealed to them because apostles were not accidental choice and they could not have gotten it wrong either way because God’s sovereignty is an effectual sovereignty. That is, His will is going to happen and His purpose will stand regardless of the council of men. Make sense brother? Thank you.

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DocReits April 13, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Thank you for your good reply Pastor Jack,

“That is, His will is going to happen and His purpose will stand regardless of the council of men”

My guess is that there are other articles on this site which deal with this very topic. Could you point those out, if so?

My understanding is that God’s Will is going to ultimately be accomplished as you say. We will see prophecy fulfilled and the consummation of this age occurring just as Scripture foretells. IOW, nothing is going to stop God from being God, and the harvest will be gathered and the wheat and the chaff sifted in the end.

Having said that, the way we travel along the path in getting to that “end point” varies through man’s free will. There are so many examples where men(and women) have sought God’s will and direction only to have chosen wrongly(I place myself high on that list).

We do not have the benefit of God speaking audibly to us in this current dispensation. He chooses to make His will known, as I said, through His Holy Spirit as we open His Word and through prayer and as you said, through the council of other believers.

So this hearkens back to the idea of God’s perfect Will vs His permissive Will. He knew Adam would eat yet allowed it. This eating was not God’s perfect Will and so, in that sense, God’s Perfect Will was not accomplished. His Permissive Will was accomplished. God, of course, foreknew all of this as He had prepared His Son as an offering for men from the foundation of the world:

“He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you”(1 Pet 1:20)

…and so we all eat of the same fruit as Adam…even as we attempt to do His will. God’s Perfect Will for each of us may or may not be accomplished in our lives even as we seek to do His Will. As you said, this will not change God’s ultimate plan from being accomplished. Your thoughts?

Blessings,

DocReits

Reply

Jack Wellman April 13, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Thanks friend…we actually do have an article concerning how to know God’s will…of course no audible voice but we have His written voice or Word, the Bible. For more on how to find the will of God, please check this out and I pray it satisfy’s what you are asking my friend. http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/how-to-find-gods-will-in-your-life/

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DocReits April 13, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Wow Jack,

That was like a “Golden Oldie” along with the blessing provided through that article evidenced by the comments from the readers.

Thank you for the link! I especially liked what you said here:

“If God does what He pleases with the nations of the world, and “no one can hold back His hand”, then surely you must know that He can help you find your will for your life which will also be His will for your life. An important lesson here is that God’s will for your life should be what you are seeking as your will for your life. You do not want to seek your will unless it is also God’s will. To seek a will for your life that is different from that of God’s will for your life will be a continual frustration.”

Brilliant…Pretty much sums it up!

DocReits

David April 13, 2014 at 2:46 am

Doc, very interesting your comparison with the choosing of Mattias and Pentecost. Never thought of that.
I know some Christians who have “laid a fleece before the Lord“, and it made me feel uneasy, your explanation answers this.
Many thanks, and blessings.
David Central Europe

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Robert April 15, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Excellent article, Jack. And, as usual, it inspired some thought-provoking comments too. God bless you brother.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Jack Wellman April 16, 2014 at 7:45 am

And for you sir, as usual, you are too generous for truly only God alone is deserving of glory in all that we do. Nonetheless, thank you brother.

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Cheftonni June 14, 2016 at 8:56 am

Can you use the bible to cast lots? If yes, how does one do it using the bible. I’m not going to do it myself, I am asking because I think someone I know may be doing it. They insist they are not casting lots using the bible, but I want to know for my own piece of mind.

Reply

Jack Wellman June 14, 2016 at 9:46 am

Casting lots was not like today in throwing dice. Ask them why they are doing it. It’s almost like a Ouija board game. We have all the revelation we need in the Bible. Ask them why they are doing this. Today, we have the whole Word of God in the New and Old Testament. The 1st century church didn’t have the New Testament yet but this is nowhere practiced in the New Testament church, even once.

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Cheftonni June 22, 2016 at 7:07 am

I did ask them why and they said they are praying to determine Gods will for them. They will do a prayer over the bible asking God for a “yes” or “no” sign by choosing from a list of negative and positive words found in the Bible (I have no idea where this list is derived). After that, they flip open the bible to see if their yes or no sign shows up. They do this to see if they can go to a movie, rent a movie, go on a trip, etc… They said this is the way they were trained and built to pray. I am just trying to figure out what type of praying this is or is this in fact a form of casting lots. Thanks

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Jack Wellman June 22, 2016 at 9:37 am

I see. thank you. To use the Bible like a Ouija board is a dangerous thing. One experience was someone trying to find the will of God simply opened their Bible and random and found the vesre “Judas went out an hanged himself” and the next, “What you do, do quickly” so this is avoiding God’s will, not praying for God’s will, but simply rolling the dice. Very unbiblical to be sure. Thanks for spotting this problem with the church and I believe it is a problem.

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Richard M November 14, 2016 at 10:04 pm

I have an example. When choosing a leader for a new ministry at a church, which is better, popular vote or casting lots? If each voting member pray and ask God for wisdom on who to vote before casting his vote, would all of them choose the same person?

Biblical casting lots is not the same as consulting a medium or gambling. That’s not what the Bible describes casting lots.

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Mark Monnin November 28, 2016 at 11:49 am

“We have direct access to the thrown of heaven…” Is that a pun?

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Jack Wellman November 28, 2016 at 12:29 pm

No, it is not a pun at all Mr. Monnin. It is a fact.

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Jack Wellman April 14, 2014 at 11:01 am

Thanks my good friend. You sure know how to make a person feel good. I am glad it was part of God’s will to have you find us as you have contributed so much here to this website my friend and I thank God for you.

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