The Drawing and Casting of Lots

Throughout history, people have used objects which are either drawn out of a container or cast upon a surface in order to seek advice from the spirit world, make decisions, predict future events, or gain insight and knowledge about things and events which they could not gain through natural means. The Bible has much to say about the use of such methods for seeking advice, insight, and knowledge from the spirit-realm of existence, so it is important to explore what it has to say. This section focuses on the drawing and casting of lots.

The Day of Atonement

The drawing of lots over the two goats on the Day of Atonement was an extremely important part of the festival's rituals and it was the method through which the Creator God chose to show his will as to which goat was to be sacrificed and which was to be set free:

"And Aaron shall take from the Israelite's, two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering . . . And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he shall draw lots over the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat" (Lev.16:5, 7-8 Para.).

On each Day of Atonement, two goats were presented to God at the door of the tabernacle. The high priest was instructed to draw lots to determine the purpose for each goat. Through this method, God chose which goat would die and which one would live. Although all animals that were sacrificed had to be physically perfect, God needed to make the choice on this occasion, because this sacrificial goat is prophetic of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the atonement of all humanity.

"And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord's lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering" (Lev.16:9 KJV).

No single explanation seems to be able to satisfy everyone as to exactly what the lots were made of or what they looked like. However, if we combine the information given in Tractate Yoma in both the Babylonian Talmud and the Mishnah, it seems the lots were two stonesĀ¾one white and one black. According to the Talmud and the Mishnah, the white stone displayed the words "For the Lord", and the black stone displayed the words "For Azazel".

These two stones were placed into a container and shaken. Then, without looking into the container, the high priest would put his right hand into the container and draw out one of the lots.

Simon the Righteous

In the third century B.C., there was a high priest named Simon who served at the temple in Jerusalem. Simon was considered to be very honorable and continued in the office of high priest for 40 years. In each of the forty years that Simon drew the lots to determine which of the goats would be slain and which would be set free, the white lot for the slain goat would appear in his right hand.

One of the four major signs listed in the Babylonian Talmud which foretold the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. pertained to the drawing of lots for the two goats on the Day of Atonement.

The Babylonian Talmud states that, for 200 years before 30 A.D., the first stone to appear in the right hand randomly alternated between the white and black stone, because God selected the more perfect goat to be slain for the sins of the people. But, beginning with the Day of Atonement in 30 A.D. (the year of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ), the pattern changed. The black stone appeared in the right hand of the high priest and would do so for the next 39 years.

The chances of either the black or white stone appearing 40 consecutive times in the right hand of the high priest is over a trillion to one according to Pascal's table of numerical odds.

Since the color black is symbolic of spiritual darkness and is a harbinger of bad things to come upon the enemies of God, it seems that the continual appearance of the black stone in the right hand of the high priest was surely a sign of God's displeasure with the Jews, as well as a warning for them to repent. After forty years of continuous warning, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 A.D..

The choosing of lots to determine the fate of the two goats on the Day of Atonement and the events surrounding the two forty years cycles of white and black lots clearly show that lots were used to reveal the will of God for the present and the future to those who served as his priests.

The Dividing of the Promised Land

The Creator gave Moses specific instructions to use lots to divide the land he would give national Israel among the various tribes (Num.26: 55-56). Moses subsequently gave instructions to the Israelites about the general areas which they were to inhabit after conquering the nations which occupied the land, and he told them Eleazar the high priest and Joshua would use lots to determine the exact division of land among them:

"And Moses commanded the Israelites saying, This is the land that you shall inherit by lot And the Lord spoke to Moses saying,

These are the names of the men who shall divide the land to you: Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun" (Num.34:13,16-17 Para.).

The use of lots to determine which tribe would inherit which piece of land was not done to ensure the impartiality of Eleazar and Joshua. Lots were cast so the Israelites would know that the Creator God had chosen where they would live.

Decisions Concerning Life and Death

There are two accounts showing the use of lots in discovering the identity of someone for the purpose of punishment or removing a threat. The first account shows the use of lots to determine who had violated God's instructions concerning taking spoils of war. When the responsible person was discovered, he was put to death (Jos.7:1-26). The second account is about Jonah and his attempt to escape from a responsibility that God had given him. When the sailors (through the casting of lots) found it was Jonah who was responsible for their life threatening situation, he was cast into the sea to die (Jonah 1:1-15). In both of these accounts, it was the Creator God who revealed truth through the casting of lots.

The Proverbs and Lots

"One casts the lot into the lap; but all its decision comes from the Lord" (Pro.16:33 Para.).

This proverb clearly shows the casting of lots to seek a decision from God in matters which could not be determined from the use of the facts at hand. Although it is not stated in this proverb, it can be assumed that the person casting the lots must be in conformity to God's ways, authorized by God to access him through this method, seeking to gain insight, knowledge, and his will, and will abide by the decision he gives through the lots.

The casting of lots was not only used by the spiritual and national leaders of Israel to determine a matter but also in the private lives of individuals:

"The lot causes arguments to cease, and divides between the mighty" (Pro.18:18 Para.).

For those who brought a matter before the Lord seeking insight, knowledge, or his decision in a matter and then abided by what was revealed, the matter was settled and ceased to be a problem between them. Again, those involved in the matter were most likely righteous in their intention to discover truth and a righteous judgement.

King David and the Priesthood

In the first book of the Chronicles of the kings of Israel, there are several accounts of king David and others seeking to understand the will of God in the division of the priesthood into their various functions. These accounts show the method used to determine God's will in these matters was the casting of lots, and that it was considered prudent to seek the will of God by this method in regards to the people and things which would impact how people would serve and worship God. See 1.Chron. 24:1-31; 25:1-8; 26:1-14.

Choosing a Replacement for Judas

Shortly before the Festival of Pentecost in 30 A.D. and the bestowing of the holy spirit upon those who were worthy of receiving it, the apostles selected a replacement for the traitor Judas who had killed himself:

"And they [the eleven apostles] selected Joseph who was called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And when they had prayed, and said, You Lord, who knows the hearts of all men, show which of these two men you have chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas through transgression fell . . . And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:23-26 Para).

The apostles selected two men who they thought qualified to fulfill the responsibilities of an apostle and they asked God the Father to make the choice between these two men. The method they used to have God's will revealed to them was the casting or drawing of lots. It makes sense for them to have used this method, because this method had been used for centuries by the authorized civil and spiritual leaders of Israel to gain certain kinds of knowledge from God and to determine his will in certain matters.

Simon the Sorcerer

Simon saw that, through the laying on of hands people received the holy spirit. He also saw that through the hands of the apostles this spirit power was given to others. In his desire to have the same power as the apostles, Simon offered money for it:

"Give me this authority, so that I may do the same thing by laying my hands on people. But Peter said to him, Your money parish with you into perdition, because you think that God's gift can be purchased with money. You have no part or lot in this matter, because your heart is not right in the sight of God" (Acts 8:19-21 Para.).

In order to use the casting of lots in the framework of the Body of Christ, a man must be one of the elect, have a righteous attitude, and be authorized to participate in the work of the church.

A Great Danger

The Bible and historical records show that God has revealed certain insights and knowledge about people, things, events, and his will concerning them through the use of lots. Additionally, these records show that this method was in common use by those whom God had authorized as the civil and spiritual leaders of his people.

There is no indication in the scriptures that the practice of drawing or casting lots is condemned when it is used to gain insight and knowledge about people, things, and events for the right purpose. However, there is a dark side to the use of lots which deserves a detailed explanation.

Although there is no doubt that God authorized the use of objects which are either drawn out of a container or cast upon a surface in order to seek his advice, ask him to make a choice, or to gain insight and knowledge about things and events, there is great danger in the use of lots for those who use them for the wrong purpose or are not authorized by God the use them.

Today, as in the past, there are many things which must be considered before attempting to access God through an object:

    • Will God honor your attempt to use an object to access physical or spiritual knowledge?
    • Have you been authorized to use an object to access physical or spiritual knowledge?
    • How can you be absolutely certain that an answer you receive is from the spirit of God?
    • How can you be certain that an answer you receive is not from an evil spirit or your own mind?

These are very serious questions which must be answered before anyone attempts to use an object to access the will of God. Without the correct answers to these questions, it seems foolish to use any physical object to guide our physical or spiritual life. This is not to say that God the Father and Jesus Christ will not authorize such a method to be used during the end of the age; however, extreme caution must be exercised. The apostle Peter warned, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, walks about as a roaring lion, seeking those whom he may devour" (1.Pet.5:8).

Because the only example of the use of lots by the elect of the early church concerns the affairs of the church, we can safely assume it was not wrong to use this method to gain insight and knowledge and to discover the will of God in spiritual matters.

When we consider the two examples in the Book of Acts which speak of lots, the implication seems to be that the apostles were the custodians of this method of seeking insight from God.

By B.L. Cocherell b9w29b