Friday, May 1, 2009

Discerning God's Will

I have always wondered what exactly it meant in Scripture when it says that the people "cast lots." In my research I found that casting lots was a very common method of making difficult decisions. Throughout the centuries and around the globe different methods were used. Sometimes "casting lots" means, quite literally, drawing names of people/objects out of a jar. Other times it means casting dice. Modifications of drawing from a jar with a narrow neck were also used. Overall, it is a game of random chance. In Judaism, it was believed that God would control the outcomes of the lots in order to give specific direction for his people. (Smith's Bible Dictionary, accessed on

In Joshua 20-21, the method of casting lots is used in order to determine who gets what land and also which cities will be called cities of refuge. Obviously, it is possible that Joshua and the people of Israel believed that God would determine the outcome of this "drawing from a hat" methodology. However, if this was a particularly spiritual method for making decisions, why did the soldiers at Calvary also use this method to take Jesus's clothes?

Did God use the casting of lots, which we would now consider a game of chance, to reveal His Divine will to the Israelites? How one answers this question causes many implications. If God did "ordain" the casting of lots as the method by which he revealed His will, why is that non-believers also used this method? Also, this would mean that we have no need for church boards or special committees to make specific decisions in the church. Elections also would not be needed for these committees. We could just cast lots to see who should be on the boards. Although there would be some need for such governing bodies, wouldn't much of the doubtful decisions be made by the practice of casting lots?

If God did not use the casting of lots to reveal His will to the Israelites, we are also faced with some tough questions. Why did the Israelites use this method? Why didn't Joshua pray and converse with Yahway to hear His will. Yahweh had spoken to him in the past with specific directions, why would this case be any different?

The practice of casting lots also invokes questions concerning Israel's (and the apostles in Acts 2) understanding of God's will. Does God only share His will by us "trusting" him through games of chance? Is it possible that God does not have every detail of our futures already planned out for us and this is why He allowed Israel to use such practices? Should we be praying less about what God has for our futures and begin casting lots? Where should I go to college? Where should I work? Which passage should I preach on this week? (unfortunately, I think pastors actually do that last one sometimes) Should I be a pastor, missionary, or professor?

I often just read past "casting lots" as a practice of the times. But I think that such a practice deserves some attention.

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