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Casting Lots and Finding God's Will

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Throughout the Old Testament, we see the saints of old casting lots before making decisions. Why do we not practice this today?

Often we come across strange things while reading Scripture. Gruesome battles, overwhelming acts of kindness, and accounts of old saints who murdered, stole, or destroyed and yet were men and women after God's heart.

We also read about events and decisions made by casting lots. The Old Testament bears witness to many different accounts of casting lots (Lev 16:8-10; Jos 7:14, 18:6; Prov 16:33, 18:18; Jonah 1:7; etc.). All of them try to determine the sovereign will of God for their respective situations.

Should believers cast lots to determine the will of God for our lives today?

Fair question. A good thing to keep in mind when tackling a question like this one is that believers approach the Bible with faith that seeks understanding. This means that we necessarily believe what God has presented to us in his Word and then strive to understand our lives and his word from his perspective.

That being said, upfront I want to answer with a "no," casting lots is not how believers engage God to determine his will any longer. Here’s why.

Acts 1:15-26 narrates the disciples casting lots in the Old Testament style for a replacement for Judas. Some keys in the passage will not only unlock why, but also explain the process the Apostles undertook before they cast a lot. Notice that the whole narrative happens in the community of the disciples, they did nothing apart from the church.

  1. Peter lays out biblical precedent for replacing Judas. vv 16-20
  2. He recalls how the Apostles were chosen by the Lord Jesus, they walked with him from his baptism to his ascension. vv 21-22
  3. They prayed based on knowing the Lord is sovereign. vv 24-25
  4. They cast lots and Matthias is chosen. v 26

As you can see, the Apostles did not merely roll dice to fill Judas' vacant position. They sought the Lord's will from Scripture, someone with a similar testimony to theirs', then they prayed, and followed Proverbs 16:33, "the lot is cast...but every decision is from the Lord." So trusting in God's sovereignty, the Apostles selected Matthias by lot.

Two things to note:
  1. Acts 1:15-26 is the last time casting lots happens in the Bible,
  2. This is all before the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost.

The coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 changes everything, the Apostles’ lives and ours. He is the truth in us, our helper and source of life, and our pointer to Christ and his glory in all that we are and do (John 16:4-15). So, the blessing of the Holy Spirit for every believer is more than lots, we have God himself residing in our very souls, and he has given to us a new heart to love him!

Also, this side of Pentecost, we have the full Word of God, the Bible. Even in Acts, the only Word of God they possessed was the Old Testament and the verbal teachings of Jesus. But now we have the Bible, God's Word to the world. He reveals his character, his people, and how they should worship him in its pages. So, we follow Romans 12:1-2 and seek to renew our minds according to his Word.

God reveals all he wants the world to know in the Bible that we might glorify his name, find salvation through faith in his Son, and renew our minds to live like Jesus all by the power of the Holy Spirit and in community with the saints.

Therefore, we rely on the Spirit and the words of Scripture to guide our thoughts and actions, because our hearts are new and our minds are being renewed. We faithfully seek understanding through the same avenues that Peter and the Apostles did just without lots: Scripture, the Spirit, and the community through prayer.

Casting lots does not cut it anymore. So, with a new heart and a renewed mind, the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), the next time you have a difficult decision to make, consult Scripture, pray that the Spirit would give you wisdom (Rom 8:31-32) and direct your actions, and then go to the people of God and ask for clarity. Then ACT knowing that you are relying on God and his sovereign hand to use the situation for your good and his glory (Phil 2:13; Col 1:29).

With Peter, I want to encourage you to "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7, ESV).

Some further resources to consult:

Kevin DeYoung: Just Do Something

John Piper: Don't Waste Your Life

Matthew Harmon: Asking the Right Questions: A practical guide to understanding and applying the Bible.


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