They drew lots

Friday, July 28, 2006

I was on my way home when at the spur of the moment I decided to drop in to SuFes, my favourite Christian bookstore. Noel and I do try to avoid that bookstore because neither one of us can leave without spending a bomb. I thought I have not been there for awhile and left with 3 books:

The Behind Scenes of the New Testament by Paul Barnett
Acts (The Crossway Classic Commentary) by John Calvin
The Atonement, its Meaning and Significance by Leon Morris

I bought Calvin's Acts because of his explanation on casting lots though on closer read he didn't quite answer my question:

They drew lots.
Those who think it is wrong to cast lots are mistaken - partly out of ignorance and partly because they do not understand the meaning of the word. There is nothing that has been corrupted by insolence and deceit; casting lots is no exception. It has been seriously misused and reduced to the level of superstition. Predicting the future by lot is altogether devilish. But it is not wrong for officials to divide provinces by means of lots, or brothers their inheritance. Solomon plainly approves of this (Prov 16:33). This custom is no more invalidated by wrong use that the scientific study of the stars is invalidated by the debased pretense of the astrologers. The astologers claim to study the stars, but is a cover to hide their vile curiousity. Thus they bring a usefuland commendable scientific study into disrepute. The same is true of those who claim to tell people their fortunes by casting lots. It is our duty to distinguish the legitimate from the corrupt.

We do not live in times of much superstition anymore, not that there aren't people who does. The issue with casting lots with me is whether leaving decisions to probability is a good idea to making decisions and attributing the decision to God.

What the disciples did was in practice of using the Urim and Thummin, two sacred stones carried inside the breastplate of the high priest of ancient Israel and used as oracular media to divine the will of God. What can be said about the practice then is that the main obvious reason for casting lots was the impartiality of decision, to be sure there is not politics, nepotism, cronyism or favouritism involved. But as what Bruce has highlighted, "the disciples did not cast lots haphazardly: they first selected the two men whom they judged worthiest to fill the vacancy. I did a search and found that casting lots are carried out usually for property, land, duties and people; maybe except for two.

Leviticus 16:8
He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat.

Joshua 18:6
After you have written descriptions of the seven parts of the land, bring them here to me and I will cast lots for you in the presence of the LORD our God.

Joshua 18:8
As the men started on their way to map out the land, Joshua instructed them, "Go and make a survey of the land and write a description of it. Then return to me, and I will cast lots for you here at Shiloh in the presence of the LORD."

Joshua 18:10
Joshua then cast lots for them in Shiloh in the presence of the LORD, and there he distributed the land to the Israelites according to their tribal divisions.

1 Chronicles 24:5, 31 (for ministerial duties)
They divided them impartially by drawing lots, for there were officials of the sanctuary and officials of God among the descendants of both Eleazar and Ithamar ... They also cast lots, just as their brothers the descendants of Aaron did, in the presence of King David and of Zadok, Ahimelech, and the heads of families of the priests and of the Levites. The families of the oldest brother were treated the same as those of the youngest.

1 Chronicles 25:8
Young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties.

1 Chronicles 26:13 (to be gate keepers)
Lots were cast for each gate, according to their families, young and old alike.

1 Chronicles 26:14 (to be gate keepers)
The lot for the East Gate fell to Shelemiah. Then lots were cast for his son Zechariah, a wise counselor, and the lot for the North Gate fell to him.

Nehemiah 10:34
"We—the priests, the Levites and the people—have cast lots to determine when each of our families is to bring to the house of our God at set times each year a contribution of wood to burn on the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the Law.

Nehemiah 11:1
[ The New Residents of Jerusalem ] Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns.

Job 6:27
You would even cast lots for the fatherless and barter away your friend.

Psalm 22:18
They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.

Ezekiel 24:6
" 'For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: " 'Woe to the city of bloodshed, to the pot now encrusted, whose deposit will not go away! Empty it piece by piece without casting lots for them.

Joel 3:3
They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine that they might drink.

Obadiah 1:11
On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.

Nahum 3:10
Yet she was taken captive and went into exile. Her infants were dashed to pieces at the head of every street. Lots were cast for her nobles, and all her great men were put in chains.

Matthew 27:35
When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Mark 15:24
And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

Luke 23:34
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

John 19:24
"Let's not tear it," they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it." This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did.

Acts 1:26
Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

The 2 exceptions:

Ezekiel 21:21
For the king of Babylon will stop at the fork in the road, at the junction of the two roads, to seek an omen: He will cast lots with arrows, he will consult his idols, he will examine the liver.

Jonah 1:7
Then the sailors said to each other, "Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity." They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.

Picture by Seer

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4 comment(s)

  1. Hi Maeghan,

    I love it that you spent a bomb there. That is so funny.

    I was just going to tell you that in our church & Christian school, we almost always elect officers by lots - first, we get good candidates and then we draw names out of a hat. I remember when I was elected as President of our PTO, I felt very strongly that it was God's doing.

    I guess I know what you might be reading in Bangkok!

    Blessings, Julia

  2. I love it that you spent a bomb there. That is so funny.

    The fact I spent a lot or the way I put it? LOL ... i do realise we talk very very differently.

    I remember when I was elected as President of our PTO, I felt very strongly that it was God's doing.
    Thanks for telling me that. It is good to at least know that I am wrong in my initial conclusion that nobody practices casting lots anymore. I was checking the net and I think the Catholic church seem to do it too though I can't say for sure.

  3. I was in a church that made several decisions by lots. It turned me off to the practice. The decisions made were not good, in my opinion. I will happily believe that Jewels was supposed to be president of the PTO, but I know that a couple of the guys who ended up in charge in my charge were the wrong pick (even though they were deemed qualified to be in the hat.)

    It seems to me that the Acts account backs me up. We never hear Matthias' name again. Justus and Barsabbas are names that appear again. They may or may not actually be Justus who is called Barsabbas. I am inclined to believe that at least one of them is.

  4. CP,
    The decisions made were not good, in my opinion.

    That's the thing, we'd be told that our opinion won't matter. It's God's decision. With due respect to Jewels, it does not sit well with me either. But having said that, worse could be said about choosing via election or nomination. At least in casting lots, there is no human intervention, i.e. favouritism, corynism, etc. But all the more important to have all the background work done up so that proper candidates are in the hat.

    We never hear Matthias' name again.

    You have a point there but he could be mentioned somewhere, e.g. Josephus or Tacitus?
    And in this case, at least Justus would not be blaming anyone for not being chosen but rather, he still remained actively serving God. I think it was FF Bruce who said that Justus was the better choice but Matthias was chosen. Who knows? It could be that God intended so that both would be active in the ministry, rather than just one. A good message to us too, we may not be officially chosen but that does not mean we stop serving.