June 13, 2024

What is Casting Lots?

We read today in our Being Transformed Journal Luke 1, where Zacharias receives life changing news as he is performing his priestly duties in the Temple.

Author
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David Terry

Executive Worship Pastor

“8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” - Luke 1:8-13 (NKJV)

What an incredibly unforgettable moment in Zacharias’ life. He had been chosen, among some 20,000 priests, to offer incense in the Holy Place. This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Different than the High Priest, once you were chosen to perform this duty, you were only allowed to do it once in your life. Zacharias probably dreamt and hoped for this moment, to enter where few had access, to have the chance to physically be near to the Holy of Holies, the presence of his God.

God was eagerly looking forward to this moment as well for he had a message to deliver, a promise to give. The promise of Zacharias and Elizabeth's son, John the Baptist, was the first domino to fall that would begin the series of events that would lead to the completion of God’s great redemptive plan to restore relationship back with mankind again through His Son. This was a big moment, and God used casting lots to position Zacharias to receive this message.

Since this was such a high honor and important duty, the priests needed to be sure that those chosen to do this ministry to the Lord were the men that God had chosen for it, so they would cast lots every day to decide. This was a common practice in the Old Testament to determine the will of God. Some instances include choosing of Saul as King over Israel (1 Sam. 10:20-21), exposing the sin of Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:42), and the mariners casting lots and it falling on Jonah (Jonah 1:7-8).

The practice was similar to the way my friends and I would draw sticks to decide who would be team captains for street football, or who drew the short stick, or the flipping of a coin with my sister to decide who would get the last popsicle in the freezer during summer break. This is similar but not the same, the difference being that neither my friends, me, or my sister believed that the outcome was the will of God or that He had any hand or interest in influincing the results. We just saw this as a fair way to avoid conflict and leave the decision up to chance. For the people of Israel though, this was much more sacred and final practice. They knew and believed that casting lots was the best way to decide the will of God when human wisdom fell short or where bias or favoritism needed to be avoided. Proverbs 16:33 states, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (NKJV).

We can be tempted to scoff at this ancient practice with skepticism and call it superstition. We would never leave important decisions up to what some might call “chance.” It would be kinda lame if you found out that I picked the weekend setlist for worship by assigning all the songs in our rotation a number and then just drew numbers - or if we decided who would be the next president by a giant lottery (although the latter would be one way to have way less drama). We like control; we need to know or at least have the allusion of knowing that we have a degree of influence over the outcomes in our life. We love and celebrate competition and are happy to accept outcomes of contests won or positions earned as long as things are relatively fair. We are bootstrap pulling, own two feet standing, hardworking Americans who decide our own destiny. What then is to be gleaned from studying the practice of casting lots?

I often ask myself this question: What if we know too much? What if we have discovered and learned so much of how the universe works, and how atoms behave, and how the brain interacts with itself that we have lost our innocent ignorance? Has knowledge robbed us of our ability to be childlike? We had a the eclipse roll through town a few months back and as a staff we all went outside in the afternoon to spend an hour watching it pass and as it did, to be honest I was kinda disappointed. “That was it I guess” was the common consensus and we didn’t talk about it any more after that I think. A once in a lifetime, astrological phenomenon where the moon, miles from earth, almost perfectly covered up the sun from our view. It’s a testament to the masterful artistry and ingenuity of God and yet . . . ehh. But what would it have been like to be in ancient times when a total solar eclipse took place? If you didn’t really know what the sun or moon was, didn’t understand orbit or the earth’s rotation, you just believed God was controlling everything, every day, all the time? If a total eclipse rolls through you are brought to your knees in wonder and fear, your heartbeat elevates and you have the thought, is God shutting this thing down and turning off the lights?

The truth is that God is in control of everything all the time, even if that control was setting the order and spacing of the solar system and the laws of physics, light, and chemistry thousands of years ago. So what? Should we bring back casting lots when we need to make a decision? No, not at all. But what we should do is remind ourselves that some decisions are beyond our wisdom and we are often too biased by our flesh and selfishness to decide objectively and so we should go to God more often for direction.

Do you know when the last time casting lots was implemented by followers of God in Scripture? This was in Acts 1:23-26, when the disciples were choosing Matthias to replace Judas. What happens the next chapter? They are filled with the Holy Spirit. After this, every major decision they make is done not with casting lots but through prayer and confirmation by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This next line is a little cheesy but I hope the cheesiness will make it sticky in your heart over the next few days: Don’t cast lots, cast prayers. Here’s what I mean, now that we have access to the presence, voice, and gifts of God’s Spirit 24/7 and 365, let us live a life even more yielded to the leading of God. Culture presents a front and sells a lie of absolute control. Control your gender, sexual preference, appetite, tax bracket, self image, self care, work life balance, hobbies, goals, dreams, etc. etc. The truth is that although stewardship and good sense are important values and should be a part of every decision we make, we don’t really have a ton of control. Shoot, I can’t control my own temperament, attention span, or midnight snack cravings half the time. But when yielded to the voice and direction of the almighty and all-powerful Spirit of the living God, He absolutely can.

So practice over the next few days yielding decisions, big and small, to God. It may seem silly at times to pause before your evening commute home to ask God what he wants to listen to or what route he wants you to take home but here’s the truth, at the least it will be a momentary portal of union with the heart of your father and at the most he could help you avoid an accident that would have occurred if you had driven your normal route home. Here’s a truth, God wants to help us more often than we tend to allow him because He loves us more than we really have an ability to understand. So don’t cast lots, cast prayers.

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The book of Ruth is a fascinating and enthralling narrative - one drawing us into the story of redemption and the grafting of Gentiles into the family of God. It begins with the family of Naomi, an Israelite woman who finds herself in a tough situation, as both her sons and husband pass away. Left with no family, and in a foreign land, Naomi decides to leave the country of Moab and head back to Bethlehem. She heard the LORD had come to the aid of her people in Bethlehem by providing food and decided to make the journey back home with her daughters-in-law.

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Tonderai Bassoppo-Moyo

Associate Pastor