Note: If you are looking for specific instructions on how to ask God for a sign, see All About Fleeces. In this post, we will discuss general concerns regarding the practice of casting lots to obtain answers from God.
Casting lots was a God-ordained practice under the Old Covenant. The high priest wore a decorative cloth breastplate called an ephod. Inside the ephod, two lots or dice were kept. Oddly, the dice were named: one was called Urim and the other Thummim. Sometimes in the Bible they were just referred to as “the Urim.”
We don’t find specific direction in the Bible for how these two special lots were to be used. The best clue we have is found in 1 Samuel 14:41, which suggests that the lots were designed to give at least two separate answers.
Then Saul prayed to Yahweh, the God of Israel, “Why have You not answered Your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault, respond with Thummim.” Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared.
Now Yahweh did not authorize lots to be cast over every little thing, nor did He agree to always communicate through them. We find references to Yahweh refusing to answer people through the Urim, which implies that a third answer of “silence” was possible. This is easy to picture. Flip two coins with two different sides: heads and tails. There are three possible outcomes: two heads, two tails, or one head and one tail. We don’t know exactly what the Urim and Thummim looked like, but if they were at all like our two-sided coins today, then it would be quite easy for Yahweh to convey answers of “yes”, “no” or “silence” through them.
So how does God feel about us casting lots today? Let’s discuss some general concerns that have been raised regarding this practice.
1. Which is worse: to cast lots and ignore an outcome we do not like, or to simply not cast lots, effectively attempting to keep our three Gods from speaking clearly about a decision giving an answer we are really trying to avoid?
We cannot control the means through which God speaks to us, nor can we prevent Him from communicating to us by refusing to cast lots. Direct conviction to our souls is the Holy Spirit’s primary method of communicating with us, and once we receive such conviction, we are held responsible for how we respond to it. In many cases we will feel convicted about an issue that we haven’t even begun to discuss with God, let alone cast lots over.
When we are avoiding a topic with God, it is often because we already know what He wants us to do. Other times, we try to avoid discussion out of fear of what God will tell us to do. When we have already received conviction in our souls, pretending otherwise is simply a form of rebellion. But there is help to be had here. If you are currently feeling overwhelmed or unequipped to do what you know God wants you to do, see Confronting Your Convictions. If you are trying to avoid talking to God about some area of sin in your life because you feel overwhelmed with shame and afraid of what His reaction will be, see Overcoming Shame.
If we cast lots in a reverent manner (see All About Fleeces) and God chooses to speak to us through them, then we are in the same position as if we had received clear conviction in our souls. We need to obey, or we will be guilty of rebellion. But, as with the case with any sin, if we do rebel at first, we can still get back in alignment with God by repenting of our defiant attitudes and once again desiring for Him to have His way in our lives.
2. What good can be said of a heart attitude that knows it may clearly hear the decision of our three Gods, through lots, yet chooses not to cast them?
As we explain in All About Fleeces, casting lots is an attempt to receive God’s direction through a very clear, sight-based method. As we mature in the faith, God wants us to move away from depending on visual signs and learn to rely on faith. There are many times when God will choose not to speak to us or provide clear direction. Just because God is silent does not mean we must attempt to cast lots before we can legitimately claim that He is choosing not to speak to us. The mature Christian will not view lots as a primary means of communicating with God. Lots are usually reserved for times of serious crisis in which there is honest confusion about what course of action God wants us to take. And even then, the mature Christian will be sensitive to God’s leading in this area and not attempt lots if God is not amenable to the idea.
3. What checks the logical extreme of casting lots for every decision that our three Gods give us the time and circumstances to cast? Do hearts operating in these extreme conditions, even with a silence option, dishonor our three Gods in the same way others would be doing by using Ouija or Tarot cards to divine the future?
Lots are in a very different category than occult tarot cards and Ouija because the latter two are directly associated with the demonic realm. Occult tarot cards attempt to tap into a pool of wisdom that is believed to be of demonic origin, since the “god” who produced the wisdom is not one of the three real Gods (see Tarot Cards & Christians). Ouija is an attempt to make contact with any supernatural being, and again, tap into a source of wisdom other than God (see Ouija Works). When a Christian uses lots, he is attempting to communicate with the real God, not with some random supernatural being. The contact focus is correct, but what is often lacking is reverence and faith. Once we start down the road of relying on sight, it is massively tempting to stay on it, and a result, Christians who have success asking for signs or casting lots often become addicted to the practice. But this addiction is easy to curb, for God simply provides us with answers that we know are incorrect while He directly convicts us of the game we are playing. Lots quickly lose their luster when we find them to be contradictory and misleading.
An overuse of signs and lots is an attempt to avoid growing in faith. Faith development is often an unpleasant process, so naturally we look for ways to get out of it. God understands this, and He does not view our natural desire to cut corners to be equivocal to us trying to replace Him with demonic advisers.
4. Can casting lots foster a heart attitude that will seek to test our three Gods in the way that Jesus condemned when He spoke with Satan: “It is said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'” (Luke 4:12)
Jesus quoted this verse in response to Satan’s suggestion that Jesus should try to threaten Yahweh into miraculously intervening on His behalf. Jesus was to throw Himself over a cliff–an action that would normally lead to serious injury or death. The assumption was that Yahweh would not want Jesus to be harmed, therefore He would feel compelled to intervene with a supernatural rescue. The quotation refers to Exodus 17, in which the Israelites demanded that Moses supernaturally come up with some water for them to drink in the middle of a barren desert. The unspoken understanding was that if Moses didn’t comply, the Israelites would murder him in cold blood. Once again, the threat of physical injury was being used to try and force Yahweh to act.
While it’s certainly possible to cast lots with a bad attitude, that attitude can spring from different motivations. One popular misuse is to try and threaten God with disobedience unless He produces a miraculous sign. Already knowing full well what He wants us to do, we say, “If this is what You really want, then confirm it to me with a clear sign, otherwise I won’t do it.” When we try to threaten God with some negative consequence unless He performs on cue, we are certainly trying to test Him in the manner that Jesus was referring to.
Because lots are a sight driven activity, overusing them can weaken our faith. As a result, we end up constantly second guessing ourselves. We then try to get God to confirm every word we receive with a visible sign. This is an issue of spiritual laziness rather than an attempt to coerce God into doing something, and it is not what Jesus was referring to, although we can certainly irritate God if we persist in this behavior for too long.
5. If we hear the word of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit we must obey; so is casting lots a modern equivalent of swearing an oath in the Father’s Name under the Old Covenant?
No, it is not. Swearing an oath is making a voluntary promise to do something in the future. Swearing oaths is something we communicate to God whereas His convictions are something He communicates to us. Under the New Covenant, Jesus tells us not to swear oaths, but to be people of integrity so that our word will mean something just by itself–we won’t have to try and doll it up with formal promises.
When correctly used, casting lots is a reverential attempt to discern God’s will in a situation because we sincerely care about pleasing Him and we are unclear as to what He wants. It has nothing to do with making formal commitments about the future. We get into far more trouble when we sing worship lyrics that make a bunch of flowery promises to God which we have no intention of keeping. This is why it is so important to think about the things we say to God instead of just running our mouths.
6. Can the act of casting lots be demystified? Should we consider them to be no more holy or powerful than praying over water or the ritual of Communion?
There is nothing mystical or magical about casting lots. We ask a question, and God chooses to either speak or stay silent. The lots we use have no power in themselves.
Praying over water, anointing with oil, fasting and the laying on of hands–all of these rituals are utterly meaningless if they are performed out of alignment with God’s will. We cannot transfer spiritual power onto physical objects, nor can we control the way God uses His power by going through certain behaviors.
Communion is supposed to be an act of worship and a time that we gratefully reflect on all that Yahweh and Jesus went through in order to make eternal atonement for our sins available to us. There is no power in the actual Communion elements–we are not literally eating and drinking parts of Christ.
7. Is there any value added by casting lots in the presence of other people?
None whatsoever. Since it is so easy to slip into a wrong attitude about lots, it is best to keep the use of them private between the person who is seeking answers and God. We should not go around promoting the casting of lots or boasting about our use of them. Again, lots will be something that God moves us away from as we mature in the faith and learn to stop relying on sight.