Throughout the history of humanity, people have used objects that are either drawn out of a container or cast upon a surface in order to seek advice from the spirit world, make  choices, predict future events, or gain insight and knowledge about things and events that are beyond the normal capabilities of people to gain through natural means. The Bible has much to say about the uses of these methods of seeking advice, insight, and knowledge from the spirit-realm of existence. Therefore, it is important to explore what the Bible has to say about the drawing and casting of lots.

The Day of Atonement

The drawing of lots concerning the two goats on the Day of Atonement was an extremely important part of the festival's rituals and it was the method through which the Creator God chose to show his will concerning which goat was to be sacrificed and which one was to be set free:

"And Aaron shall take from the Israelite's, two male goats for  a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering . . . And he  shall take the two goats, and present them  before  the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for  the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat" (Lev.16:5, 7-8 Para.).

On each Day of Atonement, two goats were presented to God at the  door of  the  tabernacle,  but they were not allowed to pass  through  it  while they were alive, which  was the case with all animals that were to be used  as a sacrifice.

The method by which the  high priest was to determine the purpose for each goat  was the drawing of  lots. Through this method, God chose which goat would die and which one would live. Although all animals that were sacrificed had to be physically perfect,  God needed to make the choice on this occasion, because this sacrificial goat is prophetic of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the atonement of all humanity. See our study about the Day of Atonement.

"And  Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord's lot  fell, and offer him for a sin offering" (Lev.16:9 KJV).

No one explanation seems to be able to satisfy  everyone  as  to exactly  what the lots were made of or what they looked like. However, if we  combine  the information given by Yoma in the Babylonian Talmud  and the  Mishnah,  it seems that the lots were two  stones:  one  white  and one black. According to the Talmud and the Mishnah,  the white stone displayed the words  "For the Lord", and the black stone displayed the words "For Azazel".

These  two stones were placed into  a container and shaken;  then, without looking into the container, the  high priest would put his right hand into the container and draw out one of the lots.

Simon the Righteous

In the third century B.C., there was a high priest named Simon who served in the Jerusalem temple. Simon was considered to be very honorable and he continued  in the office of high priest for 40 years. Each of the forty years that Simon drew the lots to determine  which of  the goats would be slain and which would be set  free,  the white lot for the slain goat would appear in his right hand.

The Day of Atonement 30 A.D.

One of the four major signs listed in the Babylonian Talmud that foretold the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. pertained to the drawing of lots for the two goats on the Day of Atonement.

The  Babylonian Talmud states that,  for 200 years before 30 A.D., the first stone to appear in the right hand  randomly alternated  between the white and black stone, because God selected the more perfect  goat that  was to be slain for the sins of the people. But,  beginning with  the  Day of Atonement 30 A.D. (the year of  the  death  and resurrection  of Jesus Christ),  things changed. The black  stone appeared in the right hand of the  high priest and would do so for the next 39 years.

The chances of either the black or white stone appearing 40 consecutive times in the right hand of the  high priest is over  a trillion to one according to Pascal's table of numerical odds.

Since the color black is symbolic of spiritual darkness and is a harbinger of bad things to come upon the enemies of God, it seems that the continual appearance of the black stone in the right hand of the high priest was surely a sign of God's displeasure with the Jews as well as a warning for them to repent. After forty years of continuous warning, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 A.D..

The choosing of lots to determine the fate of the two goats on the Day of Atonement and the events surrounding the two forty years cycles of white and black lots clearly  show that lots were used to reveal the will of God for the present and the future to those who served as his ministers.

The Dividing of the Promised Land

The Creator gave Moses specific instructions to use lots to divide the land that he would give national Israel among the various tribes (Num.26:55-56). Moses subsequently gave instructions to the Israelites concerning the general areas that they were to inhabit after they conquered the nations that occupied that land, and he told them that Eleazar the high priest and Joshua would use lots to determine the exact division of land among them:

"And Moses commanded the Israelites saying, This is the land that you shall inherit by lot . . .. And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, These are the names of the men who shall divide the land to you: Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun" (Num.34:13,16-17 Para.).

The use of lots to determine which tribe would inherit which piece of land was not done to ensure the impartiality of Eleazar and Joshua. Lots were cast so that the Israelites would know that the Creator God had chosen where they would live.

In compliance with God's instructions concerning the drawing of lots to divide the  land among the tribes of Israel (Jos.18:1-10),  Joshua went to Shiloh where the priesthood officiated at the tabernacle of God. See also Jos.13:6-7.

Decisions Concerning Life and Death

There are two accounts that show the use of lots to determine the identity of a person responsible for a sin or a life threatening situation in which a person was either put to death or sent to his death. The first account shows the use of lots to determine who had violated God's instructions concerning the taking of spoils of war. When the responsible person was discovered, he was put to death (Jos.7:1-26). The second account concerns Jonah and his attempt to escape from a responsibility that God had given him. When the sailors (through the casting of lots) found that it was Jonah who was responsible for their life threatening situation, he was cast into the sea to die (Jnh.1:1-15). In both of these accounts, it was the Creator God who revealed truth through the casting of lots.

The Proverbs and Lots

"One casts the lot into the lap; but all its decision comes from the Lord" (Pro.16:33 Para.).

This proverb clearly shows the use of lots to seek a decision for God in matters that could not be determined from the use of the facts at hand. Although it is not stated in this proverb, it can be assumed that the participants are in conformity to God's ways, authorized by God to access him through the casting of lots, seeking to gain insight, knowledge, and his will, and will abide by the decision that he gives through the lots.

The casting of lots was not only used by the spiritual and national leaders of Israel to determine a matter but also in the private lives of individuals.

"The lot causes arguments to cease, and divides between the mighty" (Pro.18:18 Para.).

For those who brought a matter before the Lord and sought insight, knowledge, or his decision in a matter and abided by what was revealed, the matter was settled and ceased to be a problem between them. Again, those  involved in the matter were most likely  righteous  in their intention to discover truth and a righteous judgement.

King David and the Priesthood

In the first book of the Chronicles of the kings of Israel, there are several accounts of king David and others seeking to understand the will of God concerning the division of the priesthood into their various functions. These accounts show that the method used to determine God's will in these matters was the casting of lots, and that it was considered prudent to seek the will of God by this method concerning people and things that would impact how people would serve and worship God. See 1.Chron.24:1-31; 25:1-8; 26:1-14.

Choosing a Replacement for Judas

Shortly after the Festival of Pentecost in 30 A.D. and the bestowing of the holy spirit upon those who were worthy of  receiving it, the apostles selected a replacement for the traitor Judas who had killed himself:

"And they [the eleven apostles] selected Joseph who was called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And when they had prayed, and said, You Lord, who knows the hearts of all men, show which of these two men you have chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas through transgression fell . . . And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:23-26 Para).

The following are very important things to take note of:

1. The apostles selected two men who they thought qualified to fulfill the responsibilities of an apostle.

2. They asked God the Father to make the choice between these two men.

3. The method that they used to have God's will revealed to them was the casting or drawing of lots. It is logical that they would have used this method, because this method had been used for centuries by the authorized civil and spiritual leaders of Israel to gain certain kinds of knowledge from God and to determine his will in certain matters.

Simon the Sorcerer

When Simon saw that it was through the laying on of hands that people received the holy spirit and that it was through the hands of the apostles that this spirit-power  was given, he offered the apostles money:

"Give me this authority, so that I may do the same thing by laying my hands on people.  But Peter said to him, Your money parish with you into perdition, because you think that God's gift can be purchased with money. You have no part or lot in this matter, because your heart is not right in the sight of God" (Acts 8:18-21).

This account shows that, in order to be able to use the casting of lots in the framework of the Body of Christ, one must have the right attitude and be authorized (called by God the Father)  to participate in the work of the church.


Both the Bible and historical records show that God has revealed certain insights and knowledge about people, things, events, and his will concerning them through  the method of drawing or casting lots. And both the Bible and historical records show that this method was in common use by those whom God had authorized as the civil and spiritual leaders of his people.

There is no indication in the scriptures that the practice of drawing or casting lots is condemned when it is used to gain  insight, and knowledge about people, things, and events for the right purpose. However, there is a darker side to the use of lots that deserves a detailed explanation.

A Great Danger

Although there is no doubt that God authorized the use of  objects that are either drawn out of a container or cast upon a surface in order seek his advice, have him make a choice  and to gain insight and knowledge about things and events which are beyond the normal capabilities of people to gain through natural means, there is great danger in the use of lots.

Today, as in the past, there are many things that one must consider before attempting to access God through an object:

1. Will God honor one's attempt to use an object to access physical or spiritual knowledge?

2. Has one been authorized to use an object to access physical or spiritual knowledge?

3. How can one be absolutely certain that an answer one receives is from the spirit of God?

4. How can one be certain that an answer one receives is  not from an evil spirit or one's own mind?

These are very serious questions that must be answered before a person attempts to use an object to access the spirit of God. Without the correct answers to these questions, it seems foolish to use any physical object to guide one's physical or spiritual life. This is not to say that God the Father and Jesus Christ will not authorize such a method to be used during the end of the age; however, extreme caution must be exercised. The apostle Peter warned, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, walks about as a roaring lion, seeking those whom he may devour" (1.Pet.5:8).

Because the only example of the casting of lots by the elect of the early church concerns the affairs of the church, we can safely assume that, at that time, it was not wrong to use this method to gain insight and knowledge and to discover the will of God concerning spiritual matters.

When we consider the two examples in the Book of Acts that speak of lots, the implication seems to be that the apostles were the custodians of this method of seeking insight from God.

By B.L Cocherell, file b8w18