Is casting lots superstition?

Straight Talk

The Question

I just read in Acts that they cast lots to determine who would take Judas’ place as an apostle after he died. Somehow that doesn’t seem right to me. Isn’t that superstition?

— LKD from North Carolina

The Answer
Part 1: Common Practice
Part 2: Superstition

Common Practice (Part 1)

You are correct that they cast lots to decide whether Joseph-Barsabbas or Matthias was to take Judas’ place. “And they prayed, and said, ‘Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two Thou has chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:24-26)

As to whether that constituted superstition, the answer is no. In fact, during Bible times, casting or drawing lots was a common method for determining God’s will. God himself prescribed it.

The Lord told Moses that the choice of the scapegoat and the goat for sacrifice were to be determined by casting lots. (Leviticus 16:8) When it came to dividing the land of Canaan, God said, “’But the land shall be divided by lot.’” (Numbers 26:55) Joshua obeyed that command when they got ready for possession. “And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God.” (Joshua 18:6)

There are numerous other examples in scripture of this practice, even outside the company of God’s people. For instance, when Jonah was trying to flee God, the sailors on his ship cast lots to determine who had caused such a great storm. The lot accurately fell to Jonah. They trusted full well that God was behind it all and they ended up throwing Jonah overboard so the ship (and themselves) would not perish.

To understand casting lots we must slip out or our modern mindset and see it through a different worldview. From the Bible’s perspective God is sovereign and he makes the final decision on all issues. Even pagans, who served other gods, generally acknowledged the supreme God – and they feared him.

Within that backdrop, casting lots was a way of finding God’s will and deferring to it. It acknowledged that he was the only one who had the right to determine outcomes. It sought his mind on the matter only so it could be obeyed. Is that the way superstition works?

Superstition (Part 2)

Superstition is almost the complete opposite of biblical lot casting. Superstition prescribes rules and formulas to follow that it is hoped will produce a desired outcome. For instance, a baseball player is wearing a certain pair of socks when he hits one out of the ballpark. Trying to produce that same outcome the next time he is at bat, he makes sure he’s wearing those same socks. If he hits another homerun, he’s now convinced he has “lucky” socks.

The root of superstition is lack of trust in God. For the ballplayer, it’s easy for the socks to become his source instead of God. It isn’t long before superstitions trap people. Not following the rules can produce bad luck. Can you imagine being afraid not to be wearing the “lucky” socks? How about driving without your St. Christopher medal hanging in the car? What about fear you will have seven years of bad luck if you break a mirror?

Superstition is very insidious and often grabs otherwise reasonable people by playing to fear or uncertainty. Since so much of life seems random and out of our control, superstition gives a false assurance of controlling your own life. For those who trust God, it is HE who is in ultimate control.

Should we return to the old days when casting lots was an acceptable and even desirable way to hear from God? Only if we return first to an acknowledgment of his sovereignty and a solemn awe of his greatness and a profound desire to do HIS will over our own.