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Jamie Johnson
4 October 2015

Casting Lots

NOTE: This is a written version of the message I delivered on October 4, 2015.

The year is 1629. In a Swiss village called Zell, a woman named Otillia Hagman Zuppinger holds her infant son Conrad. A mother of 11 children, she has lost many of them due to the plague that swept through her village. The infant Conrad survives and goes on to become a man having a family of his own. Eleven generations later, I would be born as one of his many descendants. I could go on and on with the stories I have come across in the 29 years of researching my 1700-year family history. The plague did not take Conrad as it did many of his siblings. If one detail had been off, I would not be here. Many others would not be here. Yet, Conrad was spared. Why?

The answer is simple, but not simple at the same time. The answer is that God is sovereign. Yet, what grief Otillia must have had losing many of her children! We live in a broken world. As I have shared with others, we live in a world that has jagged edges and we cannot piece it all together. However, those jagged pieces fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle in a way only God can see. He is sovereign.

Sovereignty means that God knows all and is over all and nothing happens in a manner that surprises Him or that He has not already seen or known. God does as He pleases and is in complete control. It's hard for us to remember that sometimes because it means we are not in control. God looks at history in its entirety like we might look at an ink pen. He sees the whole thing.

Making sense of pain, tragedy or a moral ethic that has been flipped on its head can be difficult and we wonder why God allows it or we question His sovereignty. However, we must trust Him, hard as it may be at times. In January 2013, I wrote the following in the article Where is the Hope?:

Some choose to shake their fists at God and ask, "Why?" in anger as a response to the brokenness in this world. In his book Why Does God Allow It?, the late A.E. Wilder-Smith mentions how he admired the great architecture of the cathedral in Cologne before World War II. However, by 1946, this great cathedral had been bombed (along with the rest of Cologne), and he saw it was full of holes and in shambles. Smith points out that this was not the architect's or builder's fault.

Whose fault is it? I would surmise that it is the world, the flesh and the devil. We live in a broken world.

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We also live in a world where it seems that things happen by chance. Such things, however, are not chance to God. In the Bible, there are instances of casting lots and God used them.

I recently read the following account in Joshua 18:1-10 (NASB):

Then the whole congregation of the sons of Israel assembled themselves at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there; and the land was subdued before them.

There remained among the sons of Israel seven tribes who had not divided their inheritance. So Joshua said to the sons of Israel, "How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you? Provide for yourselves three men from each tribe that I may send them, and that they may arise and walk through the land and write a description of it according to their inheritance; then they shall return to me. They shall divide it into seven portions; Judah shall stay in its territory on the south, and the house of Joseph shall stay in their territory on the north. You shall describe the land in seven divisions, and bring the description here to me. I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God. For the Levites have no portion among you, because the priesthood of the Lord is their inheritance. Gad and Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh also have received their inheritance eastward beyond the Jordan, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave them."

Then the men arose and went, and Joshua commanded those who went to describe the land, saying, "Go and walk through the land and describe it, and return to me; then I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh." So the men went and passed through the land, and described it by cities in seven divisions in a book; and they came to Joshua to the camp at Shiloh. And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord, and there Joshua divided the land to the sons of Israel according to their divisions.

What phrase occurs 3 times when casting lots is mentioned? The phrase is "before the LORD." They did this before the LORD. Think offering. Do you lay your decisions before the LORD? You have to trust Him to do so.

I was reading the other day in Acts. Jesus had ascended and there were 11 disciples since Judas had taken his own life. It was time for another man to be chosen. This is described in Acts 1:21-26 (NASB):

Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us - beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us - one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection. So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have 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 added to the eleven apostles.

Why did the disciples pray and cast lots? So that God could show them what He had decided. Which did they do first? They prayed. Why? They looked to God first. They trusted Him. This doesn't mean we roll dice for every decision, but it is a call for us to trust God with our decisions. Why? Because He is trustworthy. He is sovereign.

And what about Justus? After all, he had been with them since the beginning as well. God had something else for Justus. We don't know what that was, but it was not being one of the Twelve.

We are clay in the Potter's hand. Romans 9:21-24 makes this clear. In fact, much of Romans 9 is a good picture of God's sovereignty. Consider Romans 9:9-24 (NASB):

For this is the word of promise: "At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son." And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

God has us all right where He wants us. He is sovereign. If times are tough or hard, trust Him. If they are good, trust Him. Either way, it's not about you or me. It's about Him.

So since God is sovereign, now what? Do we do nothing? No. Faith without works is dead according to James 2:20. While we are not saved by works, good works do come out of faith. Likewise, we are not to do the opposite of nothing, which is trying to take control or run on our own strength or try to get our own glory. We are to be participants in God's work and be sanctified - that is, made holy - by Him. In Christ, we participate out of faith in the work to which He has called us and we trust Him.

God uses even the brokenness in the world to bring about His plan. We are broken people and He can and does use us. He even uses broken situations to bring about His purpose. Consider the Crucifixion of Jesus. In that scene, there was an instance of casting lots for Jesus' clothes, which is found in Matthew 27:35 (NASB):

And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots.

Did the Roman soldiers pray or offer the casting of lots to God? No. However, God in His sovereignty still used it. How? The soldiers casting lots was a fulfillment of prophecy in Psalm 22:16-18 (NASB):

For dogs have surrounded me;
A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
They pierced my hands and my feet.

I can count all my bones.
They look, they stare at me;

They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.

Centuries before crucifixion was even invented, it was prophesied. And God in His sovereignty saw that it was fulfilled. While Jesus hung on the cross, Roman soldiers cast lots for His clothes. What are you doing with Jesus' clothes? Are you clothed with Christ?

Even when awful things occur, God is sovereign and He can bring good out of it. The recent shootings in Oregon were horrible, but a woman on the radio who had lost 3 of her friends in the shooting said that people have come together in prayer in a way that she has never seen. Those in Oregon were killed for being Christians. It is horrible. It is awful. However, where are they now? They are with Him! And despite the pain, a community is rallying together in prayer. The Crucifixion was horrible, but looking back we see God's sovereign plan in motion where Jesus took man's place on the cross and freely offers His righteousness and not only that, but He conquered the power of sin demonstrated by His Resurrection. By the way, Jesus predicted His death and Resurrection and it occurred just as He said. That shows His sovereignty.

So whether you are casting lots, rolling dice or making decisions, take it before God. Because He is sovereign, you can trust Him. Do you trust Him today? Do you know the One who hung on the cross for you? Are you trusting His work and surrendering to Him? Are you being clothed with Him today? He is trustworthy. He is sovereign.


Endnotes - Additional food for thought

Casting of lots for decisions before God is no longer necessary because of the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

Is God responsible? God doesn't steal from Himself as it all belongs to God. However, man has been the one who has been an irresponsible steward of what God has loaned.

Proverbs 16:33 (NASB):

The lot is cast into the lap,
But its every decision is from the LORD.

Imagine a sign where the front says "Whosoever will may come" while the back says, "Predestined before the foundatoin of the World."


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