Bible Question:

Proverbs 16:33 says, The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. Leviticus 16:8; Jonah 1:7; and Acts 1:26 also talk about casting lots. What do these passages mean? Can the casting of lots be used today?

Bible Answer:

Casting lots was used in ancient times to make decisions and to determine God’s will. Even those who did not believe in the God of Israel used lots.

And each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.  Jonah 1:7 (NASB)

Casting Lots

God’s Guidance

The lot was used by the Israelites to resolve issues. One excellent example of this is found in Proverbs 18:18.

The lot puts an end to contentions, and decides between the mighty. Proverbs 18:18  (NASB)

It would have been a fair way to make a decision between people who did not agree. But the most interesting use of the lot was when God required that the lot be used to make a decision. Two such passages are Numbers 26:55 and 33:54. The lot was to be used to determine how the land was to be divided among the Israelites. In Leviticus 16:8 the lot was used to determine which goat was to be set free on the day of Atonement.

And Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Leviticus 16:8  (NASB)

God used the lot to guide decisions. The apostles used the lot to determine God’s will. They wanted to know who the next apostle should be. So they cast lots and Matthias was selected as the next apostle.

And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Acts 1:26   (NASB)

Can We Use Lots?

Can we use lots today to make a decision? Will God control the lot? We will start by looking at Proverbs 16:33 which reads as follows in the literal Hebrew:

Into the lap is cast the lot but from Yahweh all the judgment of it. Proverbs 16:33 (NASB)

The meaning is now easier to understand. The word “judgment” comes from the Hebrew word MISPAT. It has the idea of justice or judgment. The passage simply says that the result of the lot is just, because God is guiding it. When the sailors in Jonah’s boat cast lots, they did not know that God was going to guide the lots to give an accurate result. The apostles had prayed and asked God to guide the lot, and God did. When the Old Testament priests used the Urim and Thummim to determine God’s will, God guided the result. On other occasions, God is the unseen and unrecognized person controlling the result.


Ultimately, God is guiding every thing, even the lot. If He needs to move you in a direction He will even flip the lot to get you where He wants you to be. Harry Ironside once said this about Proverbs 16:33.

There is no such thing as chance, though it seems so to the man who looks only “under the sun.”

Will God guide the lot to answer our questions? Can we throw the lot after asking God ten different questions and have God answer all of them with the lot? If so, then why did Jesus ask us to pray? He could have just asked us to throw a lot. I believe the lot was used in special situations by the priests and the apostles after much prayer and seeking God’s will.

Today, I would encourage you to pray and ask God to guide you by opening and closing doors. On occasions I have asked God to give me a “sign” just as Gideon did (Judges 6:36-40). God has always been faithful. He was faithful to the priests, the apostles, Gideon, and He will be faithful to those who honestly and sincerely seek His will.

Suggested Links:

Seeking God's Will
What Is The Difference Between God's Commandments, His Will & Legalism?