“And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26).
What are the odds of flipping a penny and getting a heads or tails? Most people think it’s fifty-fifty. But Persi Diaconis thinks otherwise. The professor of mathematics and statistics at Stan- ford University discovered that a coin toss is closer to 51/49 with a bias toward whatever side was up when the coin was tossed. And if you spin a penny with the Lincoln Memorial on the back, the results are even more pronounced. It will land tails up 80 percent of the time because the side with Lincoln’s head is a bit heavier, causing the coin’s centre of mass to fall toward heads.
Casting lots in the Bible was somewhat equivalent to our modern day coin toss. The Bible mentions the use of lots in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament by the disciples before Pentecost. Scholars believe these lots were made up of sticks with markings or stones with symbols that were tossed and interpreted to know God’s will. The selection of the scapegoat (see Leviticus 16:8–10) was determined by lots, as was the al- location of the tribal inheritance in the Promised Land (Numbers 26:55, 56).
The casting of lots was not used as a substitute for clear guidance that the Lord had already given in certain matters. It is not God’s will that we flip coins when there is strong scriptural evidence or a relevant principle available from the Bible. It appears that after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, that there is no more record of casting lots. Even when lots were used, the focus was on God’s will being accomplished. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33).
After Judas committed suicide, the disciples wanted to know God’s de- sire for his replacement. They prayed, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen” (Acts 1:24). Our focus should be the same—not on flipping coins, but on seeking God’s will.
O Lord, whenever I am unclear about a choice I must make, I will first and foremost study to know Your will.
For Further Study: Acts 1:15–26; Joshua 7:14–18; Psalm 22:18