The Mustard Seed
February 2014
"Ask Pastor"
by Pastor Ron Friedrich

What does "throwing lots" mean?  What are lots?
This question came in response to a story that I cited in last month's Mustard Seed: "The sailors suspected that someone onboard was responsible for the storm.  They threw lots and the lot fell to Jonah."
In ancient times, casting (throwing) lots was a game of chance, like throwing dice or drawing straws.  Today no one knows for sure what a lot looked like or how the game was played.  Most scholars think that lots were small animal bones or stones that varied in appearance, and they threw them into a small box or on a grid on the ground.  Where the lot landed determined the winner... or loser.  The word lot is the root of our word lottery.
People gambled by throwing lots.  While Jesus was dying on the cross, Roman soldiers gambled for His clothes by throwing lots (John 19:23-24).
People also threw lots to let God (or Satan) lead them in making a decision. For example:
  • On Israel's annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Jewish priests threw lots to choose an animal for the sacrifice (Leviticus 16:8). 

  • After Moses died, Joshua threw lots to assign land to the tribes of Israel (Joshua 18:8-10). 

  • In the story of Esther, Israel's enemy, Haman, used lots to decide which day all the Jews in Persia should be killed (Esther 3:7 and 9:26). 

  • In the story of Jonah, the sailors threw lots to discover who was responsible for the storm (Jonah 1:7). 

  • In the New Testament, Jesus' Eleven Disciples prayed and then threw lots to discover whom God had chosen to replace Judas (Acts 1:26).

It was a common practice among God's people in the Bible to seek His guidance for very important decisions that affected the community by throwing lots (see Proverbs 16:33).  I wonder... Should we do something like that today?

~~Pastor Ron