Have you ever had to solve a disagreement by flipping a coin? While instruments of chance (coins, dice, shuffled cards) are often the domain of gambling, there are times when two parties just need to agree that they will accede to a random outcome. Maybe two friends can’t decide which restaurant to visit, or two children are settling who will get the last piece of candy (after dividing up the rest).
Now, I’m not convinced that the world is truly as random as it seems, but regardless of my viewpoint, the practice of using something that might seem random to identify or predict truth has been around for a long, long time. Those who practice these things – for good or for evil – probably believe two things: 1) that there is a higher power capable of directing the outcomes, and 2) that this higher power is working to do so at the time. On the other hand, there are also others who believe that they can – through human interpretation – figure out the answers to things that God has not yet decided to make known to us.
Take a look at what the sailors on Jonah’s ship did when a storm struck fear into them:
Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
Jonah 1:7-8 NIV
My understanding is that casting lots was kind of like rolling dice or drawing straws. While we might associate dice with gambling, there was – and still is, in some places – the idea that divine power can influence physical outcomes.
To be clear, I’m not saying that you should trust a “Magic 8-Ball” to make your decisions for you, nor should you ever consult a medium or spiritist. However, in the Bible, people sometimes used physical events to direct decisions:
- Lots were to be cast among two goats, one to be sacrificed and one to be sent away as a scapegoat [Leviticus 16:5-10]
- The land of Israel was at least partially divided up among tribes by casting lots. [Joshua 18:8-10]
- The soldiers who crucified Jesus cast lots to determine who got His clothes.
- …and, there are other examples (mostly in the Old Testament).
There are times when God’s will is made known through circumstances or events, but I think that the main difference (between these situations where God makes His will known, and the evil – or unfruitful – sort of interpreting random events) is that God can choose to use the physical world to communicate His will to us, but we don’t have the right to compel God to tell us whatever we want to know. God’s plan includes both knowing the right answers at the right time, and knowing when we need to hear them (since we’re not always ready for the answers just yet).
In this case with Jonah, though, the lot-casting identified the correct culprit. God’s reaction to Jonah’s disobedience was indeed the reason that all of those on this ship were in this storm. So, trusting the results of the lots that had been cast, the others start to grill Jonah, to try and figure out what is going on. We’d probably do the same thing if we were traveling and found out that someone in our party had put a whole group of us in danger.
Let’s look further at the Jonah’s responses in the next article, but in the meantime, today is a good day to make sure that we aren’t trying to force God’s hand in telling us something that isn’t yet ours to know. I think that it’s perfectly OK to keep asking God about what is on our heart, and to keep looking for his replies. However, circumventing His plan just to know more about it for ourselves shows a lack of trust and faith on our part.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for June 5, 2022
- The Lookout, June 5, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Minor Prophets Volume 1: Hosea-MIcah, by Harold Shank. College Press Publishing Company, © 2001.