Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In both the Hebrew and the Greek, the word translated “lot” has the original meaning of a small stone, a bit of wood, or a piece of cord. These small stones, with certain markings on them, were cast down in order to determine a certain person or a certain course of action or a certain piece of ground. The ceremony of casting lots was not gambling or trusting in chance, but was the God-approved way of determining a matter. “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Prov. 16:33). What was determined by lot was considered settled and binding, for “The lot causeth contentions to cease, and parteth between the mighty” (Prov. 18:18). The word “lot” refers not only to the stones that were cast, but by implication to that which was determined by lot: a part, a portion, an inheritance.
The lot was used throughout the history of the Old Testament church. Aaron cast lots to determine which goat would be offered for a sin offering and which goat would be kept alive as the scapegoat (Lev. 16:8). The land of Canaan was divided by lot as the inheritance of the tribes of Israel and of their families (Josh. 13-21). The cities given to the Levites, forty-eight in number, were determined by lot (Josh. 21:20, 40). Achan and his sin were discovered by lot (Josh. 7:18); the soldiers who would fight against Gibeah were chosen by lot (Judges 20:9); and Jonathan was found to have eaten honey against Saul’s command by the casting of lots (I Sam. 14:41).
Naboth refused to sell or trade his vineyard to King Ahab because “the Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee” (I Kings 21:3). The portion of land given to each Israelite by lot might not be relinquished; the land shall not be sold forever (Lev. 25:23). Salvation could be enjoyed only in the way of keeping that portion assigned by the Lord, but to sell that land was to despise the inheritance. Therefore the ancient landmarks, stakes of wood or piles of stones, might not be removed (Deut. 19:14; Prov. 22:28).
Lots were also cast much later, near the fullness of time. Zacharias’ lot was to burn incense in the temple when the angel announced to him the birth of John. When Jesus was crucified, the soldiers cast lots for his garments (Matt. 27:35) as it had been prophesied (Ps. 22:18). Judas Iscariot was replaced as an apostle by Matthias, upon whom the lot fell (Acts 1:26). Strangely and beautifully, we do not read of the church casting lots to make binding decisions after Acts 1. The reason for this is that, according to Acts 2, Jesus poured out of His Spirit so that every member of the church was filled by the Spirit of Christ. Before the Day of Pentecost the church was but a child, and God treated her as a child. The casting of lots fit the dispensation of the law, the time of types and shadows. But with the outpouring of the Spirit the one church of God suddenly matures, reaches adulthood, and is enabled to make decisions and determinations by the Spirit of truth that is in her. The office of believers comes into its own. Just a few days after Pentecost that office was exercised in the Jerusalem church by the choosing of deacons (Acts 6:1-6). The church chose or elected seven men to be deacons, and then the apostles prayed over them, laid their hands on them, and ordained them. We heard recently of a congregation that was considering the casting of lots to determine her officebearers. Perhaps this practice has been adopted in some congregations. How unbiblical, foolish, wrong! That is a denial of the maturity of the church, the Spirit’s leading of the church, and the office of all believers.
We believe that the ceremonies and figures of the law (including the casting of lots) have ceased at the coming of Christ, and the use of them must be abolished amongst Christians; “yet the truth and substance of them remain with us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have their completion” (Belgic Confession, Art. 25). This is brought out very beautifully in Psalm 16:5, 6, which is true for every believer even today. “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: Thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.” The lot that has fallen to us, the property lines drawn out for us with gracious care, the cup we are privileged to drink, the inheritance which is maintained and preserved for us, is Jehovah God Himself! Is that not a goodly heritage? God has given Himself to us in Jesus Christ. He has given us His inspired Word and its preaching along with the sacraments. He has given us Reformed confessions and our precious Church Order. We may worship God with an order of worship that adheres closely to the principles of Scripture.
This is our lot. This is our inheritance, for which we did nothing. These are the lines which give to us a pleasant life. For these things we bless the Lord.
Remove not these ancient landmarks!