What does the bible mean when it says the Israelites were “casting lots”? Is it like throwing dice, flipping a coin, or maybe like a “magic” eight-ball?
The Bible mentions the Israelites casting lots to determine God’s will in the Old Testament (Numbers 26:55; 33:54; 34:13; 36:2). People were also chosen by lots for specific positions (1 Chronicles 24:5, 31; 25:8-9; 26:13-14). Outside of Judaism, pagans would use tools like this for divination. Eight balls are not in the bible and are man-made toys, no different than pagan objects. These kinds of practices were also used secularly for gambling or to determine who gets what from plunder spoils. For example, Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes in Matthew 27:35. While the apostles do cast lots to select a replacement for Judas named Matthias, he is never mentioned again in the new testament after that point (Acts 1:26). Meanwhile, Paul, God’s actual replacement for Judas writes 60% of the new testament was chosen by casting lots, but rather he was called directly by Jesus on the road to Damascus. This shows that in the new covenant, we don’t do this practice anymore because God selects people through the holy spirit, which is available to all believers in this new covenant set up by Christ.
Casting lots is something they would do in Old Covenant because they didn’t have the holy spirit on the inside to guide them. The high priest carried these two pieces of stone called the Urim and the Thummim in his chest piece and they use those to determine what God’s will was (Exodus 28:30). Other methods included asking for signs like Gideon when he asked God to show a sign on the threshing floor with dew and fleece (Judges 6:33-40). It’s possible David used the Urim and Thummim when asking God if he should go into battle since he usually has a priest and the ephod with him when doing so (1 Sam 23:5-12). If the priest has the ephod, he may also have other sacred garments like the chest piece which has a pocket where the Urim and Thummim are stored.
The Urim and Thummim were a part of all of the sacred clothing which along with the sacred objects were made for the priest in their service to God at the Tabernacle/Temple. There is no direct usage of these kinds of materials for a Christian. The priest wore specific equipment and uniforms and the Tabernacle was made to replicate God’s space in heaven. The altars were made with specific instructions and dimensions as well as specific metals. Certain objects were made of gold, some silver, and some bronze. The curtains had to be made with specific colors and materials and had to have cherubs embroidered on them representing the cherubs that surround God’s throne. These methods have their place in the old covenant and are only applied to the priest in the line of Aaron serving in God’s place of worship for Israel and there is no place for them in the new covenant. According to Hebrews chapters 5-7, Jesus is our high priest in heaven, and in chapters 8-10 Jesus is the final sacrifice. The high priest burned a certain incense to God in order to enter God’s holy space during Yom Kippur. Aarons’s oldest son burned the wrong incense and died in Lev 10:1-7 He gave them specific instructions on usage for everything he had them make but it was all spiritually necessary since humans were “unclean” and needed to constantly go through processes of ritual purity in the old covenant. This is why he set the Israelites apart.
Gentiles in the old covenant could only interact with God through an angel or prophet, but the Israelites had extra tools to connect with God since he was in their presence with his own house (Tabernacle/Temple) but they had to follow specific purity rules to stay safe. God’s presence is dangerous like going near the sun and if you don’t follow the rules, “you get burned”. Jesus died and his blood went on the altar in heaven and that made humans ritually pure so we don’t have to follow those rules anymore. Christians don’t follow any human priest system nor do we sacrifice animals anymore, likewise is no need for casting lots or following ancient Israelite ritual purity laws or civil laws specific to that nation in their land in the new covenant. God’s people specifically used items that he instructed them to make for a specific time under a specific covenant with a specific ethnic group of people living in a specific land. Learn more about Ritual Purity in the New Covenant here.
Now those who receive Jesus will receive the holy spirit God’s presence on the inside. Think about how God used the bronze serpent to heal them from snake bites in Numbers 21. Later Jesus referenced it as being a symbol of him being the healer (John 3:11-15). Unfortunately, the Israelites worshiped it as an idol later on and it had to e destroyed (2 Kings 18:4). These things often have deeper meanings that point to Jesus. God never uses the same methods forever because he wants his people to trust him rather than put their faith in the methods and rituals. That is what pagans do, they put their faith in methodologies and even scientism /atheism is a form of idolizing a method rather than the creator. As Christians, we aren’t supposed to go around replicating ritualistic methods from the old covenant because that was done for a specific purpose for a specific group of people under a specific covenant.
Urim and Thummim were primarily used to answer binary yes or no questions and a prophet or angel would be sent for specific instructions. These things were primarily used when no prophet was around or available. That is why Moses never used them because he was a prophet, prophets speak for God because they have been set apart so that God’s spirit can come upon them for that purpose. Only the prophets could get direct spiritual Revelation from God because God’s Spirit could come upon them. Old Testament prophets temporarily prophesy for God under specific circumstances when God put his spirit on them. However, God’s Spirit was never in them permanently, so they are not at the same level as Christians in the New Covenant. Today we don’t cast lots or ask God for signs because that can be dangerous and Satan can accommodate our desires for signs with deceptive signs. Instead, we pray directly to God through the Holy Spirit and get direct Revelation by the Holy Spirit given to us by our faith in Christ (John 14:15-17, Rom 8:5-11).