The term ‘chance’ in both Old and New Testaments is synonymous with the term ‘lot’. The basic meaning is to befall or happen.
Casting lots to determine an event was found originally during the time of Moses but was later used as common practice during the time of Christ.
“He (Aaron) shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.” Leviticus 16:7-10
This original example of casting lots consisted of two possible outcomes both with the same likelihood of occurrence. It was similar to a coin toss today, i.e. the likelihood of ‘heads’ is the same as the likelihood as ‘tails’.
The concept of casting lots was expanded to determine the allocation of land to the tribes of Israel.
“These are the areas which the children of Israel inherited in the land of Canaan…distributed as an inheritance to them. Their inheritance was by lot, as the LORD had commanded by the hand of Moses…” Joshua 14:1-2
The Hebrew base for ‘lot’ in the above passage is the same as used in the determination of the scapegoat in the earlier passage. It is in fact the same base word used for isolating Jonah as the cause of the storm.
“And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.” Jonah 1:7
The contemporary meaning of ‘lot’ and ‘chance’ has been greatly expanded in this present age. Several present and common related terms include probability and actuarial. Both terms are based on the likelihood or the chance that a given event will occur. Actuarial tables are based on the likelihood or probability that death, for example, will most likely occur when a person reaches a certain age based on historical data.
Likewise the probability that a certain candidate will be elected to office is based on quizzing numerous potential voters and noting their intentions. The larger the sample of potential voters the more accurate will be the probability of the candidate’s success or failure. The process of sampling potential voters is termed ‘polling’. The sample size will also determine the magnitude of the statistical error which is called the margin of error. Polling is also used to try to access how the majority of people feel about a given issue. Nearly every president will say they don’t pay any attention to polls, however, watch to see if their position on certain issues change if the polls suggest a majority of voters have voiced their opinion contrary to the president’s previously stated position.
The end result is that many major decisions are made by way of the statistical likelihood of future events. Insurance companies set life insurance rates based on probabilities. But in reality a person’s days have already been determined without regard to averages.
“Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Psalm 139:16
The contemporary term ‘lottery’ is from the basic word lot. Its meaning is a drawing of lots, or a set of prearranged numbers, in which prizes are awarded on the basis of possessing a ticket containing the predetermined set of numbers.
But really, how much emphasis should one place on chance or probability? Perhaps Solomon had the answer.
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” Proverbs 16:33
Therefore, while millions still cast lots daily in hopes of attaining good fortune, the sovereignty of God will always determine the outcome. There is really no such thing as ‘living by chance’.