What Does It Mean To Cast Lots?
According to Roman custom, the soldiers who carried out the crucifixion had a right to the victim’s clothes. Jewish law required that the person being crucified would be stripped naked. So there Jesus hung, completely open and naked before the world, while his crucifiers literally distributed his clothes among themselves!
Making this distribution of clothes even cheaper was the fact that the soldiers “cast lots” for His garments. The Gospel of John records that “…when they crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rent it, but cast lots for it…”
As Jesus was being crucified, the soldiers tore His outer garments into four pieces, one for each of them. They wanted to do the same with His tunic, but it was seamless—one piece of fabric woven from the top down. So they said,
Soldier (to other soldiers): Don’t tear it. Let’s cast lots, and the winner will take the whole thing.
This happened in keeping with the Hebrew Scriptures, which said, “They divided My outer garments and cast lots for My clothes.” These soldiers did exactly what was foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures.
John 19:23-24 (VOICE)
This account informs us that four soldiers were present at Jesus’ crucifixion. The four parts of His clothing that were distributed among them were His head gear, sandals, girdle, and the tallith – the outer garment that had fringes on the bottom. His “coat” which was “without seam,” was a handmade garment that was sewn together from top to bottom. Because it was specially handmade, this coat was a very expensive piece of clothing. This was the reason the soldiers chose to cast lots for it rather than tear it into four parts and spoil it.
When the Bible refers to “casting lots,” it indicates a game during which the soldiers wrote their names on pieces of parchment or wood or on stones and then dropped all four pieces with their names written on them into some kind of container. Because the Roman soldiers who helped crucify Jesus were remotely located, it is probable that one of them pulled off his helmet and held it out to the other soldiers. After the others dropped their names in the helmet, the soldier shook it to mix up the four written names and then randomly withdrew the name of the winner.
It is simply remarkable that all of this was taking place as Jesus was pushing down on that huge nail lodged in His feet so He could gasp for breath before sagging back down into a hanging position. As Jesus’ strength continued to drain away and the full consequence of man’s sin was being realized in Him, the soldiers at the foot of the Cross played a game to see who would get His finest piece of clothing!