Why did soldiers cast lots for Jesus' clothes?
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Question: Why did Roman soldiers cast lots for the clothes of Jesus?
Answer: The practice of casting lots is actually mentioned several times in the Bible (Leviticus 16:8, Proverbs 16:33, 18:18, Acts 1:24-26, etc.). Its main use was to render a decision not biased and based on human choice but letting God decide the matter (e.g. the selection of a replacement for Judas - Acts 1:24-26). The use of lots in public, however, determined an impartial decision based on time and chance.
Interestingly, though not commanded in the Bible, lots determined which of the priests at Jerusalem’s temple carried out a certain function like cleansing the altar or offering incense to God (The Temple at the Time of Christ, Chapter 7). They were common in games and gambling. Some of the things used for lots, depending upon the time and location, were polished sticks, coins, cards, dice, bones, stones, etc.
Before the dividing of Jesus' clothes, Herod's soldiers forced a gorgeous robe on him in order to mock him.
"And when Herod saw Jesus, he rejoiced greatly; for he had long been desiring to see Him because he had heard many things about Him, and he was hoping to see a miracle done by Him. And he questioned Him with many words; but He answered him nothing. All the while, the chief priests and the scribes stood vehemently accusing Him. Then Herod and his soldiers treated Him with contempt; and after mocking Him, he put a splendid robe on Him and sent Him back to Pilate." (Luke 23:8-11, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV) throughout)
After Jesus went to Pontius Pilate, he again was forced to wear expensive clothing in mockery. The Bible is unclear whether or not this was the same garment previously used to mock him. Jesus received his own clothes back after his torture by the Roman military.
"Then Pilate therefore took Jesus and scourged Him. And after platting a crown of thorns, the soldiers put it on His head; and they threw a purple cloak over Him, and kept on saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And they struck Him with the palms of their hands. Then Pilate went out again and said to them, "Behold, I bring Him out to you, so that you may know that I do not find any fault in Him." Then Jesus went out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak; and he said to them, 'Behold the man!'" (John 19:1-5)
"And they stripped Him and put a scarlet cloak around Him. And after platting a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a rod in His right hand; and bowing on their knees before Him, they mocked Him, and kept on saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" Then, after spitting on Him, they took the rod and struck Him on the head. When they were done mocking Him, they took the cloak off Him; and they put His own garments on Him and led Him away to crucify Him. " (Matthew 27:28-31)
It was after they hung him on the cross that soldiers sought to divide the quality clothes Jesus wore.
"Now the soldiers, after they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, a part for each soldier, and the coat also. But the coat was seamless, woven in one piece from the top all the way throughout. For this reason, they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but let us cast lots for it to determine whose it shall be"; that the scripture might be fulfilled which says, "They divided My garments among them, and they cast lots for My vesture." The soldiers therefore did these things." (John 19:23-24)
When the soldiers wanted to divide Jesus' coat or tunic, they saw it was not a patchwork of pieces sewn together. Rather, it had no seams, a quality garment that took some time to make. It was the same quality of clothing, woven from top to bottom in one piece, worn by the high priest in Jerusalem's temple. The Jewish historian Josephus states,
"The high priest is indeed adorned with the same garments that we have described, without abating one; only over these he puts on a vestment of a blue color. . . Now this vesture was not composed of two pieces, nor was it sewed together upon the shoulders and the sides, but it was one long vestment so woven as to have an aperture for the neck; not an oblique one, but parted all along the breast and the back. A border also was sewed to it, lest the aperture should look too indecently: it was also parted where the hands were to come out." (Antiquities (History) of the Jews, Book 3, Chapter 7)
Unlike clothing made from pieces and thus easier to tear up, Jesus' coat would have been harder to separate into pieces. Additionally, the act of trying to divide such a seamless coat would likely make any pieces frayed and useless. The soldiers knew these facts and therefore decided to cast lots to leave it to time and chance to determine who got the entire garment.