Nothing in a democracy is more sacred than the will of the majority. Vox populi, vox dei, "The voice of the people is the voice of God," to quote a Latin proverb that could be democracy's motto. But when God is speaking more slowly than we would like, do we cut him off?

No, we require ourselves to keep listening as long as he is still speaking, and something like that reverential patience seems called for at the current juncture in American electoral history. We may need to remind ourselves that when the American republic was founded, all voting was by hand, and so was all counting of votes. The calendar of election, ratification, and inauguration that we still follow was designed by the Founding Fathers to allow time for that laborious manual counting and for the resolution of any irregularities that cropped up along the way.

If there are more voters now, it should matter little: There are also more vote-counters. The notion that democracy is at risk if election results are not immediately known and accepted would surely have struck the Founders as absurd. Television, not the Constitution, has given birth to the expectation that every event can and should be projected beforehand and instantly replayed afterward.

Though there are no elections as we know them in the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New report the rather elaborate use of lots--lots rather than ballots--to make difficult selections. In the New Testament, it is by a prayerful casting of lots that Matthias is chosen over Barnabas to take the place of the dead Judas among the 12 Apostles (Acts 1:21-26).

In comparable moments, the Old Testament reports the use of the Urim and Thummim, a yes/no device that by a process of elimination could be used either to select leaders or identify criminals by "inquiring of the Lord."

This was the system that King Saul used when, attempting to identify a wrongdoer in Israel, he said:

"'Come here, all you leaders of the people; and let us find out how this sin has arisen today. For as the Lord lives who saves Israel, even if it is in my son Jonathan, he shall surely die!' But there was no one among all the people who answered him. He said to all Israel, 'You shall be on one side, and I and my son Jonathan will be on the other side.' The people said to Saul, `Do what seems good to you.' Then Saul said, 'O Lord God of Israel...if this guilt is in me or in my son Jonathan., give Urim; but if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.' And Jonathan and Saul were indicated by the lot, but the people were cleared. Then Saul said, 'Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.' And Jonathan was taken."

Readers interested in the end of the story may read 1 Samuel 14:43-46. My point is not that Palm Beach County should use lots but that the biblical process is more than a bit laborious.

Earlier, when the same system was used to elect Saul himself as Israel's first king, it went first from the nation to the tribe, then from the tribe to the clan, then from the clan to the family, and then from the family to the man.

In other words, ancient Israel said yes to someone by first saying no to everyone else and then, at the end of the time-consuming process, accepting the result as the will of God.

At the end of the American process, many of us will accept the result in much the same way. Rather than feel in our bones that it was our choice, we will say, our relief tinged variously with apprehension or anticipation, "It was the will of God."

When we reach that point, if it has taken us a while to get there, will we feel the worse for the delay? I, for one, am made much more anxious by haste than by delay; and I see in the unhurried system that ancient Israel followed, for all its enormous differences from ours, a kindred psychological perspicacity. Both systems are deliberately slow--slow that they may be deliberate. Both capture the imagination and the attention of the people by that very slowness. And both, at the end of a long day, are able to instill a relative peace of mind that God's will has been done and the right choice has finally been made.

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