The Meaning of the Azazel Goat

The ritual done in ancient Israel every year on the Day of Atonement is described in detail in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus.  Lev.16:3-22 says, This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

Two male goats were chosen as a sin offering for the people of Israel.  One of the goats was assigned to the Lord and the other to Azazel.(the assigning was done by means of lots). The goat for the Lord as sacrificed and its blood taken into the holy of holies and sprinkled on and in front of the mercy seat V.15.  The Azazel goat was not killed. He was presented alive before the Tabernacle of meeting where the High Priest would lay both hands on its head and confess all the sins iniquities and transgressions of Israel over this goat.  The goat is then taken away into the wilderness, symbolically with all the sins of Israel. V.21-22

The symbolism of the Day of Atonement is rich with doctrine that stands at the heart of Christianity, yet a small group of people who purport to have exclusive access to the truth bungle this important tenet.  They understand that the High Priest in the ritual is a symbol of Jesus Christ who is our High Priest according to the book of Hebrews. They recognise that the goat which represents the Lord is Jesus who died for our sins.  The Azazel goat is their problem. They claim that this goat represents Satan who is being made to carry his own sins.  This is what Ellen G White says,

1As the priest, in removing the sins from the sanctuary, confessed them upon the head of the scapegoat, so Christ will place all these sins upon Satan, the originatorand instigator of sin. The scapegoat, bearing the sins of Israel, was sent away “unto a land not inhabited” (Leviticus 16:22); so Satan, bearing the guilt of all the sins which he has caused God’s people to commit, will be for a thousand years confined to the earth, which will then be desolate, without inhabitant, and he will at last suffer the full penalty of sin in the fires that shall destroy all the wicked. Thus the great plan of redemption will reach its accomplishment in the final eradication of sin and the deliverance of all who have been willing to renounce evil. (White, pp. 485-486)

Herbert W Armstrong, founder of the now defunct Worldwide Church of God held a similar view to Ellen White. He says,

2These two goats were, of course, types. Notice, it was necessary to be decided by lot, which one was qualified to represent Christ, and which Azazel. Some say BOTH were qualified. The scripture does not say this. Let us not assume it. Now a “lot” is a solemn appeal to God to decide a doubtful matter. It is a sacred religious ceremony. It included a supernatural act of God. That is why lotteries and gambling are of the devil — an actual profaning of a holy service appealing to God.
Notice, men were unable to decide which goat was qualified to represent Christ. This involved an appeal to God to decide! “One lot for the Lord, and the other lot for Azazel.” Now one lot was for the Lord — this goat typified Christ — but the other lot was not for the Lord, did not typify Christ, but Azazel — Satan! These words most naturally suggest that Azazel is the name of a person, here contrasted to the Eternal! Notice the contrast — one for the Lord, the other for Azazel. (Armstrong, 1976, pp. 36-37)

Although Ellen White and Herbert Armstrong are not alive today, their teaching on this subject is still going strong especially amongst the adherents of the Churches of God (COG) – the splinter groups of Herbert Armstrong’s worldwide church of God.  Here is a quote from one of Herbert Armstrong’s splinter groups.

3Today, our sins have been forgiven by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice; when the Day of Atonement is fulfilled, the original blame for these sins will be put back where it belongs: on Satan the devil, who will be completely removed from the presence of God and suffer mental torment forever as justice demands (Revelation 20:10) (Jenkins).

Who does this goat represent?   A closer examination of the role this goat plays in the ritual coupled with an understanding of New Testament scripture are enough to make clear who this Azazel goat is.  In the ritual, the sins, the wickedness and rebellion of Israel are placed on the head of this goat. V.21.  The goat then carries these sins into the wilderness. V.22.  This goat is performing a work of Atonement.  He is taking away the sins of the people.  He is taking the sins to a place where the people will no longer see their sins.  There is nowhere in Scripture where Satan performs any of these functions.  The Old Testament prophet Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would bear the sins of the world

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6).

The Prophet Jeremiah prophesied of a time when God would forgive His people and remember their sins no more (Jer.31:34).

No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, ”declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

John the Baptist had this to say about Jesus in John 1:29

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

The writer of the book of Hebrews gives us a comprehensive explanation of the ritual of the Day of Atonement.  In Hebrews chapter 9, Jesus paid for our sins on the cross v.15; He is the high Priest who entered the holy of holies with His own blood v.12. He is the one and only sin bearer who lovingly took all our sins v.28.

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.( Heb.9:27-28)

All of these scriptures are consistent with and corroborates Colossians 2:16-17 which plainly declares, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”  The holy days of the old Covenant are but shadows of Jesus Christ himself.  The Day of Atonement is about Jesus and the work he accomplished for us on the cross together with His ongoing work as our great High Priest.

It is a pity that a woman who is held up as a prophet, allegedly seeing visions and receiving revelations from God could not see that Satan could not be the Azazel goat.  Similarly, it is a shame that a man describing himself an apostle through whom God restored many “truths” to the church, could not understand that the Azazel goat was Jesus who took our sins away. 

On the Day of Atonement a few weeks from now, many non-Jews will be meeting to celebrate the lie that God is going to lay Satan’s sin back on his head.  They say this is the true meaning of the Day of Atonement.  They have conveniently ignored the other goat in the ritual so they can teach an idea that is nowhere taught in the Bible.  I sincerely pray that the light of the glorious gospel will shine on them someday soon.

 Notes

1White, E. G. (n.d.). The Great Controversy. Retrieved September 19, 2016, from http://www.end-times-prophecy.org/GreatControversy.pdf

2Armstrong, H. W. (1976). Pagan Holidays – or God’s Holydays – Which? Worldwide Church of God.

3Jenkins, M. (n.d.). https://www.thetrumpet.com/article/5440.5.0.0/religion/bible/who-is-the-scapegoat. Retrieved September 17, 2016

4http://www.gotquestions.org/Azazel-scapegoat.html. (2016, September 17).

 

4As a side note, the name “Azazel” shows up in some Jewish mythology. While there are different versions in the Book of Enoch, the Book of the Giants, and other pseudepigraphal books, the story is essentially that Azazel was the name of one of the fallen angels who sinned in Genesis chapter 6. As a curse on his sin, Azazel was forced to take the form of a goat-like demon. This myth is not supported by the Bible and is not compatible with what the Bible says about Azazel or the scapegoat.

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