Israel’s most solemn appointment with the Lord occurs annually on Yom Kippur. Yom is the Hebrew word for day, while Kippur conveys the concept of covering. Christians more commonly refer to the biblical feast of Yom Kippur as the Day of Atonement.
God’s instruction to Moses was explicit, “It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever” (v. 31). The somber 25-hour event today requires fasting from all food and liquid as well as abstaining from all work as a means of expressing repentance.
God’s provision for the annual covering of Israel’s national sin can no longer be performed in the absence of the temple in Jerusalem. People living in the 21st century, however, often miss the significance of the ritual offering of the “Azazel” in the protocol of required sacrifices for Yom Kippur.
READ THE CONTEXT: LEVITICUS 16
“He [the high priest] 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.”
Of the numerous sacrifices during Yom Kippur, the offering of two male goats was specifically connected to the people of Israel.
Two Goats Embody a Single Sacrifice
Chosen for similarity in coloring and size, the two goats were actually a single sacrifice. The high priest would cast lots to determine which goat would become the sacrifice on behalf of the people, while the other would be allocated as the scapegoat.
The blood of the sacrificed goat was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies as per God’s prescribed method to affect the forgiveness of sin (v. 15).
The high priest then laid both hands on the other animal’s head thereby transferring the transgressions (intentional sins) of the people to the scapegoat. The Hebrew word for scapegoat is azazel. It combines the Hebrew word az (goat) and azel meaning to carry or take away. Simply stated, the azazel carries away sin.
After the transgressions of the people were transferred, the Azazel was led into the wilderness as specified. According to Maimonides, the scapegoat was thrown over a cliff preventing the animal’s return. The biblical record of God’s instruction to Moses simply required the release of the azazel into “an uninhabited land . . . the wilderness” (v. 22).
Here’s How God Embedded the Story of Redemption
The first goat signified the means of atonement through the shed blood of the substitutionary sacrifice (17:11). The scapegoat embodied the power of the atonement by visibly demonstrating removal of sin-guilt from the nation.
King David described the magnificence of the scapegoat ritual declaring, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” With regard to the scapegoat, God informed Moses, “The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land . . . ” (16:22).
Translated “bear,” the Hebrew word nasah means “to lift or carry.” The prophet Isaiah used the same imagery and vocabulary in a Messianic prophecy.
“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows . . . He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:4, 12).
The Azazel ritual of the two goats on Yom Kippur portrays and prefigures the ultimate sacrifice that would deal decisively with the reality of sin forever. Unlike the yearly sacrifice required as an atonement for sin, God’s provision of the Sacrifice is permanent.
The prophet Jeremiah makes the connection to the New Covenant requiring a perfect sacrifice for fulfillment (Jer. 31:31-34).
New Testament writers link that perfect sacrifice with the death of Jesus Christ (Yeshua Hamashiach) at the hands of Roman soldiers (Rm. 5:6-8).
Quoting from the Old Testament, the author of the book of Hebrews reiterates Jeremiah’s prophecy,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: ‘I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He [God] adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.” (Heb. 10:16-18 cf. Jer. 31:31-34).
With regard to the required sacrifice as a prerequisite for the fulfillment of the New Covenant, the apostle Peter referred to the atoning death of our Lord as the One, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24).
Only as man could Christ die as a substitute for man’s sin. Conversely, only as God could His death have efficacy to redeem lost humanity. Jesus Christ’s death by crucifixion establishes His humanity. His resurrection validates His deity and mutually underscores His unique identity as both God and man.
Another tradition surrounding the Azazel is worth mentioning. The red chord tied around the horn of the scapegoat would miraculously turn white as the goat was led into the wilderness if the Yom Kippur sacrifices were accepted by God.
It’s fascinating that for the 40 years prior to the destruction of Herod’s temple, the chord did not once turn white. In other words, from the time that Jesus died as a substitutionary sacrifice for man’s sin in AD 30 until the temple was destroyed in AD 70, the Azazel sacrifices were never accepted.
For Christians, the scapegoat ritual of Yom Kippur can be a profound reminder that God provided the Perfect Sacrifice for sin. We can be assured that by placing our faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ means our sin has been fully cleansed and completely removed forever. Praise the Lord!
1) The Scapegoat. (Image in all forms used for illustrative purposes) (Photo Pixabay/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2017 Charles E. McCracken, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. Rev. McCracken authentically communicates biblical truth making his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.