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The Azazel Goat and Atonement

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The Azazel Goat and Atonement

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The Day of Atonement is a very important Holy Day. We have always understood that it pictures the putting away of Satan the devil, preventing him from influencing mankind for a thousand years. A critical part of this connection involves understanding the meaning of the azazel goat in Leviticus 16. Some have tried to reinterpret this goat as a symbol of Christ and not the devil.

Is there evidence that the azazel goat was a symbol of the devil or a demon?

In Leviticus 16:5 we see that the priests were to select two goats. One was to be taken as a sin offering and the other was to be offered as a "scapegoat." Another way to express it would be "escape" goat. Many translations such as the New Revised Standard Version simply use the word Azazel in the text. The Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate translate azazel as "goat of departure."

Often when interpreting what a word in Scripture means, it is necessary to look at what the meaning of the word is in literature outside of the Bible. Consider the following resources that discuss the meaning of azazel:

"This name was used for that of an evil demon . . . The name Azazel . . . is also used by the Arabs as that of an evil demon" (William Gesenius, Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, p. 617).

"The high priest...cast lots upon the two goats. One was to be for the Lord for a sin-offering. The other was for Azazel (the completely separate one, the evil spirit regarded as dwelling in the desert), to be sent away alive into the wilderness" (F. Watson, The Cambridge Companion to the Bible, 1893, p. 161).

"Azazel . . . was probably a demonic being . . . Apocryphal Jewish works, composed in the last few centuries before the Christian era, tell of angels who were lured...into rebellion against God. In these writings, Azazel is one of the two leaders of the rebellion. And posttalmudic documents tell a similar story about two rebel angels, Uzza and Azzael—both variations of the name Azazel. These mythological stories, which must have been widely known, seem to confirm the essentially demonic character of the old biblical Azazel" (Union of American Hebrew Congregations, The Toraha Modern Commentary, p. 859).

Notice how well this understanding of Azazel fits with the fate of the demons. In Revelation 20:1-3 "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while."

This is very similar to the statement in Leviticus 16:21. "Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man." This is a symbol of the angel that is to take Satan away and isolate him from mankind.

The Bible states over and over that God is just and fair, that He ultimately takes care of evil. Psalm 7:11 states: "God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day." Doesn't it make sense that a just and fair God would ultimately put the sins of the world on the one who introduced sin into the present world in the Garden of Eden? Satan is the one who from the very beginning lied to Eve and led mankind astray.

The Day of Atonement then should be understood as a day of justice! A day when God will remove the evil influence that is at the core of the problems of this present world. The Bible states that there is an evil power—"the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2)—that is constantly trying to thwart the plan of God and attempting to cause mankind to lose out on salvation.

The fact that the devil and his cohorts will be removed from power will result in a world that no longer has an unseen evil power causing problems. Satan and his demons have separated mankind from God since the beginning. His removal will result in mankind as a whole finally being able to have contact and direction from God. Let's be thankful that God is indeed just and fair and has commanded us to keep the Day of Atonement as a memorial in advance of the removal of evil from the world.