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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.


  • kellynelson

    Respectfully, I find it a tremendous error to say we need to go outside the Scripture, to literature written by the world, to understand the Scripture. This directly contradicts 2 Tim 3:16-17 - the Scripture can make a man of God *complete*... not the Scripture + outside literature. It also cheapens the Scripture to say the Scripture isn't enough. Given that the Scripture truly does have the ability to interpret Lev 16:22 withOUT other literature, one can go to Ish 53:11-12, Heb 9:28 and 1 Pet 2:24 to see who (its Christ) actually bears the sins of the people. We can also see that Satan is symbolized as a serpent, dragon and lion (1 Pet 5:8, Rev 12:9)... but nowhere in scripture is Satan likened to a goat. Nowhere in the Scripture does it mention Satan bearing any sins. Believing that the Azazel goat is Christ does not take away the doctrine that Satan is bound for 1,000 years and punished for what he does. However, believing that the Azazel goat is Satan, is attributing Christ's selfless and beautiful role/work to Satan - and, in addition to deliberately instructing believers to go outside the Scripture to understand the Scripture, is probably not a good idea.

  • carlt
    The two goats were to all intents and purposes identical, not just in that they were both male and without spot or blemish but also in appearance,cost, size, weight and time of selection. (Jewishencyclopedia.com) The point is that the high priest was not able to tell them apart and it took God to identify which was to be which by the casting of lots. By God choosing which goat was which He is showing us exactly who it is that has paid the penalty for our sins and He is also showing us exactly upon whose head the responsibility for all sin lies. Additionally, He is showing us that unless He reveals it to us we will not be able to tell the difference. Revelation 12:9 shows us that Satan has deceived the whole world. Consider also why it took a strong man to lead the scapegoat into the wilderness. Goats are strong. I remember my dad had a male goat that was forever getting out of it’s pen. It took a lot of muscle to get it back in because it struggled so much. Contrast that with John 10:11 and 18. When the time came for Jesus to be sacrificed He did it willingly. No one had to lead Him and no one released Him. I do agree the Book of Enoch is full of error and not worth quoting.
  • msdejong79
    4) Your last point, I understand what you're saying. Yet, many names have been coined for Satan in the Bible. In this account, Azazel seems very fitting for the semantics - Azazel refers to rugged desert (too), a perfect fit to the wilderness he is dispatched in.
  • msdejong79
    3) I think that the previous explanation suffices partly. Satan does not bear our sins so as to be forgiven through Satan. The forgiveness stage is executed with the offering of the first goat, foreshadowing Jesus' sacrifice. Nonetheless, in the Old Testament rites Satan does carry the sins. Not as a replacement's fate of the perpetrator though. Perpetrators remain accountible of their actions and need Jesus' sacrifice. God's people having been forgiven, all sin is carried by Satan as he refuses to repent. In some way sin needs to be removed. Satan serves as the perfect carrier as he is obstinate and needs to be removed in order to procure a total atonement; a total reconciliation with God. The azazel goat thus pictures Satan and is now laden with all (now forgiven) sins committed by the people of Israel. Laden by the one with whom sin in its essence originated.
  • kellynelson

    Hi again... could you provide the scriptures that show Satan carrying the sins of the people?

  • msdejong79
    2) I don't really see a question formulated, and wonder what you mean with 'appeasement offering'. Understand that with the offering of the first goat, atonement has been made with the whole of Israel. Sin stands no longer in between God and the Israelites (verse 17). But in a metaphorical sense, the sins are still 'in the air', sort of speak, and need to be removed from the camp. I think you're quite right in saying it departures with the goat into the wilderness. The Holy Place and the whole community is now cleansed from sin - God could once again 'live' in his earthly sanctuary, the Holy of Holies. Two offerings, two means of atonement. Atonement can be procured in one of two ways: in the redemptive (saving) sense, and punitive sense. The reason of having a punitive way to reach atonement next to the redemptive way, is because a defying attitude, the attitude of pride, cannot be forgiven. Forgiveness is only possible when the attitude of the perpetrator is one of a sorrowful and repentant nature. This is also why a third resurrection is necessary. Once that has transpired, complete atonement has been achieved. Satan will then be permanently removed.
  • kellynelson

    Just wanted to propose that the first goat was for the cleansing of the Holy Place, not the second goat. The second goat didn't "finish" the cleansing that the first goat started. Lev 16:19 is clear that only the first goat cleansed. It's also clear the second goat's purpose was to bear the sins of the people (doesn't mention cleaning). This is also a parallel to Christ's purpose - 1) be the sacrifice and 2) remove the penalty (bearing our sins) for us. The first goat cleansed the sin, the second goat takes away the penalty of the sin. You say that the sin is still 'in the air'... I would propose that 'in the air' was the lingering penalty of the sin, which was taken care of by the second goat. Once the penalty is paid (in the old covenant), things are justified (or made right).

  • msdejong79
    1) Taken at face value, it does seem weird that the goats are indistinguishable. We can look for reasons such as how in revelations the white horse is really masquerading its true nature: appearing as an angel in white, his succesfull efforts to deceive mankind. Whatever the case, the Bible doesn't really specify this and it need not be of great concern to us. Israelites in the desert had to look up to a serpent in order to be healed! Wouldn't something like a lamb be more suitable? In the end, animals cannot carry our sins anyway (heb. 10:4), so why looking for an animal that would best suit the type it allegedly refers to? The emphasis is not the goat, but the type. What is crucial however, is the style used: 8 Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. It is only logical that when there is one lot for the Lord, the other one would be a sort of counterpart. That's called a parallelism. It simply doesn’t make sense if it would say: “Aaron will cast lots for the two goats. One for the lord and the other one… also for the lord!”. So it seems to point to the antitype of the Lord. Who else but Satan could fill this role?
  • msdejong79
    Hello SPC, I think your doubts are fair and deserve scrutiny. Perhaps my two cents will provide clarity for you, perhaps you won't find them valid at all - let me know at msdejong@yahoo.com
  • SPC

    Without appearing disrespectful, further to my earlier comment; is the book of Enoch really worthy of being used as substantial foundation for a doctrinal understanding?

    Enoch was certainly a man of God and, as we see in Jude, no doubt he was used by God to give a prophecy. But he lived before the time of Noah so any writings he had were either carried on to the Ark by Noah (for which we have no reference) or they were written down again, from memory, by someone after the flood.

    The "quote" in Jude is by no means identical though it does have a similar meaning to what is found in a passage of Enoch. It fits perfectly, in fact, with the differences you would expect from different witnesses viewing the same event;- inconsistencies but also with some commonality.

    The fact is, however, that from Genesis 1 through to Deuteronomy 34 Satan is not mentioned nor even referred to with the one exception of the Garden of Eden. This next part is my own speculation but I would expect that for someone to be a focal point of such an incredibly important ceremony then they would have had more than one reference in the history of humanity to that point.

  • SPC

    It's only in the last 10 years that I've become aware of this interpretation of the Azazel goat. While I can see how it would be possible to make this interpretation it doesn't, in my opinion, answer several important questions.

    1) The two goats must have been identical ie. without spot or blemish. Else there would have been no need to cast lots to allocate the one for the Lord. The Jewish talmud makes reference to the same point - no offering to God could be anything but "without spot or blemish". God is particularly scathing on any practice that doesn't follow this principle in Mal 1:7-8. Given, therefore, both goats are without spot or blemish, does it make sense that God would use such an offering as symbolic of Satan?

    2) The second question follows very directly from the first question. It seems to me that most ignore the fact that both these goats are offerings. One is a sacrifical offering while the other is a live offering. Lev 16:7 makes this clear as it tells us both the goats were to be taken and "presented before the Lord". A little further down in verse 10 we're told, once again, the live goat was to be presented to the Lord. Where the first goat was a sin offering (the blood) the second goat is an appeasement offering - an offering of reconciliation. Hence it was called the "goat of departure"; the sins of the people departed with it.

    3) The third point I'm confused by is why it is felt that Satan CAN bear responsibility for the sins of the people. I realize that he is the deceiver of the whole world, that he introduced sin to the world, that he is the father of lies. However, this does not make him "responsible" for the sins of the people. Certainly he shall be punished for it as would anyone; Luk 17:2, Mark 9:42, Matt 18:6. That does not, however, make them responsible for the sin. They are now simply guilty of a different sin - one for which they will be sorely punished. 1Kings 13 gives us the story of a "man of God" who was deceived by an old prophet into doing something he had been told not to do. We're not told specifically what happened to the old prophet but the man of God was killed by a lion because he was deceived. He still bore responsibility for his disobedience. The point I'm making is that only one can do as this goat symbolically did: John 1:29: The Lamb of God TAKES AWAY the sin of the world.

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