Oops, forgot to hit “publish” on this yesterday…
He is then to take two male goats, and make the goats stand before the LORD at the entrance to the Meeting Tent,
and then he is to put two lots over the goats: one lot for the LORD, one lot for Azazel.
Then is then to offer up the goat which has the LORD’s lot over it, and make it a sin offering,
And the goat which has Azazel’s lot over it should stay alive, right before the LORD, and should be sent off to Azazel in the wilderness for forgiveness.
Yesterday I sat down to write my devotion and thought, “Why on earth did I choose that passage from Exodus?” But I soon remembered. Today I sat down and thought, “Why on earth did I choose that passage from Leviticus?” I am still not sure. I think it might be just because the Azalel stuff is intriguing.
Still, this is a good time to remind us all that when people talk about what the Bible says, they generally exercise editorial selection in choosing a passage or set of passages, and this series is no different. If you have a different idea for a walk through the Hebrew Bible, that’s great; make your selection and we can compare them and dialogue together. “The Bible says” is a great way to start a conversation, but an awful way to finish one.
Anyway, Azazel. This is often translated as “scapegoat”. In one sense, this is a perfect translation, since the word “scapegoat” was invented by Tyndale to translate this very word. In another sense, though, it just doesn’t work, not least because of the parallelism - the first goat is for the LORD, the second goat is for… the second goat? The best we can come with at the moment is that it’s either the personification of wilderness, or a demon of the desert. One goat for God, one goat for… well, the other guy.
Maybe it helps to think about why there are two goats in the first place. The live goat is the sin offering, the sacrifice to God. Why doesn’t that do the job? Why do we even need a second goat? In the very next verse (Lev 16:11) Aaron makes a sacrifice for forgiveness, and in Lev 16:16, it says that the blood of the first goat is for forgiveness.
All this happens inside the Holy of Holies. The people can’t see what’s going on. They don’t see the sin offering being made and presented before God. Then the second goat, a representation of the people’s sin, goes out of the Holy of Holies. God wants to deal with the people’s sin, but he also wants to show them that it’s dealt with. The sin goes out from God’s place, to the people’s place, to the other guy’s place, and there it dies. This second goat isn’t for God at all. It’s for them to know that they’ve been forgiven. It’s advertising.
Two equal goats. One goat to deal with sin, one goat to deal with guilt. God’s focus is as much on horizontal relations as it is on vertical ones. What about ours?