AZAZEL AND THE ORIGIN OF THE TERM SCAPEGOAT
“Azazel” or “the scapegoat” is mentioned in Leviticus:16 in the Old Testament Bible, as part of the Israelites belief in God’s instructions to the them regarding the Day of Atonement. On this day, the high priest would first offer a sacrifice for his sins and those of his household; then he would perform sacrifices for the nation.
“From the Israelite community, the high priest was instructed to take two male goats for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering” (v. 5). The priest would bring the animals before God, and cast lots between the two goats – one to be a sacrifice, and the other to be the scapegoat.
The first goat was then slaughtered for the sins of the people, and its blood used to cleanse the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting, and the altar.
After the cleansing, the live goat was brought to the high priest. Laying his hands on the scapegoat, the high priest was to confess over it “all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins” – and then symbolically placed them on the goat’s head.
He then sent away the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat would carry – on itself – all their sins to a remote place; “and the man shall release it in the wilderness.” Symbolically, the scapegoat took on the sins of the Israelites, and removed them. For Christians, this is the ritual of the Christ story, to take upon the “sins of the world.”
As a side note, the name “Azazel” shows up in some ancient Hebrew 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 the Book of Genesis story. As a curse on his sin, Azazel was forced to take the form of a goat-like demon.
Keep in mind there were two types of “sins” in their ancient beliefs. One was INTENTIONAL, the other UNINTENTIONAL. For the unintentional, a fine would be paid. The difference between an intentional and an unintentional sin is that in the former case, both the body and the soul were at fault. In the case of an unintentional sin only the body was at fault, not the soul.
Therefore, in their eyes, a physical sacrifice was needed since it was only the physical act of the body that was in the wrong. A physical sacrifice cannot atone for a deliberate sin, because it cannot rectify a wrong in the soul. So now you know why someone who takes on the fault for someone else, is called a scapegoat.
Just a thought …
~Justin Taylor, ORDM.
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