Who Is the Scapegoat?

Kellie Weeks

Who Is the Scapegoat?

The Day of Atonement shows us that, without God’s help, we cannot tell Jesus Christ apart from Satan the devil.

Did you know the English word scapegoat—meaning one who bears blame unfairly—is derived from a ceremony recorded in Leviticus 16? Since a goat was sent into the wilderness to bear the sins of the Israelites, many presume this scapegoat—called azazel in Hebrewis Jesus Christ. Others say Satan wants us to view him as a scapegoat, someone unjustly blamed for sin by an unfair God. The ceremony where God personally identifies this goat delivers some of the most profound lessons we can learn about the Day of Atonement—and identifies the azazel for what he is.

Two Identical Goats

In ancient Israel, God commanded that a special ceremony take place on the Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 16:5, we read that the high priest was to take two kids of the goats as a sin offering. But first, Aaron, high priest at the time, was to offer a sin offering for himself (verse 6). Then we read about the instructions regarding these two goats: “And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat” (verses 7-8).

The Hebrew for “scapegoat” here is the word azazel, and it means “the goat of departure”—or the goat of escape. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, though, scapegoat means “one that bears the blame for others.” But notice, the original Hebrew word azazel has no implication of bearing blame; rather, the azazel is simply a goat of departure.

Verse 8 says that one lot is for the Lord and the other is for the azazel—not for the Lord. The goat that the Lord’s lot fell on was to be slain, just as Jesus Christ was slain (verse 9). The azazel would not be slain, but driven alive into the wilderness (verse 10).

One point of note: Some might think it obvious that Jesus Christ would not be represented twice in a single ceremony and that the azazel therefore cannot represent Christ. The reality is, though, that Jesus Christ is represented in this ceremony twice: first, by the goat which is slain, just as He was, and second, by the high priest. Consider carefully the order in which the ceremony takes place in as we review these scriptures.

First, Aaron had to offer a sin offering for himself. He would kill a bullock, make atonement for himself and his house, then take burning coals of fire and sweet incense into the holy of holies, then sprinkle the blood before the mercy seat seven times (verses 11-14). Aaron had to be purified because he would represent Jesus Christ as High Priest.

Then the goat that the Lord’s lot fell on would be killed, and its blood would also be sprinkled on the mercy seat. Since Christ was resurrected and works now as our High Priest, the high priest represented the resurrected Christ from this point forward. This is why it was so critical that Aaron be purified before officiating over the ceremony. After this goat is slain, he would go to the mercy seat and intercede on behalf of the Israelites, just as Jesus Christ sits at God’s throne and intercedes on our behalf (see Hebrews 6:19-20; 7:25-26).

So what about the azazel?

Notice Leviticus 16:20-22: “And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.” This goat does bear all of the people’s iniquities—which is why many have mistaken it for Christ. In Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which? Herbert W. Armstrong explained, “[J]ustice … demands that God place right back on the head of the devil his guilt—not our guilt, but his own guilt—for leading us into sin. We were guilty, too—and our guilt Christ bore—yet all our sins belong right back on the devil as his own guilt!”

After the azazel was sent into the wilderness, both the high priest and the fit man (before he returned to the camp) had to wash themselves and their clothes (Leviticus 16:23-26).

This “fit man” represented the angel in Revelation 20:1-3 who will lay hold of the dragon and seal him in the bottomless pit when this day is fulfilled.

The commentaries are divided as to whether the azazel is Jesus Christ or Satan the devil—but the Bible makes the answer plain. This really shouldn’t be surprising because even the high priest could not tell which goat was which; God Himself would reveal which goat represented Christ and which represented Satan only after the high priest had solemnly appealed to Him through the casting of lots. If the azazel were simply another representation of Christ, there would be no real need to distinguish between the two goats—but there is a real need, and one that we face daily. The truth is, without God’s direct intervention, even we can’t tell Satan apart from Jesus Christ! Satan would like nothing better than for us to mistake him for our Savior and High Priest.

Today, our sins have been forgiven by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice; when the Day of Atonement is fulfilled, the original blame for these sins will be put back where it belongs: on Satan the devil, who will be completely removed from the presence of God and suffer mental torment forever as justice demands (Revelation 20:10).