The Azazel Goat and the Empty Debate

There is much symbolism to be found in Scripture, and much of that symbolism is understood by analogy, as it is with the paschal lamb that pointed to the sacrifice of Christ.

However, some analogies have been cultivated within the evolving development of Christian doctrines, and these analogies have sometimes been published as statements of belief or used to form a church orthodoxy.  And, noticeably, when these cultivated analogies are couched in religious-sounding words they seem to receive a larger public acceptance, even though these analogies can and sometimes do impose a misinterpretation on Scripture.

When this is the case, the Bible can be seen to fit a mixture of interpretations and possible conclusions, which have observably become common place within the scope of Christianity.

So let’s take a look at one example that relates to the sin offering, which was presented at the tabernacle of ancient Israel on the Day of Atonement.

Now on this day the high priest made a ceremonial atonement for himself as required by the sacrificial laws that God had established for the people of ancient Israel, and to represent an atonement for the people, two he-goats were chosen.  And according to the sacrificial law, the high priest was instructed to “take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Lev. 16:7).  [Author’s emphasis throughout.]

Then the high priest would cast lots over these two goats, with one lot determining the goat to be slain, and the other lot determining the azazel goat, which was led into the wilderness.

After this, the goat of the sin offering was killed “for the people,” and the blood of the goat was brought “within the vail [veil],” and in this manner the high priest would begin to “make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness” (Lev. 16:15-16).

This sacrifice was, of course, a part of the ceremonial atonement depicting the remission of sin, and it was symbolic in that the blood of the slain animals was analogous to the shed blood of Christ.

Then the high priest would lay both his hands upon the head of the azazel 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” (Lev. 16:21-22).

We can reasonably conclude then that by being presented at the tabernacle, and by the casting of lots, and by being presented to God, and by the laying on of hands, that the azazel goat was certainly a part of the ceremonial atonement depicting the imputing of sins.  Therefore the azazel goat was symbolic of the nature of Christ’s sacrifice, as the bearing of Israel’s sins—confessed upon the azazel goat—became analogous to the sins of the world that may be imputed to Jesus by God the Father.

So it would seem obvious that both goats offered on the Day of Atonement pointed to the one sacrifice of Christ.

However, within the development of Christian doctrines we find a different analogy being associated with the azazel goat, which has created a striking contrast to the inherent nature, meaning and symbolism of the ceremonial atonement carried out on the Day of Atonement.  And the foundation for this cultivated analogy was based on the azazel goat, or “goat of departure,” being referred to as the “scapegoat,” which wrongly implied that the azazel goat represented an unwilling offering.  (Translated as “scapegoat” in the Authorized Version.)

From this conclusion it was reasoned that the azazel goat no longer represented Christ, but rather one who deserved to be blamed for the sins of the people, which implied that the azazel goat was symbolic of a being who caused people to sin, and this being was assumed to be Satan, who is the devil.  (This concept is found in Rabbinic tradition.)

But does the slain goat represent Jesus and the azazel goat represent Satan?

Notably the azazel goat cannot represent Satan because this particular goat was presented as an “atonement” for the people of Israel, and any claim that our sins can be imputed to Satan would mean there was no need to have our sins imputed to Jesus—keeping in mind that blaming our sins on someone else is not the same as having our sins imputed to someone by God.  And when people blame Satan for their sins—that is holding him responsible—they are attempting to absolve themselves of their responsibility to repent of breaking God’s moral law, which law was clearly understood in the ceremony and offerings on the Day of Atonement (Heb. 9:12-14).  (Our sins must be imputed to Jesus by God because we are not able to impute our own sins to Christ (Isa. 53:6).)

So the answer is that each goat, along with the other offerings, symbolically represented one future sacrifice, and that sacrifice was Christ, which makes it unfortunate that an empty debate has been established on the cultivated analogy that the two goats—chosen by lots for the ceremonial atonement—represent Jesus and Satan respectively.

Summarily, then, such a cultivated analogy, with the slain goat representing Jesus and the azazel goat representing Satan, detracts from the understanding inherent in the sin offering and burnt offerings, and it also subtracts from the complete meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice who “was once offered [shedding of blood] to bear [imputed to him] the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28).  (The book of Hebrews clearly demonstrates that the issue of the shed blood and the imputing of sins was only directed to the sacrifice of Jesus and never to Satan.)

Therefore the goat that was slain, and the azazel goat that was led into the wilderness, did not represent two beings—Jesus and Satan—but rather they represented two aspects of a meaningful sin offering brought together in the life of Jesus who offered himself and sat down at the right hand of the Father.  

Note:  Some expositors cite Middle Eastern legends that speak of a demon of the desert called azazel, thinking this lends credence to associating the azazel goat with Satan.  Still others cite a book of Enoch in support of this cultivated analogy, even though this ancient Jewish work contains mythical concepts.  And although the book of Jude contains a quote from Enoch’s prophecy, it cannot be affirmed that Jude got the statement from any part of the currently known book of Enoch.