Bible Study 20 – Leviticus, Patterns, and Scapegoats

What is Leviticus good for?  In what way(s) is Christ a scapegoat?  This and more in tonight’s Bible Study (20171003).
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OT Bible Study #20: A Review, Azazel, and Scapegoats

Make the pure light of Your divine knowledge shine in our hearts, Loving Master, and open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the message of Your Gospel. Instill also in us reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that overcoming all worldly desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all things pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the Light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give the glory, together with Your Father, without beginning, and Your All Holy, Good, and Life- Creating Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 1:18; 2 Peter 2:11)

Review. Genesis 1 as the establishment of sacred space and a harmonious equilibrium. Eden as the “Holy of Holies” where God and man could be together. Mankind was given the command to take this pattern and spread it, bringing order to the rest of the land that awaited his civilization action.

Mankind lost access to sacred place when he transgressed and his ability to pattern the world was compromised. But God still had the desire for mankind to image Him to creation. He did not give up on the ones he had created to tame (pattern) creation.

Genesis and Exodus describe how God still worked with mankind (think of Noah and Abraham, for example), but with the tabernacle He is giving mankind regular, institutionalized (but still limited!) access to Him (see Exodus 40:28-32).

Leviticus should be seen as the re-establishment of a (temporary but functional and pedagogical) harmonious equilibrium. Time and space are ritualized. Things are redescribed “each according to their kind.” Mankind is taught to be intentional about his actions and his relations (and through these, his thoughts) through this ritual action. He then takes his re-patterned mind and uses it in the world.

This may seem obvious because we ourselves are part of a ritual system that does the same thing, but IN CHRIST. But this is no the way many approach Leviticus: they approach it as a prophesy of salvation in Christ. It does that some, but this approach causes us to miss the main point. As Hebrews makes clear; “the sacrificial system was not intended as a means of taking away sins from individuals. Instead, it provided a way to decontaminate a sanctuary tarnished by individual and corporate sin and, in so doing, preserve equilibrium in God’s presence.” (Walton p. 298)

This prepares us for the settling of the Holy Land, the establishment of the Temple and the transformation to the transformation of the temple, the move to personal (vs. ritual) purity, and salvation through the New Covenant.

Leviticus 10:1-11. Bad incense. The idea of the holy vs. the profane (also see 2 Samuel 6: 6-11).

St. Bede. This is not far from being a sign of our unhappy time, in which some who have attained positions as priests and teachers—merely to mention it is both distressing and sad enough—are consumed by the fire of heavenly vengeance because they prefer the fire of cupidity to the fire of heavenly love. Their eternal damnation was prefigured by the temporal death of Aaron’s sons. On the Tabernacle 3.2.

Leviticus 16:1-10;20-22 Recovering from Bad Incense: The Day of Atonement

Why was this day chosen? In part, because the way that Aaron’s sons violated the sanctity of Israel was so apparent. Why was it made an annual event? What/who IS Azazel?


A Textual Approach to Azazel (by Michael Heiser)

Short Version: A Goat for Azazel

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement described in Leviticus 16, is an important element of Judaism familiar to many Christians. Though not practiced today as it was in ancient times in the absence of the temple and Levitical priesthood, this holy day is still central to the Jewish faith. But while numerous Christians have heard of the day, most would be startled to learn that a sinister figure lurks in the shadows of Leviticus 16. There’s a devil in the details.

The Day of Atonement ritual required a ram, a bull and two goats (vv. 3-5). The ram was for a burnt offering, a general offering aimed at pleasing God (Lev. 1:3-4). The bull, taken from “the herd” served as a sin offering for Aaron, the high priest, and his family. The purpose of the sin offering was purification—restoring an individual to ritual purity to allow that person to occupy sacred space, to be near God’s presence. Curiously, two goats taken “from the congregation” were needed for a single sin offering (v. 5) for the people. Elsewhere the sin offering involved only one animal (e.g., Lev 4:1-12). Why two goats?

The high priest would cast lots over the two goats, resulting in one being chosen for sacrifice “for the Lord.” The blood of that goat would purify the people. The second goat was not sacrificed and was not “for the Lord.” This goat, the one that symbolically carried the sins away from the camp of Israel into the wilderness, was “for Azazel” (ESV; vv. 8-10).

Who or what was Azazel?

The Hebrew term azazel occurs four times in Lev 16 but nowhere else in the Bible. Many translations prefer to translate the term as a phrase: “the goat that goes away” (the idea conveyed in the KJV’s “scapegoat”). Other translations treat the word as a name: Azazel. The former option is possible, but since the phrase “for Azazel” occurs in parallel to “for Yahweh” (“for the Lord”), the wording suggests that two divine figures are being contrasted by the two goats.

Two other considerations argue in favor of Azazel being a divine being—in fact, a demonic figure associated with the wilderness. First, Jewish texts of the Intertestamental period show that Azazel was understood as a demonic figure.2 The Mishnah (ca. 200 AD; Yoma 6:6) records that the goat for Azazel was led to a cliff and pushed over to kill it, ensuring it would not return. This association of the wilderness with evil is evident in the NT, as this was where Jesus met the devil (Mat 4:1). Second, in Lev 17:17 we learn that some Israelites had been accustomed to sacrificing offerings to “goat demons.” The Day of Atonement replaced this illegitimate practice.

It is important to note that this goat was not a sacrifice—it was not sent into the wilderness as an act of sacrifice to a foreign god or demon. Rather, the act of sending the live goat out into the wilderness—unholy ground—was to send the sins of the people where they belonged—the demonic domain. By contrasting purified access to the true God of the first goat with the goat sent to the domain of demons, the identity of the true God and his mercy and holiness was visually reinforced.


The Two Goats and Christ’s Two Natures: Tertullian (not a saint, but lots of solid theology): May I offer, moreover, an interpretation of the two goats which were presented on “the great day of atonement”? Do they not also prefigure the two natures of Christ? They were of like size and very similar in appearance, owing to the Lord’s identity of aspect. He is not to come in any other form. He had to be recognized by those by whom he was also wounded and pierced. One of these goats was bound with scarlet and driven by the people out of the camp into the wilderness, amid cursing, and spitting, and pulling and piercing, being thus marked with all the signs of the Lord’s own passion. The other, by being offered up for sins and given to the priests of the temple for meat, afforded proofs of his second appearance, when (after all sins have been expiated) the priests of the spiritual temple, that is, the church, are to enjoy the flesh, as it were, of the Lord’s own grace. The rest will deport from salvation without tasting it. Against Marcion 3.7.7.

Christ’s Godhead and Manhood. (Blessed) Theodoret of Cyr: I will however mention the sacrifice in which two goats were offered, the one being slain and the other let go. In these two goats there is an anticipative image of the two natures of the Savior; in the one let go, of the impassible Godhead, in the one slain, of the passible manhood. DIALOGUE 3.


Lienhard, J. T., & Rombs, R. J. (Eds.). (2001). Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Walton, John H. “Equilibrium and the Sacred Compass: The Structure of Leviticus in Bulletin for Biblical Research 11.2 (2001) 293-304. Linked to: (last accessed 02102017)

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