What is Azazel / the scapegoat in the Bible?

The scapegoat is mentioned in Leviticus 16. There, God instructs Israel about the Day of Atonement. During this day, the high priest was instructed to first make a specific sacrifice for his own sins and those of his household. Then, he was free to move on to make sacrifice for the sins of Israel. God was specific in how to go about these sacrifices.

For the annual sacrifice for the country, the high priest was instructed to take two male goats for the sin offering and a ram for the burnt offering. He was to first present the goats and cast lots to determine which one would be sacrificed and its blood used to cleanse the Holy Place. The other goat would be the scapegoat or the one "for Azazel" (Leviticus 16:8). The high priest would put "his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:21–22). Leviticus 16:10 says, "but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel." The sins of the country are taken away—foreshadowing Jesus Christ being the scapegoat and taking away the sins of the world.

The Day of Atonement and Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross have many parallels. Jesus is called our great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14), and the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 13:8). Second Corinthians 5:21 says, "For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." As the scapegoat, which carried the sins of the nation, was taken outside of the city because it was unclean, Jesus was also taken outside the city as He carried upon Himself our sin.

As people of God, we no longer need to make sacrifices annually. See how the writer of Hebrews unpacks it in Hebrews 10 as shown below.

"For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near" (Hebrews 10:1).

"For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4).

"When he said above, 'You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings' (these are offered according to the law), then he added, 'Behold, I have come to do your will.' He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:8–10).

"And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God" (Hebrews 10:11–12).

The Old Testament scapegoat is a vivid foreshadowing of the work of Christ on our behalf. As the scapegoat symbolically took the sins of the Israelites and removed them, so, too, did Christ bear our sins and remove them. As the writer of Hebrews describes, our sins are forgiven once for all in Jesus and no further sacrifice is needed.

As an additional note, the name "Azazel" appears in some Jewish mythology in reference to a fallen angel. The story is given differently by different sources, but is essentially that Azazel is the name of a fallen angel from Genesis 6 whose sin caused him to take the form of a goat-like demon. However, this is not supported by the Bible and doesn't line up with what the Bible says about the scapegoat.

Related Truth:

What was the 'Most Holy Place' or the 'Holy of Holies'?

How is Jesus' sacrifice propitiation for our sins?

What does it mean that Jesus died for our sins?

How is Jesus the Lamb of God?

What was the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant?

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