1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of two of Aaron’s sons when they approached the presence of the Lord and died. 2 The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he may not come whenever he wants into the holy place behind the veil in front of the mercy seat on the ark or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud above the mercy seat. 3 “Aaron is to enter the most holy place in this way: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to wear a holy linen tunic, and linen undergarments are to be on his body. He must tie a linen sash around him and wrap his head with a linen turban. These are holy garments; he must bathe his body with water before he wears them. 5 He is to take from the Israelite community two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. 6 “Aaron will present the bull for his sin offering and make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Next he will take the two goats and place them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 After Aaron casts lots for the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other for azazel, 9 he is to present the goat chosen by lot for the Lord and sacrifice it as a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot for azazel is to be presented alive before the Lord to make purification with it by sending it into the wilderness for azazel. 11 “When Aaron presents the bull for his sin offering and makes atonement for himself and his household, he will slaughter the bull for his sin offering. 12 Then he must take a firepan full of fiery coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense, and bring them inside the veil. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord , so that the cloud of incense covers the mercy seat that is over the testimony , or else he will die.14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and sprinkle it with his finger against the east side of the mercy seat; then he will sprinkle some of the blood with his finger before the mercy seat seven times. 15 “When he slaughters the male goat for the people’s sin offering and brings its blood inside the veil, he must do the same with its blood as he did with the bull’s blood: he is to sprinkle it against the mercy seat and in front of it. 16 He will purify the most holy place in this way for all their sins because of the Israelites’ impurities and rebellious acts. He will do the same for the tent of meeting that remains among them, because it is surrounded by their impurities. 17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the most holy place until he leaves after he has made atonement for himself, his household, and the whole assembly of Israel. 18 Then he will go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He is to take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on the horns on all sides of the altar. 19 He is to sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse and set it apart from the Israelites’ impurities. 20 “When he has finished purifying the most holy place, the tent of meeting, and the altar, he is to present the live male goat. 21 Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites’ wrongdoings and rebellious acts —all their sins. He is to put them on the goat’s head and send it away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on it all their wrongdoings into a desolate land, and he will release it there. 23 “Then Aaron is to enter the tent of meeting, take off the linen garments he wore when he entered the most holy place, and leave them there. 24 He will bathe his body with water in a holy place and put on his clothes. Then he must go out and sacrifice his burnt offering and the people’s burnt offering; he will make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He is to burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar. 26 The man who released the goat for azazel is to wash his clothes and bathe his body with water; afterward he may reenter the camp. 27 The bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought into the most holy place to make atonement, must be brought outside the camp and their hide, flesh, and dung burned up. 28 The one who burns them is to wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may reenter the camp. 29 “This is to be a permanent statute for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month you are to practice self-denial and do no work, both the native and the foreigner who resides among you. 30 Atonement will be made for you on this day to cleanse you, and you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord . 31 It is a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial; it is a permanent statute. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to serve as high priest in place of his father will make atonement. He will put on the linen garments, the holy garments, 33 and purify the most holy place. He will purify the tent of meeting and the altar and will make atonement for the priests and all the people of the assembly. 34 This is to be a permanent statute for you, to make atonement for the Israelites once a year because of all their sins.” And all this was done as the Lord commanded Moses.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat [scapegoat] and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. —Leviticus 16:21
The term “scapegoat” is a common slang expression that refers to passing the guilt and punishment to someone who’s innocent and doesn’t deserve the accusation. It happens all the time.
In the workplace, a report or project isn’t completed on time and the blame is passed on to someone else. The supervisor tells his boss that so-and-so didn’t do their job. The underling either willing or grudgingly takes the blame because not doing so or complaining will cost them their job. So better be the scapegoat than being without a job.
We’ve all been the scapegoat and we have all blamed someone else rather than confessing and taking responsibility for our actions. We all know what it feels like being the scapegoat and we know the feelings of escaping the consequences of an action by blaming someone or something else.
In most cases the scapegoat is innocent unwilling victim of false accusations. But what about a willing and voluntary scapegoat? What about someone who would willingly take the blame and punishment for something they were not guilty of? Most likely we would say there is something psychologically wrong with such a person—and we would be right. We would want to know their motives what did they hope to achieve by such a selfless act.
The term “scapegoat” finds its origin in the feast of the Day of Atonement found in the book of Leviticus chapter 16. Today this feast is known as Yom Kippur. The first two celebrations instituted by Moses were the Passover and the Day of Atonement. Yum Kippur means to atone in Hebrew. It is the holiest of the religious holidays, occurring some time during September to early October. For 2013, the Day of Atonement occurred on September 13.
The original Yum Kippur described in Leviticus 16 is the clearest picture of Christ dying for our sins in the Bible. There are far too many symbols and foreshadows of the work of Christ to describe here, but to for a brief summary here we go.
First there was the preparation. Aaron was to prepare his linen clothes and secure two male goats without blemish and bull. By random choice, one goat was chosen to be the scapegoat and one chosen to the sacrificial goat.
Then Aaron was to make sacrifice for his own sins and that of his family to make him spiritually prepared. Aaron was then to sacrifice the chosen goat and its blood was to be taken into the Holy of Hollies and its blood sprinkled seven times on the mercy seat or covering of the ark.
Then Aaron was go outside and, in the presence of all the people, lay his hands on the head of the scapegoat, and confess all the sins of the people. In such a way, the sins of all the people were transferred to scapegoat.
After transferring the sins of people to the live goat a person chosen was to take the goat out and release it in a deserted place so that the scapegoat would not return.
Can you image the joy in the camp? Freedom from the guilt of sin—at least for a year until the next Day of Atonement the next year. When Aaron came out of the temple and announced that God has accepted the sacrifice as payment for sins. The joy must have been indescribable.
Jesus voluntary became our scapegoat for our sins. He received all the guilt and punishment our sins deserve. Jesus became our scapegoat because he and the father loved us so much they wanted to provide a means of forgiveness. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The only way we can free of wages of sin is if someone without sin would become our scapegoat.
- How has understanding of the Day of Atonement helped you better understand the death of Christ for our sins?
- What did you learn about God through the story of the Day of Atonement?
- Jewish cultural study: do an Internet search on a Jewish website for the Day of Atonement.
- Who can you tell? Next time you hear the word “scapegoat” ask if they know the origin of the term.