Sept. 7, 2014 The Scapegoat Leviticus 16:20-22 Maple Glen Church Pastor Louis Prontnicki
Intro: Think about a time when you have committed a sin, and you feel guilty. You got angry with your spouse; you cheated on your taxes; you viewed pornography; or you’ve avoided God’s Word in favor of watching TV. You feel bad; you feel God doesn’t love you as much; and you might do something else: you might look for a “scapegoat” to blame. Our tendency is to look for someone or something else to blame for what we have done wrong. Blame your spouse, your boss, your workload, your weakness…. Just put the blame on someone else.
A scapegoat is any object, animal, or person on whom the bad luck, diseases, misfortunes and sins of an individual or group are symbolically placed. Then that scapegoat is turned loose, driven off, or cast into the sea, in the belief that it takes away with it all the evils placed upon it.
Adam and Eve looked for a scapegoat in Gen. 3: The man blamed the woman and the woman blamed the serpent. Siblings look for a scapegoat, blaming the other one or a neighbor kid. You and I have looked for scapegoats, haven’t we? We want God and others to believe that we are not to blame, that the fault wasn’t ours. We blame our parents for not loving us enough. We blame our ethnicity: stubborn Germans, or hot-tempered Italians, or the Irish (who are only happy when they are miserable.) We make scapegoats of our work, our spouse, or of our physical limitations and disabilities.
The simple truth is that we don’t want to be responsible for our sins and our guilt; we want to transfer them to someone else.
And so most cultures, at least the older ones, each had rituals in which a scapegoat removed the guilt of sin from the people.
Charlie Campbell, in his book, “Scapegoat: a History of Blaming Other People,” writes that “every early culture had ceremonies in which they removed sin from the community. These vary greatly, but one thing was constant – the idea that sin was a definite entity that could be transferred from being to being, and that wrongdoing could be washed away.” Sometimes the scapegoat was a paid actor and other times could be a priest. Sometimes they used dwarves or deformed people, and would beat them, parade them around, before killing them. Perhaps the most interesting scapegoat was the person called the “sin-eater.” Beginning in the Middle Ages and continuing into the late 1800s, sin-eaters were paid to take on the sins of those who had just died, to aid in their progression to heaven. The sin-eater would sit next to the dead body, and food and drink were passed over the corpse to them. By eating and drinking, the sin-eater would appropriate the sins of the deceased person.
As believers in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we confess that Jesus died in our place on the cross as He took our sins upon Him. His death was a planned substitutionary atonement.
Yet for many of us we still feel that those sins are not fully dealt with; we struggle with feeling that God has really removed the guilt of our worst sins from us. And so the Lord provides in Leviticus chapter 16 the ritual of the scapegoat, the goat who carries our sins away from us.
Lev16:6-10 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.”
Lev. 16:20-22 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat 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 desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.”
On the Day of Atonement, the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar, two goats were brought to the high priest. One of the goats would be slain, as a substitute for the people, to make atonement before the Lord. However the other goat was to symbolically carry the sins of the people away from the camp and from the people. This goat was to be the scapegoat.
The Hebrew word here in Lev. 16:8, 10, and 26 is Azazel, which the ESV translates literally.
The exact meaning is uncertain. Some think that Azazel is the name of a demon, (based on the Apochraphyl book of Enoch) and therefore the goat is taking the sins back to their place of origin. Others think that Azazel is the name of a place in the wilderness, and it speaks of where the goat is being sent. However, the best explanation is that Azazel was “a rare technical term describing ‘complete removal’ of communal guilt…” (see R.K. Harrison, in his commentary on Leviticus.) The LXX (The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) interprets this word as “the one to be dismissed or sent away”.
However you translate the word, “the purpose of this very dramatic portion of the Day of Atonement ritual was to place before the eyes of the Israelites an unmistakable token that their sins…had been removed from the midst.” (Harrison) “It was a symbol of the fact that both people and land had been purged from their guilt, since a confession of communal sin would have been made over the goat’s head by the high priest, before it was driven out into the wilderness.”
The main point is that sin was taken away by an agent other than the sinner.
This principle finds its fullest expression in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Divine Lamb, who takes away our sin by His death.
John 1:29 “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”
Picture Jesus on the cross, becoming a scapegoat for you and me. Picture yourself confessing all your sins as you lay your two hands on the head of Jesus, and all your wickedness and rebellion is transferred to Jesus. Then Jesus is led away, taking your sins with Him, and the guilt and shame of your sins is no more a burden for you. What mercy! What a freedom!
Jesus took away our sins from us by taking them upon Himself and then removing them from us. 1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
Hebrew 13:11-12 “The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
Charlie Campbell, in his book “Scapegoat” writes that there were two very different types of people who were often picked as scapegoats. One was the modern equivalent of a homeless man, who was looked down upon, and easily blamed, but the other was just the opposite: it was the king, who was held responsible for what happened to the people- like voting out an elected official after something bad happens. The homeless man is powerless, while the king is all-powerful, yet both could be blamed as scapegoats.
How interesting that Jesus was both: as God the Son, He was the all-powerful king; as one who had taken on our humanity, He emptied himself and surrendered his power. He became the scapegoat for us, in His power and His weakness.
“Thou who art God beyond all praising, all for love’s sake becamest man; stooping so low, but sinners raising, heavenward by thine eternal plan. Thou who art God beyond all praising, all for love’s sake becamest man.”
Lead into the Lord’s Supper….