More on Azazel

February 18, 2012

Our previous entry was on Azazel, the Scapegoat. See here. I wanted to follow-up with a bit more information on the word Azazel from The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Eds. Harris, Archer, and Waltke):

The actual use and meaning of this word in Lev 16 is at best uncertain. However, regardless of its precise meaning, the significant dimension is the removal of the sins of the nation by the imposition of them on the goat. In this passage sin seems to be hypostatized [to treat or represent as concrete reality] and therefore readily transferable to the goat. Indeed vss 21 and 22 state that this goat is to bear away the sin of the people. Such a ritual would illustrate vividly the physical removal of defilement from the camp to a solitary place where it would no longer infest the nation.

A parallel to the scapegoat can be seen in the ritual for a recovered leper. Two birds were selected. One was to be killed and both the leper and the living bird were to be touched with its blood. Then the living bird was released. This bird carried away the evil, the leprosy itself, into the open field and then the leper was pronounced clean (Lev 14:1–9). . .

This concept of the removal of guilt can be seen in Ps 103:12 where God “removes” our transgressions from us.

In the NT John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29, 36). This language is sacrificial, yet nowhere in the Law is a lamb spoken of as a bearer of the people’s sins. The paschal lamb is not a sin offering. The description of the Savior as a lamb is unknown to late Judaism. Furthermore, the phrase “the lamb of God” is an unparalleled genitive combination. John may have had in mind that Christ as the paschal lamb bespeaks our great deliverance from the bondage of sin. However, what seems more likely is that he had a complex of ideas in mind. Some words of Isa 53 are discernible here: “as a sheep led to the slaughter, and a lamb dumb before his shearers … whose soul was made a guilt offering … and who bore the sin of many.” But also discernible here is an allusion to the scapegoat. This fact is clearly seen in the words “taketh away” (cf. I Jn 3:5). In Christ are consummated all the atonement concepts of the OT (pp.657-658).

The instructions of Leviticus 16 were given while Israel was encamped at the foot of Mt. Sinai. In our photo here you can see traditional Mt. Sinai, Jebel Musa, as you look to upper right in photo.

Mt. Sinai, Jebel Musa, upper right of photo. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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Azazel, the Scapegoat

February 13, 2012

Leviticus 16 gives the instructions for the annual Day of Atonement. This was the one and only day during the year in which the High Priest would enter Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle, and later the temple. He would enter with sacrificial blood (a bull) first for himself and his family, and then next (a goat) on behalf of all the people of Israel.

Additionally, there was to be a second goat which was not killed; the High Priest would lay his hands on its head and confess over it all the sins of Israel (v.21). Then it would be released in the wilderness.

Lev. 16:10 states, ” 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” (NIV).

The NET Bible renders the Hebrew text with a transliteration: “but the goat which has been designated by lot for Azazel is to be stood alive before the LORD to make atonement on it by sending it away to Azazel into the wilderness.”

Strong defines the Hebrew word azazel as meaning “entire removal.” The NIV marginal note has “goat of removal.” “The English word scapegoat was apparently invented by William Tyndale as an attempt to translate what literally says ‘for Azazel'” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, p. 763).

This “visual aid” depicted God’s mercy and forgiveness as sin was removed from the camp and community of Israel. Of course this foreshadowed the vicarious suffering and death of Jesus, which made possible the remission of sins (Heb. 10:1-18; John 1:29; Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 2:24).

While in the Sinaitic Peninsula in 2003 I saw a couple of goats in the wilderness which help illustrate the text.

Goat in the Wilderness of Sinai. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

“As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land” (v.22).

Goats in the Desert of Sinai. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This photo below helps us to see some of the desolate country in which Israel traveled, and into which Azazel would have been released.

Wilderness of Sinai, in the south. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Now you know the origin of the word “scapegoat,” which in modern usage denotes “a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings or mistakes of others” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary).

Click on images for larger view.

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