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Bible verses about Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat?
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Leviticus 16:1-2

Even as the instructions in Leviticus 16 follow a significant failure on the part of the priesthood, we can also credibly link the Day of Atonement with an infamous failure of the whole nation, the Golden Calf incident. By piecing together the dates and spans of time from the scriptural record, a significant possibility arises. Notice these time markers:

» Israel left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month (Exodus 13:3-4).

» Sometime within the following week—between the sixteenth and the twenty-second day—the fifty-day count to Pentecost began.

» It is generally accepted that Pentecost occurred when God gave the law to Israel from Mount Sinai. No verse directly says this, but the text puts Israel at Sinai in the general timeframe of Pentecost. Exodus 16:1 shows that Israel was already near Sinai on the fifteenth day of the second month. Israel was still camped at Sinai “in the third month” (Exodus 19:1), when Pentecost occurs.

» After giving the law, Moses was on the Mount with God for forty days and nights to receive the tablets of stone (Exodus 24:18; Deuteronomy 9:9).

» When Moses came down and saw Israel worshipping the Golden Calf, he broke the stone tablets and spent a second period of forty days and nights beseeching God not to destroy Aaron and the rest of the nation (Deuteronomy 9:15-20).

» Moses returned to the mountain for a third forty-day period to receive a new copy of the stone tablets (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 10:10).

The three forty-day periods mean that there were 120 days between Pentecost and the new copy of the tablets. Adding the fifty-day count to Pentecost brings us to 170 days. The count to Pentecost began between the sixteenth and twenty-second days from the beginning of the year, so the time between Abib 1 and the new copy of the tablets was between 186 and 192 days. This span of days is significant because the Day of Atonement falls on the tenth day of the seventh month, 187 days into the Hebrew calendar.

The Day of Atonement, then, may have occurred when Moses returned with his face reflecting God's glory (Exodus 34:29-32). It may also have been the day when he gave the law to Israel a second time, after their blatant sin. Again, this timeline is not definitive, but we are in the ballpark.

If this timeline is valid, then the Day of Atonement contains a reminder of a colossal failure, such that the law had to be inscribed a second time by the finger of God. God does not waste effort, and He does not repeat Himself or duplicate things unnecessarily. Thus, the Day of Atonement could well provide a reminder that the whole nation was on the brink of destruction, and it was through God's mercy and Moses' intercession that the people and high priest were not all blotted out.

It is no wonder that the Day of Atonement is such a solemn day! It is tied to the failure of Aaron's sons, and perhaps to the more widespread failure of the nation, resulting in the addition of the sacrificial law. It may also have been when the Creator had to repeat His holy law. The law defines sin, and breaking it requires atonement. When the author of Hebrews 10:3 writes that the sacrifices were a reminder of sins each year, he may have had some highly significant national failures in mind.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Four)


 

Leviticus 16:3

The “young bull as a sin offering” was in addition to the two goats used as a sin offering for the nation on Atonement. The law of sin offerings specifies that the offering of a young bull would cover the high priest's sin (Leviticus 4:3). Of the four sacrificial animals in Leviticus 16, three of them were used for sin offerings. The three animals did not represent three different personalities, but each pointed to the Messiah in a distinct aspect or role. We may consider one or more of these animals extraneous, but God had specific reasons for each part of this ceremony. Each animal had a common fulfillment in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

This sin offering for the high priest held a more meaningful purpose than the one outlined in Leviticus 4. In a typical sin offering for the priest, the blood was sprinkled “seven times before the LORD, in front of the veil of the sanctuary” (Leviticus 4:6). The priest also put blood on the horns of the incense altar and poured the rest at the base of the altar of burnt offering (verse 7). The blood thus provided a covering—an atonement—for those areas of the high priest's service that God considered defiled through his sin.

But on the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place with a cloud of incense. He did not stop at the veil, but instead went farther and sprinkled blood on and in front of the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:14).

The mercy seat—where God said He would meet and speak with the leader (Exodus 25:22; 30:6)—was the point of intersection between God and Israel, through her representative. On the day when atonement was made for the nation, the cleansing began with the sacred meeting place between God and man. The first account to be settled was between God and the high priest (including his house), setting the stage for the remaining atonements.

After cleansing the mercy seat (including the ground in front of it), the blood of the bull purified the incense altar (Leviticus 16:18-19). Incense is a symbol of prayer, yet even prayer can be an abomination to God because of sin (Proverbs 28:9). Thus, the priest's instruments used in the worship of the Holy God had to be cleansed because of the defilement of sin.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Five)


 

Leviticus 16:5

The two goats in this Day of Atonement ritual made up a single sin offering. As “the fulfillment of Moses' teachings” (Romans 10:4, God's Word Translation), Jesus Christ was the object of the whole system of sacrifices. Every sacrificial animal was an unblemished, substitutionary offering that found its fulfillment in His life or death.

In contrast, Satan is not involved in any sacrifice, let alone in bearing the sins of mankind. The identification of the azazel as a type of Satan does not spring from Scripture but ancient Jewish literature—specifically from the inventive Book of Enoch.

Each of the two goats played a separate role, and lots were cast so the high priest would know which goat was to fulfill which role, as determined by God. The first goat was “for the Lord,” meaning that it was to satisfy His justice as payment for sin (Leviticus 16:8-9). Its specific purpose was to provide a covering of blood for the Holy Place, the Tabernacle, and the altar (Leviticus 16:15-19). The high priest used its blood to purify the holy objects used in approaching God. Even though individual Israelites did not enter the Sanctuary, God still considered it defiled simply by being within the sinful nation. God's holiness required the accouterments used to access Him to be purified before He removed Israel's sins each year.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part Two)


 

Leviticus 16:8-22

The typical approach to this chapter hinges on defining the word azazel, the Hebrew word for the second goat, often translated as “the scapegoat.” However, there is no obvious definition scripture for the word.

Scholars are little help in arriving at a definition, for scholars can be found to support whatever view one desires. A typical explanatory note is found in The Comprehensive Commentary of the Holy Bible, which gives this unrooted viewpoint: “See different opinion in Bochart. Spencer, after the oldest opinions of the Hebrews and Christians, thinks Azazel is the name of the devil, and so Rosenmuller, whom see.” Yet, if the wise of this age cannot give scriptural backing for their views, of what value is their scholarship? Are the “oldest opinions of the Hebrews and Christians” based on the Word of God or dependent upon the traditions of men?

Many have based their understanding of Leviticus 16 on tradition, which claims that azazel is the name of a fallen angel. The original, 58-lesson Ambassador College Correspondence Course says this about azazel: “Ancient Jewish literature knew the Devil by this name. It is, for example, spelled Azalzal and Azael in apocryphal literature” (Lesson 37, p. 4, 1965; emphasis ours).

The updated, 32-lesson edition contains a few more sources (Lesson 37, p. 10, 1986). However, the authors do not use the Bible in their evidence, as the Bible does not identify the live goat as a type of Satan. Instead, the authors quote Arabic tradition that azazel is the name of a demon. They quote a book entitled Islam and Its Founder. They also quote a couple of Protestant theologians on their respective opinions.

The real bombshell, though, is this excerpt:

Let's notice a modern Jewish commentary that makes it clear that the azazel goat represented Satan the devil: "Azazel . . . was probably a demonic being. . . . Apocryphal Jewish works, composed in the last few centuries before the Christian era, tell of angels who were lured . . . into rebellion against God. In these writings, Azazel is one of the two leaders of the rebellion. And posttalmudic documents tell a similar story about two rebel angels, Uzza and Azzael—both variations of the name Azazel. These mythological stories, which must have been widely known, seem to confirm the essentially demonic character of the old biblical Azazel" (Union of American Hebrew Congregations, The Torah-a Modern Commentary, page 859). (Emphasis ours; ellipses theirs).

This last source is a devastating admission. Jewish tradition is used as the final and most important proof, yet its foundation is “apocryphal Jewish works, composed in the last few centuries before the Christian era.” The best-known apocryphal Jewish work from that era is the Book of Enoch.

The Book of Enoch bears the name of one of God's faithful servants, yet it was actually written by individuals during the intertestamental period (circa 300-100 BC). While containing biblical themes and names, it also includes many things that directly contradict the rest of the biblical canon.

In the Book of Enoch, Azazel is a fallen angel who teaches mankind unrighteous ways. As a result, he is bound and sentenced to the desert forever. It also contains another tradition typically taught on the Day of Atonement—that Satan is the author of human sin: “And the whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.” In other words, the ascribing of all human sin to a fallen angel is from the very same Jewish tradition that identifies the azazel as a demon. Yet neither aspect of that tradition is backed up by Scripture.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part One)


 

Leviticus 16:10

The Day of Atonement ritual follows the same pattern as the ritual for the cleansing of leprosy, found in nearby Leviticus 14:3-7, 49-53. It contains similar figures and activities as the ritual of the two goats, and is a type of the more important Day of Atonement ritual. In considering the lesser ritual, nothing suggests that the two birds are somehow opposites or represent opposing personalities. Instead, the birds are two essentially equal elements, each chosen to serve a different role to accomplish a single purpose. The two goats are likewise two equal actors, which again precludes Satan, for the only place he is equal to Jesus Christ is in his own estimation!

A detail in the leprosy ritual clarifies a part of the ritual with the two goats. The bird that is set free is dipped in the blood of the one that is killed (Leviticus 14:6, 51), showing that a cleansing or sanctification is made for the bird that is then freed. This is more obscure in the instruction for the goats, but can be found in Leviticus 16:10: “But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon [Hebrew 'al] it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.”

The NKJV here says atonement is made upon the goat, which is a reasonable translation since 'al is simply a preposition with any number of English equivalents. Other translations and commentators, such as the Companion Bible and the Cambridge Bible, hold that here 'al indicates for the live goat—that is, the goat is presented alive before the Lord to make atonement for it. Ellicott's Commentary makes this observation: “Better, to make atonement for it, that is, it was placed before the Lord in order that it might receive expiation and sanctification, and thus be fitted for the sacred purposes it was destined to fulfil” (emphasis theirs).

Scripture backs up this observation. The azazel parallels the live bird that was dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird and then let go. A sanctification had to take place before the second animal (bird or goat) could fulfill its role. Even though Jesus had no need to be cleansed from sin, He was still sanctified (John 10:36). In contrast, no sacrifice is ever mentioned for Satan's “sanctification” prior to fulfilling an imagined sacrificial role.

The azazel is not brought before the Lord for the sake of judgment (Leviticus 16:10), since it is the symbol of innocence at this point, as the priest has not yet laid his hands on its head. Instead, the goat stands before the Lord in order to be sanctified, receiving its charge to bear the burden of sin and depart out of sight.

In both the leprosy and the Day of Atonement rituals, one animal is killed while another is set free, with the implication of bearing the uncleanness (in the case of leprosy) or sins (in the case of the azazel) to another place. The single sin offering has two aspects: 1) the sacrifice for the payment or propitiation for sin, and 2) the complete removal of sin from view—including from memory and the consciousness. God sees to both the payment for and removal of sin; even our conscience is cleansed (see Isaiah 43:25; Psalm 103:12; Hebrews 9:14).

What is accomplished, then, is more than just payment for sin. The ritual makes use of two animals to show different features of this unique sin offering. One animal died as a type of payment, so that justice would be satisfied. The other remained alive to demonstrate the complete removal of sin from view.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part One)


 

Leviticus 16:20-22

Most of what happened with the first goat and its blood was out of view of the congregation, as it was used to "make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness" (verse 16). More meaningful to the people was what happened to the second goat, “the goat of departure,” which they could watch as it carried their sins out of sight.

One of the best-known Messianic prophecies provides an unambiguous fulfillment of the live goat's bearing of sins:

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. . . . He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:4, 11-12; emphasis ours)

Scripture also describes the Messiah's “bearing” of transgression as acceptance, forgiveness, and pardon (Job 42:8-9; Psalm 25:18; 28:9; 32:1, 5; 85:2; Micah 7:18). The Hebrew word means “to lift up,” “to carry,” and “to take away.” It is tied to forgiveness because it is as if He carries the sins out of sight. While the Bible also uses it to refer to what men do—such as “carry” (Genesis 47:30) and “forgive” (Genesis 50:17)—it is never used to refer to Satan.

Christ's bearing of sins goes beyond paying the penalty, fitting perfectly with one of the meanings of azazel, “complete removal” (compare Psalm 103:12). In Isaiah 53:12, the bearing is linked with intercession. They are not the same thing, but the parallelism indicates that an active work occurs in carrying the sins until they are completely removed from view, figuratively “as far as the east is from the west.”

We see the same thing in the New Testament. I Peter 2:24 says Jesus “Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” Not only did He bear the sins, but He did it by Himself, just as the azazel did (Leviticus 16:22). He did not share that role. The author writes in Hebrews 9:28, “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.” His single and singular sacrifice both cleansed the sanctuary and bore away the sins of many.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part Two)


 

Leviticus 16:20-22

The unique offering on the Day of Atonement for the sins of Israel consisted of two goats (Leviticus 16:5). The first goat was killed, and the high priest cleansed the sanctuary and the holy objects with its blood. The second goat—the azazel, the goat of departure—had all the sins of the people laid on its head, bearing them to an uninhabited land, a land “cut off.”

Jesus Christ fulfilled the roles of both sacrificial animals: He died to provide a covering of blood and open the way to the Father, and He also bore the sins of many, taking them to the land of forgetfulness—the grave. Isaiah 53 prophesied that the Messiah would accomplish this. Scripture is silent about sins being placed on Satan's head or his bearing sins in any way.

The name of this holy day derives from the Hebrew yom kippur. Kippur means “expiation,” while its root, kaphar, can be translated as “cleanse,” “disannul,” “forgive,” “pardon,” “purge,” “put off,” and “cover.” It is “the Day of Atonement [kippur], to make atonement [kaphar] for you before the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:28). Leviticus 16:30 summarizes: “For on that day the priest shall make atonement [kaphar] for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.” The holy day deals with providing a solution to the people's defilement—and, therefore, separation from God—through cleansing and removal of sins. As Leviticus 16:21-22 makes plain, the ceremony involves the sins of the people, not of Satan.

The identity of the “goat of departure” has been mired in controversy, yet even without poring over the ritual's details, we can see that the name of the day indicates only one logical way this can take place. The expiation of mankind's sins—the atoning, cleansing, disannulling, purging, and putting away of sins—is what the Savior does, by the very definition of the word, rather than what the Adversary does.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)


 

Leviticus 16:20-22

The entire sacrificial system pointed to Jesus Christ in some way; it was a “tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). This certainly includes all the instructions in Leviticus 16. There is a pitfall, however, in trying to make the sequence of the ritual precisely fit the timing of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection. This is crucial to understand because some identify the azazel as Satan on the assumption that the role of the azazel can only be fulfilled after Jesus was resurrected.

The assumption is this: In Leviticus 16, the Lord's goat is slain to make payment for sin, understood to be a type of Christ's sacrifice. After His resurrection, He ascended to heaven to take on the role of High Priest. This line of reason leads to the conclusion that, since the first goat represented the slain Christ, and the high priest represented the resurrected Christ, then the azazel must represent someone entirely different from Christ.

Yet, even though the entire sacrificial system pointed to Christ, the order in which He fulfilled things did not match the instructions given to Israel. He completely fulfilled the essence of those instructions, but it is impossible—and unnecessary—to fit the timeline of the reality into that of the shadow, the type. We will follow a brief tangent to see this, taking as our example God's instruction concerning the consecration of the Aaronic priesthood.

Exodus 29 provides a specific order in which the various sacrifices for dedicating priests to their office were to be carried out. Performed first, the sin offering acknowledged sin and made symbolic atonement before anything else was done. Next came the whole burnt offering, representing a life given in complete service to God (different from a life sacrificed in payment for sin). Offered with the burnt offering was a grain offering, which similarly represents a life given—lived—in complete devotion to fellow man.

Though this is not a complete expounding of Exodus 29, the order of these elements teaches that we cannot approach God until payment for sin has been made (sin offering), and that our highest priority after our justification is wholehearted devotion to God (burnt offering). Only after that can we truly love our fellow man and be devoted to him (grain offering).

In contrast, Jesus' fulfillment of these sacrifices occurred in a different order. He did not become the sin offering until after He had lived a life of complete devotion to God and man—that is, after He had already fulfilled the burnt and grain offerings. Similarly, He did not qualify to be our High Priest until after He had fulfilled the burnt offering, grain offering, sin offering, and other offerings like the Wavesheaf and the Passover. What we see is that the actual sequence in which Christ fulfilled all these things was not identical to the sequence given to Israel in Exodus 29. However, He fulfilled their spiritual essence, which the Father accepted.

Returning to the Atonement ritual, we observe the same thing. The instructions begin with the high priest entering the Holy Place (Leviticus 16:3-4). If, in interpreting the ritual's symbols, we require this chapter to follow the sequence that took place in Christ's fulfillment, we are immediately faced with an impossibility: He did not qualify to be High Priest until after His earthly work was completely finished—after His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension (see Hebrews 5:9-10). Therefore, trying to match the Leviticus 16 instructions with what actually happened leaves us starting out with Christ's earthly work already complete and after His installation as High Priest.

It is not necessary to match up the order of these things, nor is it required that the azazel's antitype be fulfilled only after Christ's resurrection. Forcing a rigid, sequential fulfillment of Leviticus 16 results only in tying ourselves in symbolic knots.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)


 

Leviticus 16:21-22

Scripture plainly teaches that Christ bears our sins (Isaiah 53:4, 11-12; I Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:28). Yet, we introduce grave error if we gloss over either the Bible's general teaching on sin or whose sins, in particular, are atoned for in Leviticus 16.

One error lies in blaming Satan for the sins of humanity, then interpreting the azazel to represent Satan bearing mankind's sins. Apocryphal tradition holds that all sin should be ascribed to a fallen angel named Azazel, and even today it is commonly taught that the real cause—the actual author—of human sin is Satan. However, the Word of God shows that this is not true.

There is no question that Satan deceives (Revelation 12:9). He broadcasts his attitudes, and we all have tuned in to them. Ephesians 2:2 establishes that an evil spirit influence is at work in the world today. Paul calls the Devil “the god of this age” (II Corinthians 4:4), and John declares that “the whole world lies under [his] sway” (I John 5:19).

However, “there is a spirit in man” that is the basis of mankind's reason and free moral agency (Job 32:8; I Corinthians 2:11). This biblically revealed truth means that, while a malignant spirit can affect the spirit in man, it does not force a person to act. This outside spirit gives people terrible information on which to base their decisions, but God says they have enough evidence of His power and divine nature to make them without excuse (Romans 1:20).

The ancient Israelites did not have God's Spirit, yet He still set life and death before them, commanding them to choose (see Deuteronomy 30:15-20). They had only the spirit in man, but the power to choose was still theirs. Earlier, God had warned Israel, “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them” (Deuteronomy 11:16; emphasis ours). God's admonition shows that if they allowed themselves to be deceived, it was due to their not “tak[ing] heed.” They could blame only themselves. Satan exerts influence, sometimes powerfully, but the responsibility to choose life still belongs to the individual.

When we sin, it is not because Satan authors it. James 1:14 says that we sin when we are drawn away by our desires, which give birth to sin (verse 15). We sin because our hearts are not yet like God's heart, which cannot be tempted. The core problem is not what Satan does—though it is certainly problematic—but the desperately evil human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). The solution is a new, spiritual heart like Christ's (Ezekiel 36:26).

The common view of Leviticus 16 holds that the goat being led away and released is a type of what happens to Satan. However, neither Satan's binding (at the beginning of the Millennium; Revelation 20:1-3) nor his being cast into the Lake of Fire (sometime after the Millennium; Revelation 20:10) corresponds with the azazel being set free. While not every symbol will necessarily match up in a spiritual fulfillment, it is hard to see how these things even begin to match up. The goat is commanded to be released (Leviticus 16:22), while the fallen archangel is confined, restrained, and (later) cast into fire—completely dissimilar actions. In short, there is no scriptural support for Satan fulfilling the part the live goat plays.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part Two)


 

Leviticus 16:21-22

The sins in view are human sins, yet some propose that what is being expiated is Satan's portion of human sin. In other words, in any given sin, the individual plays a part and Satan plays a part, and thus God must deal with Satan's sins after the first goat is offered to cover humanity's sins.

However, we need to double-check that math very carefully. The Bible says nothing about a co-sinner. God does not split up the death penalty, such that a person earns part of the death penalty, while Satan earns the rest.

Leviticus 5:17 says, “If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity” (emphasis ours). Sinning in ignorance—including transgressing due to deception—does not mean that less of a sin has been committed against God's holy, spiritual law. Regardless of what led to the infraction, when a sin is committed, the sinner earns the wages of sin. There is no concept of a partial sin or divided guilt in the Scriptures. If a sin involves two beings, then each has committed sin, and both earn the death penalty, as in the case of Adam and Eve (cf. I Timothy 2:13-14). That is the correct biblical math.

Think about this in terms of money. We each incur our own debt when we sin, and the debt is not shared, no matter how we incurred it and no matter who said what. If a generous benefactor pays our debt for us, then we are in the clear. Our debt's cancellation, though, is in no way pertinent to the slick salesman who suggested that we take it on in the first place. The deceiver is responsible for his lies, and we are responsible if we listen to him and make ourselves indebted.

The principle of “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4) is why the Bible places such emphasis on drawing near to God, resisting Satan, loving the truth, and guarding ourselves against deception. The danger is not that Satan will make us sin, as he cannot force anybody to sin. The danger is that we will sin and incur the death penalty by not taking heed. That God gives us so many admonitions means that we incur guilt when we let that happen—it is ours, not Satan's.

Symbolically, to represent the guilty party, the substitutionary animal has sins placed on it that are not its own. Obviously, Satan has his own guilt, so he cannot be a substitute for anyone else. The Bible says these are human sins, and it is fallacious to try to explain away its clear statements.

In addition, if Satan were responsible for all human sin, then what would be the need to show a symbolic transference taking place? Under this assumption, the sins of mankind are already on his head! His guilt has never left him, so it does not need to be placed back on him. Yet, the Atonement ritual specifies that the sins be placed on an innocent party's head—one that is not already responsible for those sins. At every turn, Satan fails to fit into what Leviticus 16 says.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part Two)


 

Leviticus 16:22

This verse stipulates that the azazel must “bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land” (emphasis ours throughout). The Hebrew word for “uninhabited land” (Strong's #1509; used only here) literally means “a land cut off.” It derives from Strong's #1504, defined as “to cut down or off; (figuratively) to destroy, divide, exclude, or decide.”

Jeremiah, the presumptive author of Lamentations, employs this root to describe the state of death: “The waters flowed over my head; I said, 'I am cut off!'” (Lamentations 3:54). Isaiah 53:8, part of a Messianic prophecy, uses it similarly: “He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken.”

Jesus Christ was cut off from the land of the living; He was taken to “a land cut off.” Similarly, Psalm 88, a Messianic psalm, also describes the Messiah as being “cut off” and put into a “land of forgetfulness”:

Adrift among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, and who are cut off from Your hand. . . . Shall Your wonders be known in the dark? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? (Psalm 88:5, 12)

These terms are figurative language for the grave, where no thought or memory occurs, nor knowledge or device (Psalm 6:5; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10). In taking our sins to the “land cut off” and to the “land of forgetfulness,” they are not merely paid for but ultimately forgotten.

In common usage, “forget” and its forms indicate activities of the mind. However, in Hebrew thought, “forgetting” goes beyond the mental realm and into that of action, that is, forgetting contains an act that demonstrates that the forgotten thing is no longer a factor. The Hebrew words for forgetshâkah (#7911) and nâshâh (#5382)—mean “to ignore,” “to neglect,” “to forsake,” or “to willfully act in disregard to a person or thing.”

When God forgets our sins, He makes a conscious choice to ignore them—to forsake their occurrence, as it were; to disregard them—so that His actions are not swayed by what we have done. We may still feel other effects from our sins, but as far as God is concerned, He no longer looks at us through the lens of those transgressions. They have been borne away.

Jesus Christ fulfills all aspects of this unique sin offering: His shed blood paid for sin, and He bore those sins to the land of forgetfulness—to the grave—completely removing them from view. Thus, Hebrews 9:28 says that when He appears a second time, it will be “apart from sin.” In Isaiah 43:25, God says, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 53:6 states that “the LORD has laid on Him [the Messiah, not Satan] the iniquity of us all.” It is already finished—we are not still waiting for those transgressions to be sent away in the future.

Similarly, under the New Covenant, He promises, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). Jesus bore sin out of sight, being cut off.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part Two)


 

Leviticus 16:26

The azazel is led by a “fit” or “suitable” man, who then had to be cleansed (Leviticus 16:26). Similarly, in Matthew 27:1-2, Jesus was bound and led away at the behest of the chief priests and elders. In verse 31, they “led Him away to be crucified” (see also Mark 14:53; 15:1, 16; Luke 23:26). Christ's well-known petition, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” stands immediately after soldiers led Him to Calvary (Luke 23:32-34). In other words, He appears to be speaking specifically about forgiving those who were leading Him (even though His request would apply to all who participated in His death). In type, the ones leading Him were “cleansed” (forgiven), just like the man who led the azazel away.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part Two)


 

Leviticus 16:29

On the Day of Atonement, God requires that absolutely no work be performed (Leviticus 16:29; 23:28-31; Numbers 29:7), symbolizing that human effort is completely useless in making the proper atonement needed to keep living after sin. The Israelites could do nothing but observe what occurred at the Tabernacle, watching as the young goat was led away with all their sins. Likewise, we can do absolutely nothing to add to Christ's atoning work. Thus, it is a day without work for us as well.

Israel's works nearly condemned the nation to obliteration. In particular, the Golden Calf was a work of Aaron's hands (Exodus 32:4-5). No matter how he tried to pass it off, he deliberately fashioned an idol out of gold, something he had to work at. Similarly, the work of Nadab's and Abihu's hands included offering profane fire (Leviticus 10:1). In Haggai 2:14, God remarks on Israel's spoiling of everything she puts her hands to: “'So is this people, and so is this nation before Me,' says the LORD, 'and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.'” The works of men always contain defilement, so on the day when God removes the filth, no work can be done, lest more corruption be introduced.

The only work permitted on the Day of Atonement was performed by the high priest and by the man who led the azazel away, and both had to have an atonement made for them. For us, it is a day of solemn remembrance of the perfect work of our High Priest, who gave us precious access to the Father and removed our sins.

Atonement is also a day of afflicting one's soul. This requirement could serve as a reminder of the fasting Moses did during his interactions with God. There is overwhelming gravity in all that was involved when he fasted for forty days on back-to-back-to-back occasions. Two of those times involved meeting directly with God, receiving a pattern for life from His incomparable mind. The middle period of fasting reflects how seriously God regarded the sins and the enormity of what was at stake due to Aaron's and the nation's transgressions.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Four)


 

Daniel 9:24

The Seventy Weeks prophecy foretells a national cleansing. It is God's assurance that He will intervene to lift Israel out of her degenerate spiritual state. The word translated “reconciliation” is the same one translated as “atonement”—kaphar—throughout Leviticus 16. Nearly everything mentioned in the prophecy relates to the Day of Atonement and what is typified in Leviticus 16 regarding the cleansing and removal of sin. Even the Most Holy Place receives attention (see Daniel 8:14).

In other words, the fulfillment of the Seventy Weeks prophecy closely intertwines with the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement. It is for “your people and for your holy city”—for removing the guilt of Israel and Jerusalem, representative of all the land promised to Abraham.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Four)


 

John 8:44

Jesus identifies Satan as the spiritual father of those Jews who opposed Him, implying that they had learned how to murder and lie because the Devil was their spiritual father. They were displaying his characteristics, just as children naturally adopt the traits of their parents. Yet was Satan actually responsible for their sins? Notice what the pre-incarnate Christ says earlier through Ezekiel:

Yet you say, “Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?” Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:19-20)

God holds the father accountable for his sins, and the children responsible for their sins. The sinning soul bears its own guilt and penalty—death (Romans 6:23). Ezekiel 18 completely nullifies the justification that a child can blame his parents for his faults. Even though parents exert tremendous influence, God's view of parent-child relationships does not allow this shifting of blame.

Following this through, God will not accept this justification with regard to an individual blaming his spiritual father, Satan, even though he also wields considerable influence. According to the repeated principle in Ezekiel 18, Satan cannot bear the guilt of sins committed by a human. He bears the guilt for his own sins, which include deception, but Satan cannot make us sin.

In verses 14-17, God even gives the scenario of a son recognizing the sinfulness of his father and choosing to go a different way. The Jews who opposed Christ in John 8 should have done exactly that—realized that the murder and lies in their hearts did not originate with God, then chosen to act differently from their spiritual father.

In Genesis 3:17, God identifies the trigger of Adam's sin as heeding the voice of his wife. In the same way, our sin may also begin with heeding the voice of another (Satan), but he is not the author of our sin, any more than Eve was the author of Adam's sin. Though Adam and Eve played the blame game, God did not accept their excuses. If we hold to the justification that Satan is the real cause of our sins, we are trying to dodge reality, just as they did.

The apostle Paul declares in Romans 5:12 that sin entered the world through one man, Adam. Notice that God does not put the origin of human sin on Satan, but on Adam, even though Satan sinned long before and overtly lied to Eve (Genesis 3:4). This is how God reckons human sin—as difficult as it may be to accept. The overall point in Romans 5 is that, even though the first man introduced sin to mankind, it is through the Son of Man that humanity will be justified and made righteous. Put simply, humanity has made the choice to sin, and Christ alone provides atonement upon repentance (Acts 4:12; Matthew 1:21; I Timothy 2:5-6).

A few chapters later, in Romans 7, we find Paul's anguish over his struggle with sin. His conclusion is not that Satan is the real cause—the Devil gets only one mention in Romans, where the apostle writes that the God of peace will crush him (Romans 16:20). Instead, Paul concludes that he had indwelling sin. Rather than point the finger at Satan, he mournfully recognizes his sinful state and declares his faith in Christ's work and deliverance (verse 25).

Paul's conclusion suggests that, in addition to Satan being completely unworthy of being represented by a substitutionary sacrifice, it is also wholly incongruous to suggest that the sins of the people belong on Satan's head. Their sins are their own, and Satan's sins are his own.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part Two)


 

Colossians 2:13-14

In Colossians 2, Paul warns the churches at Colossae and Laodicea against any philosophy or system of beliefs—specifically mentioning “the tradition of men”—that detracts from Christ's sovereign position and role under the Father (verses 4, 8-9). He points out that the brethren there were already “complete in Him” (verse 10). This does not mean that they had already achieved spiritual perfection or that their salvation was assured, but that they had no need of anything supplementary to what was already available in Christ.

Many see Satan's binding (Revelation 20:1-3) as the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, yet if these Colossians were still awaiting Satan's binding—after having been resurrected to glory, no less!—before their sins were completely removed from view, how could the apostle write that they were already “complete” in Christ? On the contrary, those who come under Christ's blood are not awaiting the final resolution of their transgressions when Satan is bound; their previous sins have already been completely taken care of.

Paul continues:

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

Notice the definitive wording. There is no hint here—or anywhere else—that God's people are awaiting Satan's binding so their sins can finally be expiated. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and those wages have already been paid in full. Therefore, we are alive in Christ now, and not waiting for an imagined final payment on the debt when Satan is bound.

The phrase “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements” in Colossians 2:14 is often misinterpreted as meaning that God's law has been done away, yet in the Greek sentence structure, it is parallel with “having forgiven you all trespasses.” The “handwriting of requirements” is the written record of violations against God's ordinances. Paul says that this “handwriting”—the record of sins, not the laws—was expunged, reiterating that our sins have been forgiven. Other translations say He “erased,” “blotted out,” or “destroyed” it. The record is completely obliterated, in God's reckoning.

Verse 14 says that Christ has “taken it out of the way.” Strong's Concordance states that the Greek word for “taken,” airo, means “to lift up; by implication, to take up or away; . . . by Hebraism to expiate sin.” It means the same as the Hebrew word used for “bearing” in Leviticus 16:22, nasa' (Strong's #5375).

In addition, airo is in the perfect tense, indicating action completed in the past. The live goat lifts up, carries, and takes away the sins placed on its head by the high priest (Leviticus 16:21-22). In Colossians, Christ is declared to have lifted up, taken away, and expiated the record that was against us—an exact match to what is said about the goat of departure.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)


 

Hebrews 1:3-4

As this unique treatise opens, the author points out Christ's finished work regarding our sins: “. . . who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). Even as Jesus “Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24) and “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins” (I John 2:2), so He also purged our sins by Himself. This threefold witness shatters the possibility that any other being is involved in the resolution of human sin. That He “sat down” also shows His work of purging our sins is complete. It does not depend on a future act involving Satan.

Hebrews 1:4 speaks of Christ, “having become so much better than the angels.” The first two chapters demonstrate Christ's superiority over angels, which would certainly include the fallen ones. How could a fallen angel possibly play a part in the divine solution to sin? Is the work of Jesus Christ somehow deficient? As Paul would say, God forbid!

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)


 

Hebrews 9:1-25

Hebrews 9 opens with a description of the earthly sanctuary and its contents. Instructions from Leviticus 16 begin in verse 7: “But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance.” Verses 11-15 show Christ's fulfillment of the cleansing ritual and how He entered the Most Holy Place in heaven with His own blood. Verse 15 points out that our promise of eternal inheritance is based on His mediation; neither He nor we are awaiting Satan to fulfill any part of the sin offering. Verses 22-25 also explain Christ's cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary with His own blood, once for all, in contrast to the yearly purification of the physical sanctuary.

Comparing these explanations with the instruction in Leviticus 16, we see that both passages follow the same general order. Leviticus 16 begins with the instructions for the high priest on Atonement, just as Hebrews 2-9 presents Christ's superior High Priesthood. Next, Leviticus 16 proceeds to the slaughter of the first goat and the use of its blood to cleanse the sanctuary and holy objects. The bulk of Hebrews 9 explains Christ's role in fulfilling that.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)


 

Hebrews 9:26-28

After the purification of the sanctuary, the very next theme is that Christ put away sin. His sacrifice alone is sufficient for this; Satan has nothing to add to Christ's work of salvation! We denigrate His name by suggesting that His work is somehow insufficient and that a “counterpart” is needed to fulfill half the sin offering.

The Greek word translated “put away,” athetesis, means “to cancel,” and it can also be translated as “disannul.” The root of this word, atheteo, means “to neutralize,” and can be translated as “cast off,” “despise,” and “bring to nothing.” Thus, in addition to cleansing the sanctuary, Christ's sacrifice put away sin—it cancelled the sin, bringing it to nothing, for those who repent and come under His blood.

Verse 28 says that Christ's sacrifice was for the sake of bearing the sins of many, precisely what the azazel did in type. In addition, He will appear a second time, apart from sin. An ancient Israelite would be horrified to see the young goat wander back into the camp because it would signify that all his sins had come back into view. Spiritual Israelites, however, have confidence that their sins have been completely removed. So, when our Savior appears again, it is not to bring those sins back into view, but to bring salvation.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)


 

Hebrews 10:1-4

Part of the problem with animal sacrifices is that a consciousness of sins remains. The Israelites went through the ceremony, but spiritually, nothing happened. Christ's sacrifice, though, includes the removal of sins from consciousness, which is implied in the role of the azazel but not actually accomplished. Along these lines, the author of Hebrews notes three times that Christ's sacrifice cleanses the conscience (Hebrews 9:9, 14; 10:22).

Hebrews 10:4 uses significant wording when speaking of taking away sins. The Greek word, aphaireo, has familiar meanings and implications. Its basic meaning is “to remove,” while it can also be translated as “cut off.” The author uses terminology that exactly describes the azazel, the goat of “complete removal” (as The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon renders it) that bears the sins to a land that is “cut off.”

Certainly, nothing involving animals can do that. Christ's sacrifice, though, was both necessary and entirely sufficient to deal with sin. He became sin for us (II Corinthians 5:21) and was cut off. He paid the death penalty, giving us access to the Father, as well as bearing the sin into forgetfulness and cleansing the consciences of those who accept Him.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)


 

Hebrews 10:12-14

The fact that He “sat down” shows that the entire work (regarding sacrifice, atonement, bearing the sins, removing transgression, etc.) is already complete. It is not dependent on “Act II”—something involving Satan in the future.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)


 

Hebrews 10:17-18

Jeremiah 31:34 foretells that under the New Covenant, God would not remember sins and lawless deeds. Simply put, sins are not remembered because they have been borne to the “land of forgetfulness.”

The author then takes the explanation a step farther, showing that once remission of sin has been accomplished, there is “no longer an offering for sin.” That is, the role of the azazel—the second part of the compound offering for sin (Leviticus 16:5)—has already been fulfilled! We already have remission of sins; there is not a future fulfillment of any sin offering that those who are already under Christ's blood should be waiting for.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)


 

Revelation 20:1-3

The releasing of the azazel into the wilderness (Leviticus 20:21-22) is commonly—but incongruously—linked with the binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-3). This linkage is problematic because the account in Revelation makes no mention of sins—whether mankind's or Satan's—being placed on Satan's head. Instead, the express purpose for his binding is “so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (verse 3). He is bound to cut off his influence, not to provide any sort of expiation.

In addition, since the book of Revelation is generally dated around AD 90-100, John's vision did not occur until the very end of the apostolic generation. Earlier, Jude had written to exhort the beleaguered first-century church “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3; emphasis ours throughout). “The faith” is a specific faith, indicating a well-defined body of beliefs. However, when Jude wrote his epistle, Satan's binding had not yet been foretold. It was not revealed to John until after “the faith” had already been delivered to the saints.

Similarly, Paul writes to Timothy that the “Holy Scriptures”—which, at that point, would have consisted of what is generally called the Old Testament—“are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15). Even without the book of Revelation, the first generation of Christians had all they needed to understand God's plan.

The matter of how sin is atoned for is at the very core of being “wise for salvation,” and Paul's words indicate that “wisdom” was already available from 1) what had been written before, and 2) God-given faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, the apostolic generation understood salvation—including the Day of Atonement and how sins are expiated—without the revelation that Satan will be bound. The former is not dependent on the latter.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)


 

 




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