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Leviticus 16:8  (King James Version)
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<< Leviticus 16:7   Leviticus 16:9 >>


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 16:8

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is a Sabbath of solemn rest, set apart by its unique requirements to afflict one's soul and do absolutely no work (Leviticus 23:26-32). Within its instructions are a few rituals that make it even more extraordinary. Chief among these is the ceremony of the two goats found in Leviticus 16, part of a larger cleansing ritual performed once a year by the high priest.

With the passage of time and the difficulties of translation, the instructions for the two goats are far less clear to us than they were to their original recipients. In particular, the Hebrew word azazel, used for the second goat (Leviticus 16:8, 10, 26), is surrounded by speculation and contradictory assertions. A common belief among Sabbatarians is that azazel is the name of a wilderness demon. From this foundation springs the conclusion that the azazel goat—often translated as “scapegoat”—represents Satan.

If we solely use the Bible as our source, we will find no definitive statement for azazel representing Satan. What appears instead is that Satan—whose original name was Helel—has coopted the term to apply to himself in the same way he coopted one of the titles of Jesus Christ, “light-bringer” or “light-bearer” (Lucifer), for himself (see Isaiah 14:12; II Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16). Yet it is not possible for Satan to be a part of the atonement God provides for His people, a role that can be fulfilled only by the Savior.

Strong's Concordance does not define azazel as a name at all, instead giving the meaning as “goat of departure.” It identifies two roots for this word, the first of which means “goat” or “kid” (#5795). The second root (#235) means “to go away, hence, to disappear.” The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon says it means “complete removal.” These definitions not only fit with the Hebrew, but they also align with the instructions in Leviticus 16.

But to start with azazel as the name of a fallen angel—representative of Satan—is, at best, to begin with a conclusion, and at worst, to base crucial understanding on an apocryphal tradition. When we look at the totality of what Scripture says, a very different picture emerges.

There is wisdom in not basing a doctrine on the meaning of a word, since meanings can change or become lost with time. A far more solid foundation beyond a word's common definition must be laid. Moving past the definition of azazel, then, another foundational principle of Bible study is that significant matters—especially doctrinal ones—must be established by “two or three witnesses.” By comparing what the azazel goat accomplishes with the rest of God's revelation, its role—and thus, its identity—becomes clear. There is no second, let alone third, witness for Satan playing a role within this chapter or in the atonement for sin.

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



Leviticus 16:8

This first biblical occurrence of lots being cast shows that the matter of choosing what goat fills which role is completely in God's hands. God does not leave it up to man to choose which would fulfill these roles because of man's inability to judge properly.

I Chronicles 24—26 shows that governmental roles in Israel were determined by lot. To remove any ambiguity, various officials, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers, and other leaders were assigned their lots in life through God's decision. The same thing occurs in Leviticus 16: God determines which goat will fulfill which role.

The matter of the different roles becomes clear after understanding Leviticus 16:8. A difficulty springs up here, though, because the construction seems to imply two separate personalities: One lot is cast “for the LORD,” and another “for azazel.” However, if we look deeper, we will see that the phrase “for the LORD” is not about identifying a personality at all.

Because we have the benefit of looking back in history on Christ's sacrifice and understand that the sacrificial system pointed forward to the work of the Messiah, our minds tend to interpret “for the LORD” to mean “as a representation of the LORD.” While the sin offerings did pre-figure Christ, the phrase was not intended to mean this, but that the first goat was designated “as belonging to the LORD.”

It is used in the same sense that the sacred incense was “holy for the LORD” (Exodus 30:37), that in wartime the Israelites were to “levy a tribute for the LORD” (Numbers 31:28), and that an idolatrous city was to be completely burned “for the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 13:16). The first goat's role was to appease the Lord and to be sacrificed to Him; it was for the Lord's satisfaction in the ritual, not to represent Him.

Consider that the Israelites did not truly understand the intent of the sacrificial system. During the first century, the concepts that the Messiah would be God-in-the-flesh and that He would be killed in fulfillment of the whole sacrificial system were entirely foreign. If there was ever a national consciousness that the first goat was a representation of the Creator God, dying for the sins of the people, it was clearly forgotten by the time it was fulfilled!

Even though we can now read various psalms and prophecies related to the crucifixion and recognize them as Messianic, the Israelites did not have this understanding; they thought the Messiah would be a human leader who would restore them to national greatness. In like manner, they certainly understood, not that one of the goats would represent the Lord, but that the goat was a sacrifice to the Lord. The instructions do not specify how the ritual would later be fulfilled—only what the goats were for.

Along these lines, azazel is not a name in the Bible, nor did the live goat represent a second personality, but instead it fulfilled a second purpose. It was chosen to accomplish just what the Hebrew root word means: departure, removal, or disappearance. The first goat was for the Lord because His justice must be satisfied; it was for the cleansing of His house (Tabernacle and people). The second goat was for an additional step after the penalty for sin was paid: completely removing the sins from view by bearing them to an uninhabited land. Thus, while many infer that two personalities are in view in Leviticus 16:8, the construction does not require it. Rather, the lots were cast to determine which goat would fulfill each role within this compound atonement for sin.

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




Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Leviticus 16:8:

Leviticus 16:5
Leviticus 16:8
Leviticus 16:8
Leviticus 16:8
Amos 2:4

 

<< Leviticus 16:7   Leviticus 16:9 >>



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