The Scapegoat
Leviticus 16

by Andrew Maclarty

This writing demonstrates how the law could not justify, and the symbolic ceremony showed to Israel that the sins of the people had not been eliminated, but merely put out of site.

In our venerable King James Version (KJV) we read of the "scapegoat" in Leviticus 16. The word used here forms part of the ceremony on the so-called ‘Day of Atonement.’ Two goats were taken from the congregation of Israel for a sin offering. This was a single offering, although there were two goats. One goat was for sacrifice, the other (mistakenly called the ‘scapegoat’) was sent into the wilderness by the hand of a ready man.

The term ‘scapegoat’ appears to be of very old origin, and appears in literature published even before the KJV appeared in 1611. This term may have been coined as an attempt to translate the meaning in an earlier version of the sixteenth century, and so passed into common use. Yet we must at once object, for this term carries with it associations that distort and confuse understanding of the ceremonies on the yearly Day of Shelter. That ritual was a shadow of the Divine service of the celestials (Heb.9:23-4).

"What purpose could there be in the
ritual God gave to Israel for whatever
is understood by the term ‘scapegoat’"?

Lots were cast over the two goats, one goat was for sacrifice, the other was to be the ‘goat of departure.’ This term from the Concordant Version is the result of studies into the root meaning of the Hebrew word ‘azazl,’ incorrectly rendered ‘scapegoat’ in the KJV and many other versions. There has been much discussion and confusion over the meaning of this word in the many translations. One version used by Jews makes no attempt to translate, but renders the text ‘azazl.’ Some have suggested this is the name for a demon. One version renders it ‘precipice goat’ after the thought of hurling the goat down a precipice! A large paragraph could be filled with renderings from many versions, few of them helpful, and none that satisfactorily translate the Hebrew term. The whole matter is in confusion, and each rendering leaves yet more questions to be answered

The Concordant Version rendering is both accurate and edifying. ‘Azazl’ is a compound word made of two elements: the first part meaning goat, and a further shade of meaning is strength—perhaps because in a flock of both animals the goat was the stronger. The second element has the meaning depart, and the C.V. accurately renders it "goat of departure."


Elaborate ceremony attended the sacrifices on the Day of Shelter. This day is commonly called the ‘Day of Atonement,’ but the term distorts the meaning and reflects the language of Romans into the ritual of sacrifice where it has no place, and which could never take away sin. ‘Atonement’ does not mean shelter in relation to God’s justification in Romans, and does not mean at-one-ment in Leviticus.

We learn in Exodus, Leviticus, and in Hebrews (7:27 and 9:7) that the chief priest had to make an offering for himself before making sacrifice for the sins of the people. Before the ritual commenced there was elaborate ceremony to cleanse the tent of appointment and the altar itself, and special linen garments were to be worn by the high priest. In all this ritual God’s unapproachability was demonstrated to Israel. He could not be approached by the creature, except by the high priest, once a year, and not without the shedding of blood for his own sins and for the sins of the people.

"The purpose of all the ritual was to demonstrate God’s unapproachability."

The ‘Mercy Seat’ did not deal with sin: it suspended the penalty.
Following the sacrifice of the chosen goat its blood was to be sprinkled on the place of Shelter (Mercy Seat), from above the tablets of the law, and between the two cherubim of glory. The tablets of the law were thus covered from their sight, and this signified that by the shedding of blood the law was covered over and Israel would be free from the law’s penalty for the coming year. It is important to realize this, for the ceremony did not deal with past sins: indeed it did not deal with any sin, but only allowed lenience to be extended for the coming year. Thus was Israel sheltered from the vengeance of the covenant.

We would point out again that although there were two goats, they formed a single offering. After the sacrifice Aaron, the high priest, was instructed to place his hands on the head of the live goat and confess the sins of the people, for the sins had not yet been dealt with, even though there had been sacrifice. The live goat, typically bearing their sins, was then led away into the wilderness, to a place uninhabited. By this God signified to Israel that their sins had not been removed—they had not been pardoned, for under law there was no place for even that. This is the great significance of the ceremony. It demonstrated to Israel that the law was unable to justify. Sin was put out of sight for the coming year, but was not eliminated. Justification has no place under law.

Yet Now !

The demands of God’s righteousness are more absolute than are the needs of the sinner. We have remarked on other occasions that the critical question to be answered is: How can a person be just with God ? Only the evangel of the grace of God declared by Paul can answer this. No man made religion can—and in fact not one even addresses the question. We now turn to Paul’s letter to the Romans, for Romans is a systematic statement of the evangel. Every question that concerns righteousness, both of man and of God, is examined and answered fully to the complete satisfaction of His righteousness, His wisdom, His power and His love.

Justification is Declared in Romans Three v. 22

Paul shows the need for the evangel in the early chapters by demonstrating that no one is righteous, not even one. The pagan is unjust, as is the educated man. Even the Jew is without righteousness, and the law cannot justify for it only shows the failure of the flesh. But Paul continues in verse 21 of chapter three:

"Yet Now, apart from law,
a righteousness of God is manifest—
a righteousness of God through Jesus Christ’s faith."

Here is the justifying factor in the evangel—a righteousness of God through Jesus Christ’s faith. That faith took Him to the cross where He—who knew no sin—was made to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him—2 Cor.5:21. This is the very heart of the evangel which is God’s power for salvation, for through His death God’s own righteous-ness comes to those who believe. Having stated the evangel as justification in 3:22, Paul proceeds in verse 25 to address the implication for the legal ceremonies in Israel. In these God’s own righteousness had been called into question, for He had passed over the penalties of sins, and that was not strictly just. An incorrect understanding of verse 25 has caused untold confusion. Many saints have mistakenly thought it further explained justification. Reading from verse 24 it says:-

(24) "Being justified gratuitously in His grace through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus
(v.25) Whom God purposed for a propitiatory shelter through faith in His blood, for a display of His righteousness because of the passing over of the penalties of sins which occurred before in the forbearance of God
(v.26) toward the display of His righteousness in the current era, for Him to be just, and a Justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus."

Shelter has no place in Justification

Some versions render verse 25 "Whom God set forth to be a Propitiation," and many others have similar thoughts. The term here approximates to our word "Shelter." But the death of Christ, once for all, was not a shelter from the penalties of sins: it was a final removal of sins, by God’s righteous award. We are now accounted just and there is no need of shelter from the penalties of sins that are not reckoned against us. Hence this word meaning shelter has no place in justification.

Simply explained, for Israel under law, there was shelter from the penalty of their sins. This was obtained through the sacrifice on the annual Day of Shelter, and they were sheltered for the coming year.

There is presently no need of shelter. Those who believe the evangel are justified freely in God’s grace through the deliverance in Christ Jesus, and there is therefore now no condemnation. In the Millennium (the fourth eon) there will be Shelter for Israel through the blood of Christ Who is the true Propitiatory shelter, Whose blood gives value to the sacrifices made under law, and brings a pardon to Israel, one that is sure and certain.

The final matter is God’s justification. His own righteousness had been called into question when He exercised forbearance in the era of the law– when He passed over the penalty of sins. This was not strictly just. The sacrifices could not remove sin, as is shown by the goat of departure that symbolically took the sins out of sight.

God Is a Just Justifier

Because God purposed Christ for a Propitiatory shelter, through faith in His blood (v.25), He is able to display His righteousness in the current era. The penalty of sins due under the law has been removed in Christ’s death, when He suffered– the Just for the unjust –thus providing the vital value in which the sacrifices were deficient. This shows God to be just, and a Justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus. God is a Just Justifier !

The critical matter here is God’s justification. Because of the passing over of the penalties of sins His own righteousness had been called into question. Though the Shelter extended lenience to Israel, this was not strictly just, and the penalty of the sins confessed on the head of the live goat was still due. This is signalled by its being banished into the wilderness. Sin was removed from sight, but not eliminated. That awaited the death of Him who came under law, that He might redeem those under law.

At His baptism the Lord Jesus identified Himself with the sins of the people. When dying under law He assumed the remitted penalty, and in this way upholds the leniency extended through the law's sacri¬fices. He thus upholds God’s righteousness, providing the vital value in which they were deficient.

The Concordant Version translates God’s word in a consistent vocabulary, and is of great value to all sincere readers of God’s word. Write of call Grace and Truth for more information.

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© A. Maclarty - Grace and Truth Magazine