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, 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. However, 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 Hêlêl—has co-opted the term to apply to himself in the same way he co-opted one of the titles of Yahshua; “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 YAHWEH 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 YAHWEH’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.
Two Goats, One Offering
The two goats are first mentioned in Leviticus 16:5, which contains an often-overlooked detail: “And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering”
The “two kids of the goats” together are a are a single sin offering. That is, the two young goats are distinct elements of that one sin offering. that jointly accomplish this offering for sin; both parts are absolutely required for the offering to be accepted. A typical sin offering consists of only one animal, but this sin offering consists of two. This shows that something additional is being accomplished here, something beyond just the payment for sin.
The biblical sin offering, detailed in Leviticus 4, is YAHWEH's prescribed way to show sins being paid for through a death. While “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4), YAHWEH still required blood to be shed to remind the people that sin incurs the death penalty.
A critical part of the sin offering involves the priest placing his hands on the head of the animal before it was slain to show that the animal would stand in the place of the party under judgment. The unblemished, innocent animal, representing the guilty party, symbolically received the guilt. This detail is reiterated four times within the instructions for the sin offering (Leviticus 4:4, 15, 24, 29), as well as in the initial consecration ceremony for Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:10). A sin offering is incomplete without this symbolic transference taking place.
Every sacrificial animal—through the requirement of it being unblemished—is portrayed as being sinless (Deuteronomy 17:1; Leviticus 22:17-25). The Torah contains at least forty injunctions that the sacrificial animals, either in specific offerings or in general, had to be without blemish or defect. In addition, Malachi 1:6-14 records YAHWEH’s indignation at later priests for offering blind, maimed, and diseased animals. A reason the animals had to be of the highest quality is that they were offered to YAHWEH, who deserves only the best. A second reason is that every sacrificial animal prefigured the Savior, who was entirely without blemish or defect.
In the symbolism of a substitutionary sacrifice, an innocent participant is chosen to bear the sins of the guilty. However, this utterly fails to apply to Satan, for his millennia of sin make it impossible for him to be pictured as unblemished or innocent, by any stretch of the imagination!
Leviticus 16:8 has Aaron casting lots, “one lot for YAHWEH, and one lot for a goat of departure,” as The Scriptures (ISR 2009) renders it. This first biblical occurrence of lots being cast shows that the matter of choosing which of the two goats will fill which role, is completely in YAHWEH’s hands. The high priest had to await YAHWEH’s decision before continuing. YAHWEH does not leave it up to man to choose which would fulfill these roles because of man’s inability to judge properly.
This fact was made especially clear during Yahshua’s lifetime, when the people chose to spare Barabbas over Yahshua, to be spared from crucifixion. (Matthew 27:17-23), “and the high priest Caiaphas chose Yahshua to die for the people (John 11:49-50). The people and leaders chose Yahshua, not because of their recognition of and devotion to Him, but for His condemnation so that their lives could continue without disruption.
In similar fashion, left to their own devices, the Israelites would incorrectly choose how the YAHWEH-ordained roles would be filled, so He shows through the casting of lots that the decision was not to be in their hands. 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 YAHWEH’s decision. The same thing occurs in Leviticus 16: YAHWEH 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 YAHWEH,” and another “for azazel.” However, if we look deeper, we will see that the phrase “for YAHWEH” is not about identifying a personality at all.
Because we have the benefit of looking back in history on Yahshua’s sacrifice and understand that the sacrificial system pointed forward to the work of the Messiah, our minds tend to interpret “for YAHWEH” to mean “as a representation of YAHWEH.” While the sin offerings did pre-figure Yahshua, the phrase was not intended to mean this, but actually that the first goat was designated as “belonging to YAHWEH.”
It is used in the same sense that the sacred incense was “holy for YAHWEH” (Exodus 30:37), that in wartime the Israelites were to “levy a tribute for YAHWEH” (Numbers 31:28), and that an idolatrous city was to be completely burned “for YAHWEH your Elohim” (Deuteronomy 13:16). The first goat’s role was to appease YAHWEH and to be sacrificed to Him; it was for YAHWEH’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 Elohim-in-the-flesh and that He would be killed in fulfillment of the whole sacrificial system were entirely foreign to them. If there was ever a national consciousness that the first goat was a representation of the Creator Elohim, 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 YAHWEH, but that the goat was a sacrifice to YAHWEH. The instructions do not specify how the ritual would later be fulfilled—only what the goats were for.
The Goat of Departure
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 YAHWEH 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. It – the second goat - was chosen to accomplish just what the Hebrew root word means: departure, removal, or disappearance. Lots were cast to determine which goat would fulfill each role within this ‘compound – atonement’ for sin.
No scripture supports the notion that Satan has been chosen to fulfill any sacrificial role. YAHWEH gave Hêlêl a role, but he chose his own lot in life when he lifted his heart in pride and left his first estate (Jude 6). YAHWEH did not choose that for him. Conversely, Matthew 12:18 quotes a Messianic prophecy about the Servant whom YAHWEH chose—Yahshua Messiah. Similarly, I Peter 2:6 states that Yahshua is elect, another way of saying “chosen.” We have evidence of the lot applying to Yahshua Messiah because YAHWEH chose Him. He was also chosen to fulfill the sin offering, the burnt offering, the meal offering, the Passover, and the Wavesheaf, as well. YAHWEH chose Him to be High Priest (Hebrews 5:10; 9:11). But the Scriptures completely preclude Satan from receiving such honor.
Another, often-overlooked instruction in this regard is the ritual for the cleansing of leprosy, found in nearby Leviticus 14:3-7 (for people) and 49-53 (for houses). It contains figures and activities similar to the ritual of the two goats, and is a type of the more important Day of Atonement ritual. Involving two birds instead of two goats, it functions on the level of an individual or a family (house) rather than the entire nation. 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. In fact, the only place in which he is equal to Yahshua Messiah 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 YAHWEH, to make atonement upon [Hebrew ‘al Strong’s 5921] it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.”
The Scriptures (ISR 2009) 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 YAHWEH to make atonement for it. Ellicott’s Commentary makes this observation: “Better, to make atonement for it, that is, it was placed before YAHWEH in order that it might receive expiation and sanctification, and thus be fitted for the sacred purposes it was destined to fulfill” (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 Yahshua 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.
This sanctification is further indicated by the phrase “shall be presented alive before YAHWEH.” Numerous verses imply this same sense when one person “stands before” another of higher authority, whether YAHWEH or another man. The “standing before” can be for rendering judgment (Leviticus 27:8, 11; Numbers 5:16-18; 35:12) or to show that a person is in the service of another (Genesis 41:46; Numbers 27:18-23; Deuteronomy 1:38; 10:8). In either case, what is symbolized is an inferior waiting on a decision or instruction from his superior (see also Genesis 43:15; 47:7).
The azazel is not brought before YAHWEH 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 YAHWEH 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. YAHWEH 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. Without this aspect, our sins could be paid for yet still plague us, as the payment of sin solves only part of the problem.
Consider what happens when a person commits a crime. Civil justice may be served through fines, incarceration, or capital punishment, but a record of the infraction remains. The felon’s name is permanently tainted, and assuming he is not executed, he will face significant challenges from society even after the state’s justice has been served.
In addition, his sentence does nothing to heal the pain he has caused others, let alone cleanse his own conscience. Thus, what is needed is a complete expunging of his crime, so that his past failures are not only paid for, but are also made to depart from all awareness.
The same principles apply to the problem of sin. It is the work of Yahshua Messiah that brings about the ultimate solution to sin, not the binding of Satan. What we need is to have YAHWEH’s laws written on our new hearts and for our sins to be remembered no more. That is what our Savior does.
Is there a single verse in the Bible that shows Satan accomplishing this? Where is the second witness that shows the blemished, corrupt Adversary as set apart for this incredible purpose?
As “the fulfillment of Moses’ teachings” (Romans 10:4), Yahshua Messiah 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 azazelas a type of Satan does not spring from Scripture but ancient Jewish literature—specifically from the inventive Book of Enoch, (Book 1, Chapter 8);part of the “Apocrypha” which contradicts true scripture.
Bearing the Sin of Many
Most of what happened with the first goat and its blood was out of view of the congregation. 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:
“And when he has finished atoning for the Set-apart Place, and the Tent of Appointment, and the slaughter-place, he shall bring the live goat. “Then Aharon shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and shall confess over it all the crookednesses of the children of Yisra’ěl, and all their transgressions in all their sins, and shall put them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a fit man. “And the goat shall bear on itself all their crookednesses, to a land cut off. Thus, he shall send the goat away into the wilderness. (Lev 16:20-22).
One of the best-known Messianic prophecies provides an unambiguous fulfillment of the live goat’s bearing of sins:
Isa 53:4 “Truly, He has borne our sicknesses and carried our pains. Yet we reckoned Him smitten·, stricken by Elohim, and afflicted. Verse 11-12 “He would see the result of the suffering of His life and be satisfied. Through His knowledge My righteous Servant makes many righteous, and He bears their crookednesses. (12) Therefore I give Him a portion among the great, and He divides the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His being unto death, and He was counted with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
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 7:9 & 18). The Hebrew word נסה nasah (H5375) 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.
Yahshua’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.”
Along similar lines, YAHWEH required Aaron to wear a turban with a blue cord on the front so he could “bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts” (Exodus 28:38). This was the high priest’s responsibility throughout the year, though the turban is also specifically mentioned in the Day of Atonement ritual (Leviticus 16:4). He symbolically bore the sins of the nation throughout the year, and on the Day of Atonement, he transferred them to the “goat of departure” (Leviticus 16:21), which bore them out of sight.
We see the same thing in the Brit Chadasha. I Peter 2:24 says Yahshua “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, “Yahshua was offered once to bear the sins of many.” His single and singular sacrifice both cleansed the sanctuary and bore the sins of many.
As an illustration, YAHWEH had Ezekiel “bear” the iniquities of Israel (Ezekiel 4:4-6). More than ninety times, YAHWEH calls Ezekiel “son of adam (or man),” signifying he was a ‘type’ of the Messiah, who in the Gospels frequently refers to Himself as “the Son of Adam.” Ezekiel could not bear Israel’s sins in the ultimate sense, but in bearing them figuratively, he, like the high priest, represented Yahshua rather than the Devil.
Who Is Responsible for Sin?
Scripture plainly teaches that Yahshua bears our sins. Next we will expand on His fulfillment of the Day of Atonement ritual. 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 YAHWEH 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 elohim or mighty one 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 YAHWEH 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 YAHWEH’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, YAHWEH had warned Israel, “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other elohim and worship them” (Deuteronomy 11:16). YAHWEH’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 YAHWEH’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 Yahshua’s (Ezekiel 36:26).
The Soul Who Sins
In John 8:44, Yahshua 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. Some might seize on this principle to support the idea that Satan is responsible for their sins—except for what the pre-incarnate Yahshua says earlier through Ezekiel:
And you say, “Why should the son not bear the crookedness of the father?” Because the son has done right-ruling and righteousness, and has guarded all My laws and he does them, he shall certainly live. The being who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the crookedness of the father, nor the father bear the crookedness of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wrongness of the wrong shall be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:19-20)
YAHWEH 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, YAHWEH’s view of parent-child relationships does not allow this shifting of blame.
Following this through, YAHWEH 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, YAHWEH even gives the scenario of a son recognizing the sinfulness of his father and choosing to go a different way. The Jews who opposed Yahshua in John 8 should have done exactly that—realized that the murder and lies in their hearts did not originate with YAHWEH, then chosen to act differently from their spiritual father.
In Genesis 3:17, YAHWEH 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, YAHWEH 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 YAHWEH 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 YAHWEH 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 Yahshua 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 Elohim 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 Yahshua’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
The Second Error in Interpretation
The role of the live goat has been interpreted a second erroneous way. Leviticus 16:21-22 states that 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 YAHWEH must deal with Satan’s sins after the first goat is offered to cover humanity’s sins.
However, we need to reconsider that idea very carefully. The Bible says nothing about a ‘co-sinner.’ YAHWEH 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 YAHWEH, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity.” Sinning in ignorance—including transgressing due to deception—does not mean that less of a sin has been committed against YAHWEH’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 understanding.
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 YAHWEH, resisting Satan, loving the truth, and guarding ourselves against deception. The danger is not that Satan will make us sin; he cannot force anybody to sin. The danger is that we will sin and incur the death penalty by not taking heed. That YAHWEH 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.
An Uninhabited Land Leviticus 16:22 stipulates that the azazel must “bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land.” 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 the Messianic prophecy quoted previously, 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.”
Yahshua Messiah 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”:
“Released among the dead, like slain ones lying in the burial site, whom You have remembered no more, and who are cut off from Your hand. . . Are Your wonders be known in the dark? And Your righteousness in the land of no remembrance?” (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 no remembrance,” 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 forget—shâkah (#7911) and nâshâh (#5382)—mean “to ignore,” “to neglect,” “to forsake,” or “to willfully act in disregard to a person or thing.”
When YAHWEH 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 YAHWEH is concerned, He no longer looks at us through the lens of those transgressions. They have been borne away.
Yahshua Messiah 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, YAHWEH 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 “YAHWEH 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 Brit Chadasha, He promises, “For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). Yahshua bore sin out of sight, being cut off. Conversely, Isaiah 14:15-16 shows Satan put in a pit and gazed upon, very much in view.
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, Yahshua 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). Yahshua’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.
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.
Yahshua Is Our Focus
We understand the great danger in underestimating Satan and his influence over the world today, but is there not an even greater peril in ascribing to him the perfect work that Yahshua Messiah alone can (and did) accomplish? Have we inadvertently made Satan the focus of the most solemn holy day of the year, when our focus should be on the complete work of the Savior?
Recall that the Pharisees, witnessing one of Yahshua’s exorcisms, attributed the work of the Messiah to the power of “Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (Matthew 12:24). In response, Yahshua delivered a thunderous warning against blaspheming the Holy Spirit (verses 31-32). Likewise, the proper identification of who carries out this work of atonement is critical!
Misunderstanding the azazel also gives us an excuse that the source of our problems is Satan. However, Paul identifies “the law of sin and death” working in his members as the source of his wretchedness, never resorting to “the devil made me do it” justification. In Psalm 51, in the great psalm of repentance, David takes full responsibility for his sins and sinfulness, never mentioning that they would be—or needed to be—put on Satan’s head. There is likewise a deafening silence from every other writer of the Bible in ascribing all of humanity’s sin to a fallen angel.
Conclusion In reality, sin separates us from YAHWEH, not Satan (Isaiah 59:1-3)—and the Devil cannot cause us to sin. He presents his temptations, and we choose whether to listen. YAHWEH commands even carnal men to choose, which would not be possible if the decision of whether to sin were in Satan’s hand. Because sin is the reason for separation between YAHWEH and man, YAHWEH accomplishes atonement by dealing with the problem of sin rather than dealing with the presence of Satan. When the Word of YAHWEH is rightly divided, Satan is nowhere to be seen in the ritual of the two goats. Satan simply is not a part of what YAHWEH does to make atonement for His people and restore the relationship.
~ by Elder J. Illgen
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