Leviticus 16:7-10: What Was the Purpose of the Scapegoat?
What is the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16? Why do some scholars say that this goat was offered to Azazel, a desert demon that was capable of feeding on an animal laden with the sins of the entire nation of Israel? Does the Old Testament actually give aid and comfort to such views and teach that demons inhabit the desert?
And if the demon view is true, why does Leviticus 17:7 expressly forbid making offerings or sacrifices to demons? Also, what is the meaning of the Hebrew name used in connection with the scapegoat, azazel? Is this name to be connected with other demons named in Scripture, such as Lilith, "the night creature" (Is 34:14), or the Shedim, "demons" (Lev 17:7; 2 Chron 11:15; Is 13:21; 34:14), literally "the hairy ones," "satyrs" or "goat idols"?
No day was, or is, as sacred to the Jewish community as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. After the high priest had made atonement for his own sins and those of his household, he proceeded with the rites of atonement for the whole community. The community brought two male goats as a single sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering. Both goats were for atonement: one dealt with the fact of atonement and the other with the effect of atonement in removing sin. The first goat had to be slain in order to picture the atonement proffered; the other goat was presented alive and then released into the wilderness, symbolizing the removal of the forgiven sins (on the basis of the slain substitute).
Thus far all interpreters tend to agree, but after this point disagreement breaks out. First of all, it has been pointed out that the name for the goats is not the standard term, but the expression that is used always in connection with the sin offering (se` r `izz m--Lev 4:23-24, 28; 5:6; 9:3; 23:19).
But the most difficult specification to deal with is that as the two goats are placed at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting--the tabernacle--and the lots are drawn, one goat is said to be "for the Lord," and the other lot falls "for azazel" (Lev 16:8--layhwah; la`za'zel).
The Greek translators did not regard azazel as a proper name, but connected it with 'azal, a verb that does not appear in the Old Testament. The meaning they gave it was "to send away." Hence the full meaning of the Hebrew expression would be "in order to send away." The Latin translation followed this same understanding. But, it is objected, this meaning will not easily fit the contexts of the last part of verse 10 and the first part of verse 26.
In later Jewish theology, the apocryphal book of Enoch uses Azazel as the name for one of the fallen angels. But there is no evidence for the existence of a demon by that name in Moses' day. Enoch's elaborate demonology is admittedly late (c. 200 B.C. ) and often uses the late Aramaic forms for these names. It is clear that they are all of postbiblical invention.
The most adequate explanation is to view the term `za'zel as being composed of two words: the first part, `ez, meaning "goat," and the second part, 'azel, meaning "to go away." With recent evidence from the Ugaritic (the language of ancient Canaan from which Hebrew is derived), compound names such as this one are turning up more frequently than what we had expected based on evidence from the Hebrew alone. This is how the rendering "scapegoat" came to be. Today, however, we would need to call it the "escape-goat," for by "scapegoat" we mean the one who always gets blamed or gets stuck with a task that is distasteful. Originally, however, the King James translators meant "the goat that was led away."
Since this ceremony is part of one sin offering, in no sense is the second goat an offering to the devil or his demons. The arguments that are brought in to support the view that the second goat is for the devil or his demons are unconvincing. One says that since the first clause of verse 8 indicates that the goat is designated for a person--the Lord--the second clause also must refer to the goat's being designated for a person--Azazel. While this is a grammatical possibility, it is not required by the text, and the specific prohibition of making such offerings to demons, found in Leviticus 17:7, is decisive in ruling out this possibility.
According to another argument, the words in 16:10 cannot mean that atonement is being made with azazel (that is, azazel as the scapegoat) to propitiate the Lord, but rather that atonement is being made to propitiate Azazel (that is, Azazel as a wilderness demon). The reply is that the same Hebrew expression for atonement is used throughout the chapter. Moreover, in Exodus 30:10 the same expression is translated "to atone over or upon." Here the high priest was to make atonement "over" the scapegoat by putting Israel's guilt on it and then sending it away. If the expression appears strange, the answer is that the act described is itself unusual, and no other word could fit it better.
The high priest did not atone for sin by making an offering to Satan or to his demons. There is evidence that the Old Testament teaches the existence of demons, for Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37 speak of such beings. But in no sense were the Israelites ever told to sacrifice to them; as we have seen, Leviticus 17:7 specifically warns against such sacrifices.