Day of Atonement: 10. Azazel

Leviticus 16:20‑26  •  20 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Azazel, or the People's Lot
The subject-matter calling for present consideration is the detail which God gives us of the scapegoat. This will be made somewhat clearer by recalling, for comparison in a general way, the force of Jehovah's lot or the first goat. For there were, as we have seen, two goats on behalf of Israel. Unquestionably they together constituted the sin-offering (ver. 5), and both were set before Jehovah (ver. 7); but the first goat is of the two the more important in its aim. Its aspect is not toward the people but toward Jehovah. It was strictly and manifestly Godward. This is to be particularly noticed; because the constant danger of the heart when awakened is to think only of what will relieve it of its newly-felt distress. One becomes absorbed with a remedy for the disease which the Spirit of God gives the soul to discern, that utter ruin through sin by which it is then truly burdened, and for which it pours out its groans and lamentations to God for mercy.
Now the first goat or Jehovah's lot takes up quite another necessity—His glory, as being struck at and violated by sin. That one soul should be in fact delivered, Jehovah's lot were essential, and in the first place as it is. Before there could be on any righteous basis the issue of saving sinners, God must be glorified about sin, and here Jehovah's lot finds its place. Therefore it is that by virtue of the blood which was carried within the veil, and put upon the mercy-seat and before it, God has His deep satisfaction in the infinite work of His Son, our Lord Jesus; for it has replaced man's iniquity by His own devotedness exclusively, to the uttermost and at all cost, to God's nature and glory. God found His rest in that blood which spoke of divine love and perfect suffering for sin. The incense was rather the sweet savor under judgment of His personal grace.
But the obedience was perfected in shame and suffering up to a death of judgment on sin itself, and such a death as could never be known by any save the Son of God. The work was done, so that all hindrance from sin is taken away; and God can righteously send out the message of His grace to every creature under heaven. We saw that this could not be revealed while the law had a standing. The law necessarily looked at Israel only. They were the people, they only, under it. All other nations were without and unclean, or, according to the ancient figure, dogs, whatever might be the pitiful affections of God; though God was always plenteous in mercy, and in Himself love, as truly as light. Still, whatever might be not only God's nature but also His purpose, as long as the barrier of the law was before Him, until it was righteously taken down, there could not be as yet the expression of that grace which in the death of 'our Lord Jesus swept away every obstacle between God's love and man in his sins.
We must remember that all this time, while the day of atonement was pre-figured for Israel, the law was in power over them. It would have neutralized the law if the grace had been revealed which treats a Gentile, even who believes, exactly as a Jew. Law in point of fact is the system which insists on the distinction between the chosen seed of Abraham and the nations. That this is now done away is essentially true of the gospel, as well as of the church of God; and both the gospel and the church are the fruit, not of the type but the anti-type, of Christ. The Day of Atonement which Israel observed once a year kept up the difference; but the grace and truth which came by Jesus and shone out in the cross, as well as the light of the glory, have now set aside every shadow of the sort. This entirely accounts for the fact that we bear nothing at all about the Gentiles in the type. At the same time we may notice again how little is said of Israel in the first goat. The reason is plain. God was in the highest degree concerned; He therefore must be glorified; His nature must be vindicated, as must be also His majesty and His truth in atonement.
All this was the object sought in the first goat, as far as a figure could show it. There was Jehovah's lot. But was this all that atonement includes? Far from it. That which far more nearly concerns and immediately contemplates the sinner comes before us in the second goat; and this it is of which we have been reading just now.
“And when he had made an end of reconciling (or, atoning for) the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and altar, &c.” But this goes along with the first goat. So it was with the bullock, save that it had the special idea of providing for the priestly house. Both in the first goat and in the bullock there was not only the vindication of God as to His own glory in having to do with those who were sinful, but, further, the making good the heavenly places set forth by the sanctuary, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar.
This is not at all left to be interpreted by our imagination. In the first chapter to the Colossians we have the answering truth: “And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself.” What is meant by “all things?” Persons on earth, or those in heaven? Neither. Creation at large is here, “All things.... whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens.” To prove that such is the meaning, you have only to read on, “And you hath He reconciled.” Nothing can be more exact. The reconciling of “all things,” not of us only, is bound up with the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. There we hear of God's great future purpose, when peace was made through the blood of His cross, “by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself.” Notably there next follows the application of Christ's reconciling work to those who now believe.
It is the order we have here too: “And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat; and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all' the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins.” Here is given a most lively picture of that which the soul, when awakened, feels to be an intolerable burden. The high priest is seen and heard occupying himself simply and solely with the distressed heart and burdened conscience of Israel, All that which might well have overwhelmed the soul God provides for according to His goodness. “Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins.” One may well repeat the quotation. Can one conceive language more fitted to take up whatever was thus resting heavily as a heart trouble? How deeply affecting that God should testify so strongly His desire, that they should not be charged with undue weight upon their souls! “Aaron.... shall confess over him all the iniquities, etc.”
It has been already pointed out that in the first goat there was no laying on of hands, any more than there was at that time confession of any sins. Nevertheless what was done exceeds in importance; for there is nothing that so completely goes to the root of sin as God's judgment of it in death; nor does anything more testify to the canceling of the defilement of sin than the fact that the blood was put on the mercy-seat and before it. It was God met in what sin deserved, and His witness borne that, if sin cannot escape the presence of God, He has provided that the blood which cleanses from all should penetrate there. Thus, what abides before God is not the sin, but the blood which makes full atonement for the sin. Still the sinners were as yet outside. There was no question at all of putting blood upon them. Therein lies one serious misapprehension, and indeed ruinous mistake, as to atonement.
Men only think of the sinner in the work of our Lord Jesus. But not so: the primary aspect of atonement is toward God. Sin is judged before Him. But the sinner is fully considered in his place; and when he does come before us, we have the utmost minuteness of confession. Is there anything that has a more searching and purging effect than confession? Romanism knows how to avail itself of confession; for the weaker is the faith of any one, the greater the comfort that he takes from pouring out the acknowledgment of his sins into the ear of a fellow-mortal. God is little or nothing in such a case; but the man's own hardened mind feels intense relief from the assumption that the priest to whom he confesses stands authoritatively in the room of God, and is entitled to absolve man in His name.
Now whatever of truth there is in confession comes here before us in its most important form. Not that one in the least would deny that there is confession on the part of the soul. We know from the First Epistle of John, that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is an important truth morally, the “cleansing from all unrighteousness.” The desire to hide aught from God is a wrong, and there never is a wrong done to Him but what involves with it loss to the soul that is not delivered from evil. But what is it that opens the heart and gives confidence in confession? The certainty that another has charged Himself with the whole of our sing in all their enormity. Who He is is not doubtful. Jesus is the only Man Who knew, and felt, and owned all the sins. We do not speak of His death only as propitiating, nor of our conscience; for much of true and bumbling grief consists in the feeling that our self-judgment is so shallow. This then could not give rest to the troubled soul. How blessed to have an absolutely full confession by one so competent as the High Priest!
According to the language of the New Testament, the mediator between God and man is a man, Christ Jesus. Were He not God, it were little indeed; but, being God, it is an infinitely essential and comforting truth that He was also the responsible man Who knowing every secret thing of every man, told out all the sins and iniquities of every believer to God in the same perfection as He suffered sacrificially. He became man that there might be an adequate representative for our sins laid, felt, abhorred before God. The same One, Who to judge must search the reins and the hearts of all, does here in grace identify Himself with “innumerable evils,” with our iniquities, as His own, so as to be unable to look up. It is not priestly work within the holies, but the Holy One our substitute in absolute integrity of confession, represented here by the high priest. He it is whose hands are laid upon the head of the goat. The blood was shed and carried into the presence of God, as the groundwork; yet the sins were none the less but the more confessed unsparingly. God was thus furnishing in type the fullness of Christ's work for Israel; for Israel comes up in the most distinct manner when we have the second goat. Then and there the sins are confessed in all their extent and variety of guilt.
The same principle is in what our Lord said to the sinful woman of whom we read in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Grace does not in the least degree extenuate the sins of the saved. This could not be in salvation according to God. Christ makes no excuse for her, whatever the traps that may have been laid for her in her life of folly. She had not always behaved as she did of late; yet had she been long a sinner in the deepest sense, as were those who despised her. But she was now, as alas too few are, at the feet of Jesus. There she was, it is true, without a word; but all she did, and all she felt, were perfectly open to His gaze, though she stood behind Him. He did not need to have her before His face. All was in the light to Him; and if not a word was uttered, her ways, thoughts, feelings, were fully and equally known to Him Who reads the life of every soul. To Him only she looked for the mercy she needed. Therefore, said He, “her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” Yet surely here there was no glossing over her sins.
It was not enough to say, “They are to be all met shortly in the atoning blood;” they are none the less aggravated but the more, because of the grace which gave in Christ the blood that alone can cleanse all away. They are felt every one in all its own heinousness. They were laid upon the head of the live goat; for such was the form which God prescribed to give Israel satisfactory witness that their sins were gone, and, as far as the figure was concerned, gone never to be found again.
No doubt under the law eternity does not strictly appear; but what was yearly to the Jews is forever to the Christian. We are not left to an inference of reasoning in this matter, but have the positive and distinct revelation of God in the Epistle to the Hebrews (10:1, 2). What God then testified was, at least to worshippers once purged, “no more conscience of sins.”
Have you, my dear friends, such a clearance by the blood of Christ as gives you “no more” conscience of sins? How rare a thing it is to find a child of God freed from all burden or doubt! In a mere man there is no sign of hardness more terrible than to have “no” conscience of sins. The quickening work of the Holy Spirit produces the deepest sense of sins before God. But the effect of the work of Christ is that, while the sense of sin is awakened in the highest degree, the soul is delivered from all dread or anxiety, because of the judgment on the cross which our Lord has already borne. Faith rests on this as the word of God for one's own guilt. The soul at first believing on Christ has a deep and divinely given conscience of his sins; but he also believes what God wrought by Christ's cross to blot out sins and give peace with Himself. Thus it is he is so purged as to have no more conscience of sins. To doubt that they are effaced is to dishonor Christ's work, and God's grace.
Let it be observed in this case that there is no vagueness. The live goat is most definite in its application. We hear confessed over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins. It is not mere piece-meal work; not just thus far and no farther; not 999 sins out of a thousand, or even 9999 out of ten thousand. Far be it from our hearts to make light of that which is abhorrent to the very nature of God, of which we now partake, as the apostle Peter lets us know. He that is born of God sinneth not, as says John. But there is on the one hand the fact that we have sin, and we did sin. Any endeavor either to deny sin in us, (1 John 1:88If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)) and that we have sinned (10), or to make an apology for it, is as obnoxious to God as destructive morally. On the other hand, God has brought in Christ to annul sin from the universe finally, as He now does for every one that believes. But sacrifice (prefiguring Christ's) was the way of Abel by faith. It was the way of Cain to offer the fruits of the earth, wholly indifferent to the curse of God, as if He were as oblivious of sin as such an offerer is. Certainly such a one soon betrayed murderous hatred of him who was accepted when himself was refused. No hatred is so deep as against God's light and love.
Alas! it is the too constant history of souls, that when they find themselves and their worship unacceptable to God, they turn away in despair, and seek to bury themselves in the pursuits and hopes and enjoyments of the world. This was “the way of Cain.” If you, on the other hand, have been awakened to feel your sins and your sinfulness, have you now “no more conscience of sins”? This is what the apostle Paul contrasts as a Christian privilege of the first magnitude with an Old Testament worshipper resting on his annual sacrifices. Their effect was temporal; consequently they had to be repeated, whenever the anxious calls of another year arose. This could not perfectly suit either God or man. No adequate sacrifice had yet abolished sin before Him; an inadequate one could not make the comers thereunto perfect. Once the worshippers were divinely purged, they had no more conscience of sins.
This is what alone meets God and the believer, a basis of righteousness, where the Christian is perfectly cleansed. One is not now speaking of his being dead and risen with Christ, which line of truth does not occur in the Epistle to the Hebrews; still less is there any question of being members of Christ. A more fundamental need is met by the sacrifice of Christ, which none can overlook without loss and danger, not to speak of the fresh and deep interest with which it invests the Old Testament. In Heb. 2 we are “all of one;” but we are nowhere there exactly said to be one spirit with the Lord. The body of Christ and the baptism of the Spirit are not revealed there. It never rises up to the revelation that we are one with Christ—members of the body of which He is the Head on high. Indeed to have introduced that truth in the Epistle to the Hebrews would have been wholly out of harmony; because the Spirit here occupies us with the divine idea of the sacrifices and the priesthood. Such are the two pillars of the Epistle to the Hebrews, resting on the personal glory of our Lord, Son of God and Son of man in one person. Hence, instead of learning that we are one with Him glorified, we are taught in all its force that He died for our sins, and that He now appears before the face of God for us. “For us” and “head of the body” are two totally different departments of truth. It would have brought in complete confusion to have mingled them in the same communication.
The same writer, one does not doubt, was inspired by God to make both known; for all should explode the precarious theories, old or new, that Barnabas, or Titus, or Silas or anybody else than the great apostle Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is not a mere question of tradition which is never sure; but holy scripture (2 Peter 3) intimates it clearly. However differing in style as being addressed to Christian Israelites, below the surface it bears the intrinsic marks of Paul most thoroughly in its depth, height, and comprehensive sweep. For instance we see from the very beginning Christ in heaven in the full rights of His work on earth. There He is seated at the right hand of the majesty on high. It is not that He is traced up to heaven merely as by Peter; but there He is found throughout the whole Epistle. It was thus that Paul was converted; he only saw Christ in heaven. Therefore it is that he calls the good news the gospel of Christ's glory—the glory of God in Christ's face. It was so that it pleased God to reveal His Son in Paul who learned that to persecute His saints was to persecute Him. The Epistle to the Hebrews bears the imprint just as strongly as any other, though in a remarkably different form, as from the apostle of the uncircumcision writing to the circumcision.
What we gather from Hebrews then—returning to the great truth before us—is, that God would give the Christian the distinct knowledge that all his sins are so completely gone that he is already free to draw near habitually into the holiest of all. How could the witness to that clearance be represented so well as in a figure of a live animal—the second goat—charged with all the iniquities and transgressions and sins confessed upon its head, and, by a man appointed, or in readiness, to be sent into a solitary land, i.e. let go in the wilderness?
You must drop from your mind all thoughts of resurrection here. It is well known that some are disposed to see the resurrection in the type. It seems rather a taking thought that, as with the two birds in the cleansing of the leper (Lev. 14), so as we have had in the first goat death, resurrection should follow in the live goat. But when the matter is looked into somewhat more closely, it will be found that the interpretation will not really hold. When Christ rose from the dead, it was in view of His going to heaven, whereas the live goat here is sent into the wilderness. But the wilderness cannot represent a scene of glory: heaven is anything but a land that is not inhabited. No; resurrection has no place whatever in this type; which is just God giving a lively figure of the dismissal of the sins that were confessed, to where they could never be found again.
It is beyond controversy that in the New Testament the resurrection of Christ is treated as the blessed proof that our sins are remitted: as it is said, “He was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification.” But we must be content with the type that God has given us here. We must not interweave truths that are really distinct by a forced connection of our own. It is quite enough to say that, as the sequel of Jehovah's lot, we have here the people's lot; and that in this case the sins, confessed by the high priest and laid on the head of the scape-goat, are by this most significant action sent away never to be found more. If this be really what is intended by it, certainly it cannot be denied to be of the deepest moment to souls. (continued)