Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. (Leviticus 16:8-9)
After presenting a sin offering for himself and his household, the next step in the service called for the selection of a he-goat for the national sin offering and a he-goat that was to be sent to Azazel, i.e. the scapegoat. Tradition teaches that two goats, similar in size and appearance, would be brought to priests who would then assign the goats to their specific purpose by lots. Facing the Sanctuary, and with one goat on his left and one on his right, the High Priest would draw lots. The lot drawn with the right hand would determine the fate of the goat on his right, and the one drawn with his left hand determined the purpose for the goat on the left.
One of the lots was inscribed with the words, “For the LORD” while the other was inscribed with the words, “For Azazel.” When the lot “For the LORD” was drawn, whether by the right or left hand, and the goat designated “For the LORD” had been assigned to its fate, a scarlet thread was tied around its neck signifying that it was to be the sin offering. Likewise, a scarlet cord would be tied to the head of the goat that was sent to Azazel — a word said to mean, “mighty” or “strength.”
Why were there two goats, and more specifically, what purpose did the scapegoat serve? These are the primary questions that arise when studying the Yom Kippur service. It seems clear that the he-goat offered to the LORD served, as I said earlier, as the national sin offering. Its blood and sacrifice acknowledged the sins of the nation as a collective and, consequently, its’ need for forgiveness. In short, when God received this offering, it signified the removal of the guilt of sin from their midst.
Where the scapegoat is concerned, having the sins of the nation transferred upon its head and then sent away, it is clear that this goat was never to return. In fact, to ensure this goal, tradition teaches that this goat was pushed over a cliff. In other words, this goat having burdened with the sins of the nation was sent outside of the camp signifying the removal of sin’s presence. However, this part of the process was not officiated by the High Priest but by another who the Bible calls “an appointed man.”
The point is this: it is needful for the guilt of our sin to be removed and, just as importantly, the presence of sin must be removed from our life. Messiah’s sacrifice removed the guilt of our sin, however, we are the ones who bear the responsibility to make sure the presence of sin stays far away from our household. To this end, we have all been “appointed” to live a holy life and to remain on guard lest “Azazel” use its “strength” and try to butt its way into our life again. It is one thing — and a good thing — to be remorseful over our sin but we must also be vigilant to make certain that the sin which so easily besets us never dominates our life again. I’ll put it this way: we must throw Azazel over the cliff once and for all.
Blessings and Shalom,