There is a mystery in Leviticus 16. It is a mystery surrounding the scapegoat. It is something I have been thinking about for quite some time, and today, I’m just going to share a few thoughts about it with you.
The scapegoat in Leviticus 16 is, indeed, quite a mystery... even to most scholars. Nobody seemed to know what the name given to this scapegoat, "Azazel," meant. The English Standard Version of the Bible includes this footnote: "The meaning of Azazel is uncertain; possibly the name of a place or a demon, traditionally a scapegoat. Most scholars accept the indication of some kind of demon or deity."
In the Hebrew interlinear Bible, it says the name comes from two words: "aze," meaning a female goat, and "azal," meaning to go away. So, literally, it would mean the goat of removal. That would make sense, for this was the goat that was used to "take away" the sins of the Israelites and carry them into the desert.
The more I thought about this scapegoat, however, the more intrigued I became. I knew that the entire sanctuary system pointed to God, especially to Christ. Every single thing in the temple was a symbol of Him: the bread, the lampstand, the sacrificial lamb, and even the priest! It was all designed to help us understand that God wants us to bring our sin problem to Him. He has taken on the responsibility of dealing with it!
Thus, I wondered if the scapegoat might also have a significant tie-in with Christ. This goat was symbolic of the thing or the person that:
1. Takes away, or carries away, our sin. (Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.)
2. Removes our sin from us. (If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.)
3. Was led away to die alone. (My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?!)
Whether we’re ever ready to declare that Christ is also the scapegoat, it’s evident that there are some striking symbolic parallels here! Not to mention that when John the Baptist announced the arrival of Jesus, he shouted, "Behold! The Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world."
But I wanted to dig a little more. I was still intrigued by the name "Azazel," shrouded as it was in mystery. From some previous study, I remembered that "El" was one of the names of God in the Old Testament. I also remembered hearing that the Old Testament scrolls were written with "consonants" only... which is one reason why there can be different opinions on which words to use at times.
Knowing that "El" was the name of God used in the Old Testament, I was curious to find out if "azaz" was a word. So I looked it up in the Hebrew lexicon. Imagine my surprise upon finding out that "azaz" is a Hebrew word! It means "strong." Wow! Was it possible that "Azazel," the goat of removal, means "Strong God"?
I wish I could give you a definitive answer, but I’m not a Hebrew scholar. All I know is that there are too many parallels for me to simply overlook, especially when everything else in the sanctuary system points to Christ. At the end of the day, what I do know is that — scapegoat or not — we definitely serve an azaz El who continually invites us to bring all of our problems to Him. He has the solutions. He is the solution! And He is eager to infuse His strength into our lives.