Who Is Azazel?

Q.  Re: Leviticus 16:7-10.  I was reading Leviticus 16 as it refers to the use of a goat as a sin offering.  Some English translations use the word goat and others use azazel.  Who is Azazel? Why is a goat sent away for him into the wilderness? What does this mean?

A.  Azazel is a Hebrew word usually translated scapegoat in English.  It only appears 4 times in the Bible and all of them are in Leviticus 16.  In the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) ceremony that Leviticus 16 describes, two goats were brought before the High Priest.  One goat was chosen by lot to symbolically bear the sins of the people and became the scapegoat (azazel). The other one became the peace offering. (The Hebrew language uses the word saiyr for that one.  It’s the word more commonly used for goat.)

The role of the scapegoat was just as the word implies, to be assigned the blame for something someone else did.  The sins of the people were symbolically transferred to the scapegoat and it was sent into the wilderness. This symbolized separating the people from their sins.  Once that was accomplished, the other goat was offered as a peace offering and Israel’s peace with God was restored. This happened every year in the fall, 10 days after the New Year.

When Jesus came, He fulfilled the role of both goats.  He bore the sins of the people (2 Cor. 5:21) and He restored our peace with God (Colossians 1:19-20). But unlike the goats, who had to be sacrificed every year and could only set aside sins the people had committed in the past, Jesus offered Himself once for all time and made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:12-14).

There are some non-Biblical sources that indicate Azazel was the name of a demon, or even Satan, but the Bible offers no confirmation of this myth.

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