Azazel and the Day of Atonement
Ellen White taught that Christ’s work of redemption was not completed on the cross, but is still in progress in the heavenly sanctuary, “…instead of coming to the earth at the termination of the 2300 days in 1844, Christ then entered the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary to perform the closing work of atonement,” 1 “Now while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to become perfect in Christ.” 2
At the end of this process, the sins of the redeemed will be placed on Satan’s head, “It was seen, also, that while the sin offering pointed to Christ as a sacrifice, and the high priest represented Christ as a mediator, the scapegoat typified Satan, the author of sin, upon whom the sins of the truly penitent will finally be placed.” 3
This teaching appears to be based on the interpretation of one single chapter of the Bible (Leviticus 16), and within this, on the meaning of a single word (Azazel). In this article, therefore, the role of Azazel in the atonement will be examined briefly.
The word Azazel occurs only in this chapter (four times: Lev. 16: 8, 10 (twice), 26), in the whole Bible. It can therefore be considered “hapax legomenon.” No-one knows the original meaning of the word for sure. It has been interpreted in several ways, and these will be examined below. For the time being, it is noted that there are two types of theory:
Leviticus 16:8 says, “He is to cast lots for the two goats – one lot for the Lord and the other for Azazel.” The Hebrew “ la‘ăz’ázél” has two possible meanings: for Azazel or as Azazel.
Therefore, the two possibilities:
1. The goat is for Azazel.
2. Azazel is the name of the goat.
If the assumption is made that the atonement is still in progress, and Azazel is a name for Satan, then according to these two alternatives:
1. The scapegoat is a type of Jesus, and sometime in the future, he will take our sins to Satan in the desert (verse 21).
With regard to this, Ballenger, a former Adventist, writes, “Those who make the scapegoat to represent Christ, have no opportunity to throw stones on this occasion, for they make Jesus Christ, after he has risen from the dead, and is freed from sin, -- they make him so unclean that he must be driven forever from the camp of Israel, and separated from his people for whom he died; and that is too abhorrent to be entertained for a moment.” 4
He is right that Jesus will not bear sin once more in the future. “So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9: 28). The high priest, however, places the sins on the scapegoat’s head.
2. The scapegoat itself is a type of Satan (as taught by Ellen White – see above). There are several problems with this:
“From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.” (Lev. 16: 5). This teaching makes Satan into a sacrifice for sin, as both goats are for a sin offering.
“But the goat chosen by lot for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert for Azazel.” (verse 10). According to this, Satan would be used to make atonement.
“He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place.” (verse 21-22). If the goat is Satan, he not only gets the sins dumped on his head, but also bears sin away. This appears no-where in the Bible.
Just to comment that Walter Martin writes, “This writer is convinced that the Adventist concept of the scapegoat in connection with the Day of Atonement, the sanctuary and the investigative judgement is a bizarre combination of prophetic interpretation and typology; but it is by no means the soul-destroying doctrine that many people think it is.” 5 They do not wish to assert that Satan is a sacrifice for sin! However, this does appear to be an inevitable consequence of their views.
In connection with typology, surely an Old Testament type must have a New Testament antitype? If the scapegoat is Satan, then this is not the case.
According to the Bible, the above are all the work of Jesus: “… redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood…” (Romans 3: 24-25); “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree…” (1 Peter 2: 24).
The following logical steps may therefore be taken:
1. If the atonement is not finished, then the scapegoat cannot be Jesus.
2. The scapegoat can only be Jesus.
3. Therefore, the atonement has been finished.
Further indications of the completed atonement:
· “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19: 30).
· “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1: 3).
· “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” (Heb. 10: 12).
· “But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb. 9: 26).
· “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb. 9: 12).
By the way, Ellen White also writes, “The sacrifice in behalf of man was full and complete. The condition of the atonement had been fulfilled,” 6 “To the angels and the unfallen worlds the cry, ‘It is finished,’ had a deep significance. It was for them as well as for us that the great work of redemption had been accomplished. They with us share the fruits of Christ’s victory.” 7
Let us now consider the Azazel interpretations.
1. The Hebrew word is ‘ăz’ázél. This could be a variant on the word ‘ăzálzél which would mean perfect, complete removal. The LXX translation has “του αποπομπαιου” – for sending away.
2. The word can be divided as follows: ‘éz = goat, ’ázal = to remove (the consonants of the Hebrew text remain unchanged.) Therefore ‘ăz’ázél = goat of removal. This is the same concept as in point 1.
In these, Azazel is the name of the goat.
According to the following, the goat is sent to Azazel:
3. Azazel is the place where the goat is sent. Some Jewish writers consider it to be the height from which the goat was thrown. Others regard the word as indicating a “desert place.” – see Lev. 16: 21-22.
4. Many believe Azazel to be a personal being, who is either a demon or Satan himself. This thought is found in the apocryphal book of Enoch. It is possible that Origen adopted this position, as he taught that, to make atonement, Jesus paid a ransom to Satan when he died on the cross. The Cabalists (an occult Jewish group) teach that God sent the goat burdened with sins to this being, to appease it and save Israel from its snares. This concept must be distinguished from the Adventist teaching, as the goat is not a symbol of the demon here, but the goat is sent to the demon.
The identification of Azazel is certain to remain in dispute, but it is unlikely that Moses, under the leading of God, teaches Israel to bribe a wilderness demon with the gift of a sin-laden goat.
This author prefers the “goat of removal” interpretation, for the following reasons:
1. This is the meaning of the Hebrew word.
2. This agrees with the Septuagint translation.
3. This concept can be supported from other verses. For example: “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103: 12), “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1. 29).
Based on the above, this author asserts that the two male goats in the Day of Atonement ceremonies represent two aspects of the work which Jesus accomplished on the cross. One sacrifice would not have been enough to represent this satisfactorily. The LORD’s goat sheds its blood and dies for sin, but it is not written that it bears sin. The Azazel goat on the other hand, bears sin and removes it.
Hebrews is the New Testament book which deals most thoroughly with the significance of the Day of Atonement. The two aspects of Jesus’ work are to be found together in the following verse, “so Christ was sacrificed once (the LORD’s goat) to take away the sins of many people (the scapegoat); and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9: 28).
1. E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 422.
2. E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 623.
3. E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 422.
4. A. F. Ballenger, Cast out for the cross of Christ, 1909.
5. W. Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, p. 589.
6. E. G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 29.
7. E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 758.
Biblia, Református Zsinati Iroda, 1989.
NIV Study Bible.
Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, DBG, 1988.
The NIV Triglot Old Testament, Zondervan, 1981.
M. F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Moody Press, 1988.
B. Davidson, The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, Zondervan, 1970.