He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat.
When he finishes atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat. Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:7-10, 20-22)
We have been blaming and scapegoating ever since Adam blamed Eve for enticing him to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree and Eve blamed the serpent for tricking her. Blame is the stock of trade of all religion and is built into the very fabric of our fallen psyche.
If we are honest, all of us are deeply infected with this vice. We easily slip into the spirit of finding fault with someone that we want to blame for our problems. And as we confide in someone else and they share in our spirit, we find a camaraderie that gives us something of a sense of peace, of self-justification that we are vindicated in accusing someone of being the source of our problems. We think that the more people who join us and agree with our complaints that the more right we must be. This is actually a very effective way to bring about a sense of unity. But what we often do not realize is that all we are doing is joining into union with the spirit of the one who has been titled the accuser – the satan.
Interestingly, much of the activity of the sanctuary system revolved around shifting the blame for sin from one to another. All the sacrifices in that system were examples by God of what we are doing inside our hearts and minds anyway. We are always looking for any way possible to get out from under the shame, guilt and condemnation that our sins bring onto us. So God provides a lamb, a heifer, a goat – anything that we might use to shift the blame for our sins onto so that we can begin to feel more free, more hopeful to keep living and keep on growing.
But what's with the scapegoat? Every other sacrifice in the sanctuary system is killed except for the scapegoat. It is generally accepted that all of those other sacrifices represent the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. But there is much debate as to what the scapegoat is supposed to represent. And why does the scapegoat get off so easy while all the other animals end up being killed? After all, being released into the wilderness alive at least gives it a chance to survive if it can find nourishment and shelter of some sort. Goats are very resourceful you know, so how does this scenario of releasing a scapegoat alive into the wilderness after dumping all the blame for all the sins of all the people on it reveal something about how God resolves our sin problem that keeps us afraid and distant from Him?
Take a fresh look at something Jesus said that maybe we have not considered thoughtfully enough.
Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:34-36)
Does this sound a bit like scapegoating? Is Jesus here telling us that God is going to blame the people who put His own Son to death, not just for that act of high treason against the government of heaven but will in addition add to their account all of the murders that have ever taken place since the very first martyr when Cain killed Abel? The murder of Abel was provoked when his faithfulness to God aroused Cain's fury because it highlighted his own feelings of guilt. Is God now seen as stooping to indulge in the blame game just as we are so prone to do? Or is something very different here being presented by Jesus that may come as a shock to all who begin to see it?
By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? (Isaiah 53:8)
There is no doubt that those who rejected the Son of God because His love and purity so offended them that they had to get rid of him. There is no doubt that they deserved to be punished, at least according to our standard of justice. Clearly they reflected and even amplified the spirit that had inspired Cain and everyone else who had reacted with violence to God's messengers throughout history. In fact, by torturing and murdering God Himself in the flesh, they took the crimes of previous generation to critical mass by committing the worst crime possible – deicide – the murder of of deity.
But the real question here is not whether or not those who killed Christ should be found guilty of all the other murders than had gone before, but rather whether God will engage in the blame game and threaten to wreak revenge on them for such a horrific crime. Does God ever play the blame game? Are there crimes that are simply too awful for God to forgive? Or is it possible that the words of Jesus while they were finishing up their horrific act against Him on the cross – Father, forgive them – actually believable?
What I am coming to discover is that God is radically different than we have made Him out to be. The way that God consistently deals with sinners has never changed and never will. What needs to change however, is our opinions about how God intends to win the struggle between good and evil and His real disposition towards sinners of every level of guilt.
See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. Just as there were many who were astonished at him--so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals-- so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. (Isaiah 52:13-15 NRSV)
By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:8-12 NRSV)
This passage about kings shutting their mouths has been long overlooked, partly because we have not grasped the true nature of God's scandalizing disposition toward sinners. We have been so influenced by dark misapprehensions about God leftover from hundreds of years of tradition and lies about God introduced into religion that we have failed to appreciate the power and extent of God's grace and the true nature of His forgiveness. But when we begin to catch a glimpse of God's heart and His true intentions and the intensity of His passionate love for every sinner, we too will find ourselves covering our mouths in astonished amazement that God would ever dare to go as far as He is willing to do in order to bring about reconciliation with those who have hated Him and trashed His reputation.
There is very little dispute by any serious believers in the gospel that Jesus is our sin-bearer. But notice that in the case of the scapegoat how the passage points out that all of the sins of all of the people and all the priests and their families – lots and lots of 'alls' included in these verses – are all placed upon the head of this live goat. Notice too, that the instructions were that Aaron was in this instance to place both of his hands on the head of the goat, a very unusual move as in every other instance the priest used only one hand to lay on the head of the sacrificial victim.
In my cursory search for any other instances of using both hands, the only instance I could find in the Bible was this verse which only reinforces the association with wickedness of using both hands.
The godly person has perished from the land, and there is no upright person among men. All of them lie in wait for bloodshed; each of them hunts the other with a net. Concerning evil, both hands do it well. The prince asks, also the judge, for a bribe, and a great man speaks the desire of his soul; so they weave it together. The best of them is like a briar, the most upright like a thorn hedge. The day when you post your watchmen, your punishment will come. Then their confusion will occur. (Micah 7:2-4)
So, what if we consider the possibility that maybe Jesus could be seen not only as the sacrificial lamb/goat/bullock or whatever else might be offered, but that in a very strange twist He also takes upon Himself the role of the scapegoat. After all, He is the one who takes on all the sins of the entire human race as the Lamb of God, not just the sins of those who accept Him. But is it possible that not only was Jesus sacrificed to reveal the heart of the Father overflowing with nothing but love for lost sinners, but He is also the one who is willing to take upon Himself all of the blame for all of the sins of every last person who has ever lived – including those who killed Him directly?
In reality are not those two things nearly synonymous anyway? Is it possible that Jesus is saying here that it is true that the generation of people who put Him to death rightly deserves the blame for all the similar deaths that have occurred throughout all of history? But is He also saying that instead of laying that crushing weight of guilt upon any other humans, that Jesus offers Himself to become the scapegoat for all of us, the goat that is sent away never expected to return so that all of us can feel relief from our sins and can then embrace the offer of full atonement with God?
But wait, that's not all of it yet! In the OT sanctuary service the scapegoat was released into the wilderness and when it was all over everyone involved got washed up and assumed that the whole ordeal was now over. All the sins from all of the year had finally been disposed of and everyone now had a clean slate to be at peace with God.
But consider this scenario. What if our scapegoat, the one that we have pinned the blame on for everything that has gone wrong, so we don't have to live under all that blame and shame any longer –what if that scapegoat were to come back someday? How would we react when the person we have accused and blamed and vilified for all the problems we are experiencing suddenly walks around the corner and we realize they have heard everything we have been saying about them? How do we react then?
This of course is the worst nightmare that haunts us. It is one thing to shift all of our responsibility and guilt for all of our problems and sins onto somebody else, which is after all, the natural disposition of our fallen nature anyway. Amazingly God has in fact provided a means by which we can do just that. He has provided both a Lamb and a scapegoat who has already taken all of the blame. And God has done all of this for one purpose; to restore us into a trust relationship with Him, the real meaning of at-one-ment. This is His means for reconciliation.
But what happens if the very one whom we have dumped on, the one we blamed and shamed and shifted all of our guilt, shame, condemnation and sin to and then sent as far away as possible – what if suddenly one day He suddenly shows up again and there is no way to hide from Him? What will be our reaction and our emotions if indeed this were to actually occur?
In reality that is exactly what is going to happen. The Scapegoat is coming back again, and our disposition we form about Him now will determine how we will react when we meet Him then. What will make all the difference in how we will react when we encounter the return of the Scapegoat who took on Himself all of our guilt and sin is how we have come to perceive and believe about the core disposition of the One who assumed that role.
If we believe that the Son of God who took upon Himself all the sins of the world, is coming back to exact vengeance for all the pain and suffering and shame that we have caused Him, then when He appears we will instinctively react with overwhelming terror and will find ourselves among those whose reaction will be to cry out for boulders to crash down on us and end our existence rather than face what we are certain is an angry Lamb bent on revenge. (see Rev. 6:15-16)
On the other hand, if we have come to see that the Lamb of God who assumed all of our guilt and sin has left all of that garbage securely in the grave when He was resurrected to new life, we will see that all He wants to do when He returns is to bring us into intimate closeness with Him. If we are willing to trust His heart and have rejected the lies about Him that have made us afraid, then we can be prepared to meet Him with joy instead of terror. Then we can be among those who, because they have come to know the true heart of God as a loving Father instead of a debt-collector, will exclaim with delight, "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation." (Isaiah 25:9 NKJV)