The problem is that in the majority of translations, the word Azazel is translated as scapegoat so the reader does not really know anymore who the goat is or who is the Azazel. We will find out from our text of Leviticus 16 that the Azazel is in fact, not the goat. To avoid much confusion from the translation, let us read from the Schocken Bible, a Jewish literal translation of the Torah. Here the text becomes clearer and the message is indeed very powerful.
“He [Aaron, the High Priest] shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. One lot for YHWH and one lot for Azazel, And the goat for which the lot of Azazel came up is to be left standing-alive, before the presence of YHWH, to effect-atonement upon it, to send it away to Azazel into the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:7-10)
We are told in vs. 10 that this goat was to effect atonement. But how? This goat is not sacrificed. There is no blood that is sprinkled or applied anywhere. The only thing we are told is that it went to Azazel in the wilderness. But how it effects atonement, we are not told, so we are brought to look elsewhere. Furthermore, just before Aaron was to let go of the live goat, we read in vs.21-22: “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.”
So, this goat is very important for it carries all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions. Who must this goat represent that it would take the iniquity of the nation of Israel? The story cuts short and the only other thing we are told is that this goat goes to Azazel, to a solitary land…in the wilderness.
Where or what then is Azazel?
The first thing to do is to realize that the word scapegoat is not in the original text; it is a translation of the name Azazel which is no goat at all! How then did the word scapegoat come to us? It first appeared in the Tyndale translation in the 1530 and was then adopted by the KJV and other translations. These translators understood the name of Azazel as being made up of two words; ʿez, “goat,” and “azal, “to go away,” so it is “the goat that goes away” or the scapegoat.
There is a rabbinical understanding based on Leviticus 17:7 where they believe that Azazel is a demon, perhaps the chief demon, whom we know as Satan. The conclusion is also based on the location of where this occurs, that is, in the wilderness which is often described as the abode of demons.
If the Azazel represents the forces of evil, then the goat symbolizes the Messiah who goes right to it to confront it. In many ways He is a scapegoat for this goat not only takes the blame for the actions of others as the word scapegoat means, but so much more in that this Goat which typifies the Messiah, takes the iniquities and the transgressions of Israel (and the world) on Himself, when confronting Azazel.
Leviticus says that the goat takes the sin of the people of Israel, and so does Isaiah when speaking of the Messiah in Isaiah 53:8 He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, He was stricken.
The Goat symbolizes the Messiah when He went to confront the Azazel, but Leviticus does not tell us when and how the goat confronts the Azazel; it just cuts the story short.
The question then is; When will the actual confrontation and the atonement for the sins of the people of Israel be effected? It seems to be an on-going confrontation that will end when the Azazel will be finally and forever be locked up.
But perhaps the greatest struggle between the Goat and Azazel was in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The crucifixion was only a few hours away, and Yeshua reached a most critical point in His life, not only on earth but for all eternity, because at this very moment He was the closest to experiencing sin, to taking upon Himself all the sins of world, all the sins that were ever committed in history. He did not know what it was going to be like, for He was completely sinless.
The evil forces and the Azazel must have then invested their best resources and gathered their highest powers for the occasion, as they were all concentrating on just One Man, Yeshua, to attempt to stop Him from going on the cross. This was their objective.
Imagine the pressure, think of the power of the combined forces of all these spirits and the devil in the forefront. Yet, it was in Gethsemane where evil would begin to find its weaknesses, even its end. There, this force faced Yeshua, Who is much bigger than Azazel.
It is here where we see the outworking of the statement: Love is strong as death, where Love conquers death. It all begins in the Garden of Gethsemane and then on the Tav, the cross, where Yeshua seals evil’s fate through His death and resurrection.
But it was not the end yet; the end of Azazel is yet to come and we see it in Revelation 20:10. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
This is where we find the end of the story of Leviticus 16.
While Leviticus ends the story abruptly without telling how the goat takes on all the sins of Israel and of the world, the story of the Messiah takes over and gives us the end. This is the beautiful true tale of the Goat and Azazel.