The origin of ‘azā’zēl (H5799) is uncertain. Some scholars think it combines the two Hebrew words ‘ēz, “goat,” and ‘āzal (not used in the OT), “to send away,” or ‘āzēl, “to go away.” Others think it comes from the Arabic ‘azāla, “to banish” or “to remove.” Whichever is correct, ‘azā’zēl is a vivid illustration of God’s forgiveness, appearing only four times in the OT, all in Leviticus 16 (Lev_16:8; Lev_16:10 [twice], Lev_16:26). (The concept of a scapegoat [short for “escape-goat”] is still used today to refer to someone taking the blame for someone else.)
On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the most sacred day in the Jewish community, the high priest selected two unblemished goats, one of which he killed and sprinkled its blood on the mercy seat. He took the other, laid his hands on it, confessed the sins of the nation, and then sent it into the wilderness.
Some scholars speculate, based on certain Jewish interpreters, that ‘azā’zēl is actually the proper name Azazel, which probably referred to a demon. Since one goat was “for God,” it is argued, the other was “released for Azazel.” Such a pagan concept, however, based on the mythology of the OT pseudepigraphal (“false writings”) Book of Enoch, is clearly unacceptable. Rather, the true picture of the scapegoat is that the sins of the people were carried away into the wilderness, never to be heard from again or held against them by God. “As far as the east is from the west,” David writes, “so far hath [God] removed our transgressions from us” (Psa_103:12).
As beautiful as that symbol was, however, it was still just that, a symbol. While it pictured taking away sin, it could not actually perform it. It would take something else to accomplish the miracle of taking away sin forever. What miracle? Isaiah alluded to it when he wrote, “And the LORD has laid on [Messiah] the iniquity of us all” (Isa_53:6). Then, John the Baptist declared it openly on the day he saw Jesus approaching: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Joh_1:29). Our Lord, therefore, was not only the perfect sacrificial lamb, but He was also the perfect scapegoat. He not only redeemed His people with His blood, but He also removed their sin forever.
Scriptures for Study: Read Isa_53:4-6; Isa_53:9-12, noting what Messiah would accomplish. What does 2Co_5:21 also declare about the Lord Jesus?