Every year, around Easter I get to thinking about the Day of Atonement described in detail in Leviticus 16. The reasons are manifold and obvious as believers are meant to make the rich connections between the elaborate act made by the High Priest to atone annually for the sins of God’s people and the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, the full and final atonement, the one to which all the others had been pointing all along.
Aaron (and then the appointed High Priest who would replace him in succession) was to dress in linen, tie a linen sash around his waist, cover his head and go through elaborate cleaning rituals in preparation to enter into the Holy of Holies, the place where God’s shekinah glory dwelt. A series of animals were involved in the Day of Atonement, but my mind has been dwelling on the scapegoat of late.
Two goats were selected, but were meant to show two sides of one sacrifice. Lots were drawn to see which goat would be a sacrifice and which would be the scapegoat. The first goat was to be slain to expiate (do penance, redress, offset) for the sins of the people. The second goat was to live and be sent away to the wilderness to show the full removal of the sins from the people.
“Aaron shall lay both hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their trangressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who sits in readiness. The goat shall bear all the iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16: 21-22).
Poor goat, right? Notice the word all repeated in the above verses. All the transgressions, all the iniquities, all their sins. Just mine from one day of Spring Break parenting could crush a poor goat. Yet, this little guy was to bear it all and carry it far away from the people.
The Hebrew word describing “a man who sits in readiness” is used only here in the entirety of Scriptures. Some have translated it as a wise man or a man who is familiar with the wilderness. While they are surely brighter than me, I wonder if the man of readiness might not also point to our Jesus.
The fit man, the man of the hour, the man at the ready to carry our sins as far from us as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12). Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, ready in the wings to step onto the human stage via the miraculous condescension of the Incarnation. Jesus, the One who would fulfill all that happened on the Day of Atonement once and for all. He would be priest and sacrifice and scapegoat.
In my heart and mind this week, I have been imagining Jesus as the one who led the scapegoats away every year, but with a twist. After He has led them far away from the people, He lays his own two scarred hands on their heads and takes the sins cast upon them onto Himself.
While this is conjecture and poetic imagery, I do think that the images line up with the character of God as seen most clearly on the Cross.
The Goat Gatherer
All those centuries of scapegoats,
Heavy laden with our weight,
For laid upon their heads was
The collection of our hate.
Cast out as the substitute,
Year by year on Atonement day,
One lucky yet unlucky goat
To the wilderness was sent away.
A fit and timely chosen man
Led out the poor scapegoat,
God hates sin, loves sinners,
So sin must be remote.
Yet the goats were loved by the
One to whom they pointed,
For on His head one day,
All sins would be appointed.
Gently touching the goats,
He took all the weight on Him,
He gathered all the scapegoats
Receiving their burdens grim.
At the tender, scarred touch,
The goats in gladness leapt.
For He the True Scapegoat
Even other scapegoats kept.