One of my favorite passages in the whole Bible is found in the book of Leviticus, Chapter 16. This is where God introduces His people, the Israelites (and those of us who would come to read the book later), to the idea of the scapegoat. This is also where we get our modern idea of the word “scapegoat” from, although the modern definition has sadly been changed to give it a more negative connotation. In its modern usage, it has mostly come to be known as someone who wrongly carries the blame for someone else’s wrongdoing. This situation often occurs in abusive relationships and among dysfunctional families. Hence, why the idea of a “scapegoat” is such a negative one.
But in the biblical context, a scapegoat is a beautiful thing. Take a few minutes and read this passage, if you’re not familiar with it. God instructed Moses, the leader of the Hebrews, and his brother Aaron to select two goats every year to become part of an offering to God for the sake of His people. One would be killed as a sin offering to make up for the sins and wrongdoings of all the Israelites. Its blood would be sprinkled on God’s mercy seat at the Ark of the Covenant. Because of this sacrifice, God would have mercy on His people and forgive all their sins.
The second goat would be allowed to live. The High Priest would put his hands on the goat’s head and confess the sins of the people, thereby symbolically transferring their sins to this goat. The goat (which came to be known as the scapegoat) would then be set free into the wilderness.
The Hebrews typically tied a red strip of cloth to the scapegoat to represent the sin of the people that was atoned for by the blood sprinkled on the mercy seat. Jewish Talmudic tradition reports that this red stripe would eventually turn white as a signal of God’s acceptance of the offering. So, this scapegoat, while it did take on blame that wasn’t its own, was actually doing something really good for the Jewish people. And it didn’t suffer as horrible a fate as we usually ascribe to human scapegoats.
But the scapegoat story gets even better later on (for us)…thousands of years after the practice began. The Talmuds verify that after Yeshua was crucified, God no longer accepted the sin offering or the scapegoat offered by the Jewish High Priests. According to the Talmuds:
Forty years before the Temple was destroyed (30 A.D.) the chosen lot was not picked with the right hand, nor did the crimson stripe turn white, nor did the westernmost light burn; and the doors of the Temple’s Holy Place swung open by themselves, until Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai spoke, saying: “O most Holy Place, why have you become disturbed? I know full well that your destiny will be destruction, for the prophet Zechariah ben Iddo has already spoken regarding you saying: ‘Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour the cedars’ (Zech. 11:1).'” (Talmud Bavli, Yoma 39b)
Look at that date again – 30 A.D., which was 40 years before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. It was also the same year that Yeshua was crucified. That’s pretty amazing. Yeshua was the final sin offering and the last scapegoat, who bore all the sins of all mankind on Himself!
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:11-15, NAS)