“Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. Leviticus 16:7-10.
This ceremony was part of the Sin Offering made during the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year for the Jews. Two male goats were selected by casting of lots. One, representing the LORD, was slain to picture the Messiah’s coming substitutionary death and the other, representing Azazel, was sent to the wilderness to (perhaps) represent the removal of sin, although the representation of this goat is not clear.
What exactly is Azazel? There have been three theories. The first is that it is a combination word meaning “goat” (az) and “shake” or “sent away” (azel), hence the translation in some translations as “scapegoat”. The second is that the word is the place to which the goat was sent; a desert, solitary place, or a high place. The third is that Azazel is the name of an especially wicked fallen angel.
Many ancient writings, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Enoch (not ultimately included in the Scriptures but quoted by Jude and considered Scripture by many of the early Church Fathers), mention Azazel as one of the leaders of the rebellious fallen Watchers (angels) in the time preceding the flood; he taught men the art of warfare, taught women the art of deception by ornamenting the body, dyeing the hair, and painting the face and the eyebrows, and also revealed to the people the secrets of witchcraft. In general, he was said to have led the people into wickedness and impurity until at last he was, at Yahweh’s command, bound hand and foot by the archangel Raphael and chained to the rough and jagged rocks of Dudael (east of Jerusalem) where he is to abide in utter darkness until the great Day of Judgement when he will be cast into the fire to be consumed forever.
Whatever the Azazel goat was a reference to, in this Easter season we can rejoice that Christ came to die on the cross, took on himself our sins, and had His blood shed for our sins. The final Sin Offering has been made and our sins have been redeemed forever!