A Fate Worse Than Death

Scapegoat

Yom Kippur, detailed in Leviticus 16, happened about a week and a half ago.  Historically, this was the day of the year when the high priest made atonement for the sins the people of the covenant had committed in the previous year.

This was the only day of the year that anyone was allowed to enter the most holy place.  Even then only the high priest was allowed, and only after he had made atonement for himself.

Each year, the high priest would kill a bull and a goat, using their blood to consecrate and make atonement for the Holy Place and the altar.  The bull also functioned as a means of atonement for the high priest himself as well as his family.

This goat that was killed was one of two goats used on this Day of Atonement.  When the goats were brought for the ceremony, one was chosen at random to be sacrificed, that is, to die.  The other, the infamous scapegoat, was to become the bearer of the sins of the people and released into the wilderness away from the people.

What the text actually says concerning this is, “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, 10 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.”

The word עֲזָאזֵל, transliterated Azazel, is not clearly understood.  One possibility is that the word means “absolute removal” as in the goat that is “for Azazel” is for absolute removal from the people.  This word has also been seen as a combination for the Hebrew words for rugged and strong and has been connected with Mount Azazel which was the supposed location at which the goat was released “into the wilderness”.  Azazel is also the name of a demonic figure referenced  in 1st Enoch and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Similarly, the concept of wilderness was tied to the ideas of chaos and disorder which were, in turn, associated with the absence of the presence of the Lord.  So, sending the goat “into the wilderness to Azazel” could be seen as sending this condemned creature to a demonic figure in a hellish place apart from the Lord.

This second goat, instead of dying a quick death at the hand of the high priest, was instead weighed down with the sin of the entire nation.  We may take this lightly, but that goat had the wrath of the Lord to contend with.  Certainly, in that sense, the scapegoat suffered a fate worse than death.

For a Messianic Jewish take on Yom Kippur, see this page.

For a psychological perspective, see this page.

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Chewing the Fat

bacon

In the first seven chapters of Leviticus, yes Leviticus, the people of the covenant are provided with a set of laws regarding ritual sacrifices.  These cover the purposes of the various types of sacrifice, what is to be sacrificed, and the procedures for each sacrifice.

Throughout these chapters, one of the most consistent instructions is to set aside the blood, fat, and entrails of the animals being sacrificed.  The people of the covenant are forbidden to eat the blood and/or fat of any animal, with the consequence of disobedience being separation from the community.

A reason for forbidding the eating of blood is explained in Leviticus 17:10-16, namely that the life of a creature is in its blood.  Note that this command is repeated throughout the Torah, and also is stated in Acts 15.

Entrails are to be set aside but are not forbidden to be eaten.  When entrails are mentioned in Leviticus, they are described as being fatty and covered in fat, and fat is forbidden.

As to fat itself, even the priests are not allowed to eat the fat of the animals they sacrifice as part of their portion.  Leviticus 3:16 even states explicitly, “All fat is the LORD’s.”

Here is the question:  Why are the people forbidden to eat fat?

Here is my answer:  I don’t know.

Nothing in the text provides an obvious answer.  Even in the wider context of the Bible as a whole, no clear explanation is given.

Nevertheless, much speculation on the question is available for a premium price at your local bookstore.

Or, for free, you could read some speculation here, here, here, and………….there.

Return of the Presence

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So the people of the covenant have escaped from Egypt, have evaded capture as they passed through the Red Sea, have been provided by God with food and water in the desert, have defeated a formidable army by the LORD’s blessing, and have finally reached Mt. Sinai.

What was the perspective of the people at this point? (Exodus 19-32)

–          Moses has gone up the mountain to something religiousy.

–          There seems to be a lot of heavy, dark cloud cover up there.

–          Random lightning strikes and thunder claps are happening on top of the mountain.

–          Moses said touching the mountain would result in death.

–          Moses is probably dead.

–          What now?

Though we know the story, and possess no doubt about the wellbeing of Moses, to the people of the covenant, all of this was new.  With Moses supposedly dead, nothing stood between the people and the overwhelming and terrifying presence of God.

One theory suggests that the people weren’t trying to replace God with the golden calf, but were trying to replace Moses, their advocate.  In this sense, the idol would have functioned as a go-between, insulating the people from the person and presence of God.

(On a side note, as Christians and particularly as Baptists, we often do the same thing.  Our golden calf is made of leather and paper, and deep down we feel it keeps us safe from having to deal personally with the infinitely sovereign, infinitely holy, infinitely intimate God we cannot control.)

Moses was not dead.  God was not amused.  People were slaughtered.

For a Jewish perspective on these events:  Check out this post.

For a Messianic Jewish perspective:  Check out this other post.