Scapegoat

tree-goats

This morning, our internet was down.  Not the internet in the whole world, mind you, but in our house, it didn’t work.  I found myself doing Bible reading old school:  with my Bible in my lap.  However, my two eyes didn’t focus together. I still have the really great right eye contact lens and the just-shy-of-blindness left eye, lagging behind. I couldn’t read the words.  I picked up the hulking mass and held it out a little father away.  Maybe that would increase clarity.  Nope.

I read today’s selection from Leviticus in the original King James Version.  Oh boy.  As if Leviticus isn’t dry enough.  This was all about how sacrifices are supposed to go down. Then, to me, the most intriguing portion:

Aaron will present his own bull as a sin offering to purify himself and his family, making them right with the Lord. Then he must take the two male goats and present them to the Lord at the entrance of the Tabernacle. He is to cast sacred lots to determine which goat will be reserved as an offering to the Lord and which will carry the sins of the people to the wilderness of Azazel. Aaron will then present as a sin offering the goat chosen by lot for the Lord. The other goat, the scapegoat chosen by lot to be sent away, will be kept alive, standing before the Lord. When it is sent away to Azazel in the wilderness, the people will be purified and made right with the Lord. – Leviticus 16:6-10

The “reserved for the Lord” goat got sacrificed. After some blood-sprinkling from the Lord’s goat, the second goat enters the picture.  Why goats?  All the other sacrifices are cows, sheep, and birds.

“When Aaron has finished purifying the Most Holy Place and the Tabernacle and the altar, he must present the live goat. He will lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness. As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land. – Leviticus 16:20-22

In case you were wondering, God is relaying these instructions to Moses for Aaron. It all feels otherworldly to me.  I don’t live in this time period. Our sacrifices are very personal things, like giving money to a charity or time to mentor a child. No blood flows, as a general rule.

This goat driven into the wilderness will have to survive on its own.  What happens to it, out in the wild? Goats, I’ve read, are known for their lively and frisky behavior. They will nibble on most anything, but have definite preferences for woody shrubs and trees (wikipedia.com).  Their curiosity upon discovering new smells drives them to taste inedible things. They show unusual intelligence, too, with an ability to climb slanting trees or simply up and out of their pens.

Which begs the question, again, why goats? Does something untoward happen to the goat as soon as it’s set free from its leadline? This tells us how God hates sin, of course.  It must be driven out of the camp.  But is there more here?

I think goats personify what often gets us into sin in the first place:  curiosity.  What would it be like to…?  To quote the serpent, “Did God really say…?” (Genesis). The goat literally escapes from the camp, bearing the people’s iniquities. He became sin for the Israelites.

What do you think?

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