God promises that he has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. They are gone. In fact, God’s use of the scapegoat in the Day of Atonement provides a perfect image of how our sins are removed from us. It also points us to Jesus!
34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”
29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.
7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.
20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.
Leviticus 16:34, 29-31, 7-10, 20-22
Once a year, the priest was to make sacrifice for himself and for the people of Israel to cleanse them from their sin – this was the Day of Atonement, which Jews still celebrate today (Yom Kippur). One of the great symbols of the Day of Atonement is the release of the scapegoat.
Two goats are brought before the Lord and one is offered as a sacrifice on the altar. The other is held by the priest, who confesses the sins of the people over the goat. All their sins are placed on the goat’s head, and once complete, someone takes that goat to a remote place where the goat is released to take the sins of the people into the wilderness.
There is a wonderful connection to Jesus, which we see in the book of Isaiah, chapter 53, in which Jesus is described as the one who took our pain and bore our suffering. The Lord, Isaiah says in 53:6, laid our iniquities (our sins) upon Jesus. Just like the scapegoat.
And didn’t Jesus feel like he was taken to the most remote place of isolation in the wilderness of his temptation (and yet the Spirit was with him)? He cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me!?” (Matthew 27:46) while he was hanging on the cross. Jesus was in that state of separation from the Father with whom he shares his deity. He was the scapegoat in that moment.
This was required for us to be forgiven our sins. In fact, God promises (Psalm 103:12) that he has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. They are gone. They are in the wilderness on the head of the scapegoat.
We can see why we use this term, scapegoat, to refer to an innocent upon whom guilt is placed. The scapegoat was God’s idea. And he made his own son our scapegoat so that we could be forgiven once for all. This day of our atonement is permanent and does not need to be repeated (Hebrews 10).
Thank you Jesus for being our scapegoat and once-for-all-time sacrifice for sins.