Understanding the Bible Meaning of Scapegoat
God Forgives and Forgets Sin
The scapegoat of Leviticus chapter 16 was one of two goats brought before Aaron to make atonement for the sins of Israel. In modern dictionaries the definition of scapegoat is a person who bears the sins of others, and is often viewed in a negative connotation. True, Aaron drew lots and one goat was sacrificed and the other was the scapegoat that went free while made to bear the iniquities of Israel.
However, that word “bear” is easily misunderstood. It does not imply the goat represents a type for someone found guilty, condemned, and sentenced to destruction. What happens to the scapegoat is the lesson that God forgives and forgets sin.
And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: Leviticus 16:21 (KJV)
And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:21 (KJV)
Bearing the guilt means “bear away”, or carry away, so the scapegoat is a type for the forgiveness of sins “never to be remembered”. Atonement was through the goat that was sacrificed while the scapegoat was taken to freedom deep into the wilderness and the iniquities that were carried away are gone forever. The phrase “putting them on the head” in verse 20 does not mean the goat was branded guilty. He was the one chosen to take away and dispose of the sins. When we repent sins are forgiven by God, and they are forgotten.
I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. Isaiah 43:25 (KJV)
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:34 (KJV)
Once Saved Does Not Mean Always Saved
The point behind repentence is renewing our commitment to Christ and acknowledging that we are still imperfect while in the flesh. Once saved does not mean always saved. Being a Christian is not a free pass to intentionally sin. Accepting Christ and repenting simply gives us a clean slate for that moment. The sins are erased and forgotten never to be remembered as documented above in Isaiah and Jeremiah. However, past sins are what are forgiven. Future sin is not, and our guilt will accumulate unless we repent and ask God for forgiveness.
Can a Christian lose their place in the Book of Life? Yes. If a person rejects the new life found when they accept Christ, and follows an intentional path of sin thinking they are saved and never repenting again, they risk being erased from the Book of Life. Repent, and the new sins that we inevitably commit are erased and forgotten. However, repenting after each bank robbery or murder in a life of crime is not going to be forgiven unless a person changes their ways and truly seeks to follow Christ.
The Hebrew word for scapegoat is azazel (az-aw-ZALE) and means “goat of departure”. The scapegoat is not found guilty and condemned to death or destruction. It is simply the bearer of sins that are taken away a long distance to be forgotten. Contrary to tradition as used in the modern definition of scapegoat, the scapegoat represents Christians renewed with a clean slate when they repent of their sins.
The true Christian living a life that is Christ centered and following His teachings will find peace and joy, and should never doubt if they are truly saved. Knowing repentence means that God will forgive and forget, we should not dwell on past mistakes. Being free of guilt feelings is part of what Christ wants us to enjoy.
On Judgment Day we will be held accountable for our sins. Those that we repented were and are forgotten, so being judged is a moment to anticipate with joy. Accepting Christ and living a life following the commandments and principles of the Bible should give you the guilt free confidence that you are truly saved.
When you do repent, don’t make the mistake of asking for forgiveness for sins a second time. God forgives and forgets. We should, too. This freedom from guilt feelings without worrying about eternal destruction may be the most important lesson in the Bible meaning of scapegoat. Peace and joy can be ours now.