Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat.
Leviticus 16 describes the annual atonement that had to be made for the high priest and for the Israelites as a whole. The offerings are straightforward — a bull for the high priest’s sin offering and a goat for the congregation — but there is this idea of the scapegoat added into the mix. And I love the picture presented by that goat.
One goat was for the LORD, that is to say that the goat was offered as a sin offering. The other goat was for the scapegoat. The scapegoat was presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it. The sins of the people were confessed over the head of this goat, same as the sin offering, but this goat was then led off into the wilderness.
I love the picture this paints. On the one hand, there is the sacrifice reminding the people that iniquity — both intentional and unintentional wrongdoing — must be paid for in blood. That goat must die and its blood be sprinkled around in specific parts of the tabernacle. Every sacrifice that sprinkled the blood hither and yon in the tabernacle was a stark reminder of the cost of my wrongdoing. And the blood spattered on every article used in worship was a reminder of what it cost to restore fellowship with God when we break it by sinning.
Then there is a second goat. The priest would go through the whole litany of wrongs the congregation had committed and confess them over the head of this goat, then another man would lead that goat way off into no man’s land and let it go. And a goat was an ideal choice for this sort of thing. Goats are pretty self-sufficient, so the animal had good odds of survival. The picture here is one of forgiveness. Where the first goat reminded me of what it cost to forgive my sin, the second goat reminds me of where my sin is. And the answer to that is: Who knows? Once that goat is released, it is gone and it will never be seen again. Likewise my sins, once forgiven, are forgotten. Never to be brought up by God again. The psalmist goes so far as to say that God removes my sin as far as east is from west (Psalm 103:12).
These goats gave a more clear picture of forgiveness. Yes, the price of forgiveness was life; blood spilled. That forgiveness, once secured, removed my sins to a place that no one knows. The picture is both of how God forgives and how I should forgive.
For me, as a believer, the blood was already spilled at the cross. The price has been paid and the sin paid for. Now it remains for me, when I sin, to confess my sins to God and He will send them off into a place where they will never be seen or heard from again. Now it remains for me, when I am sinned against, to confess that sin over the head of the scapegoat and send it off into the wilderness, whence I can never bring it back. Sin, once forgiven, is to be remembered no more.
Thank You, Father, that You do not remember my sins. It is not as though You had forgotten them, but that You send them away into a place where they cannot trouble me any more. Please cultivate in me a heart that forgives as You do.