13 July 2013

Leviticus 16:20-34

"Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness." (vv. 21-22)


Today's reading is a continuation of yesterday's about the ritual and actions for the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish Year.

Following on from the sacrifice of the first goat, we turn our attention to the end one which has a very different fate. The priest places his hands on the goat's head and confesses over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the goat. Then the goat is sent away into the desert never to return. With the disappearance of the goat, the sins can be said to become 'out of sight' and so 'out of mind'.

The reference to Azazel in verse 26, is to a demon of that name, or to the place that the goat was sent, or (thirdly) to designate that the goat was a 'scapegoat'. But whatever way it is interpreted, it is an assurance that Israel's wrongdoings are taken to a place where they can do no harm.

The need for two goats is a cause for debate - surely one is enough. Do the people really have to be forgiven twice? Some say that the second goat is as much about resassurance for forgiveness for people.

In our worship after people have made their prayers of confession, there is the assurance of forgiveness, often with these words (or something similar):

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
This is his gracious word: "Your sins are forgiven."
Amen. Thanks be to God.

The need to know forgiveness is important - not just spiritually, but psychologically. Being forgiven means that we can move on. The four alls, the traditional summary of Methodist teaching, expresses this as "all may know themselves saved".

To Ponder

  • What does forgiveness mean to you?
  • What does forgiveness feel like?
  • There is the expression "forgiven and forgotten". To what extent are these two necessary - can you forgive without forgetting? Or does remembering play a part in knowing the depth of forgiveness?

Bible notes author

Ken Kingston

Ken Kingston preaches in the High Wycombe Circuit. He has worked for the Connexional Team since 1992 in a variety of roles and has been involved in 'Called by Name' and 'Time to Talk of God' amongst others.