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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 16:2o-22 NIV)
God gives instructions here for Aaron’s entering into the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle. He describes detailed preparation and sacrifice. Vs. 20 and the preceding verses speak of the need to atone for the place as well as the people – the sins of the people affect the Most Holy Place.
The sins confessed here are corporate ones (?), the sins of a people rather than the sins of a person.
Unlike other animals in this system – uniquely it appears – the goat is not sacrificed but sent away into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people. Much of the preceding commands about uncleanness involved sometimes accidental impurity – medical problems, etc. Here the goat carries not impurity but “wickedness and rebellion.” These are the things that they have done willfully, purposely against their God.
Is it significant that the goat is sent into the wilderness, where Israel would wonder for two generations before coming to the land of promise?
Just as the uncleanness of various things transferred to people, so did their sins transfer to the so-called “scapegoat.” It fascinates me that the Israelites are given detailed instructions for purifying themselves from impurity / uncleanness but then rebellion and sin are dealt with in this relatively simple and entirely bloodless ceremony.
John Wesley spoke of these two kinds of sin and it came to mind as I reflected today:
‘To explain myself a little farther on this head(1) Not only sin, properly so called (that is, a voluntary transgression of a known law), but sin, improperly so called (that is, an involuntary transgression of a divine law, known or unknown), needs the atoning blood. (A Plain Account of Christian Perfection)
As a leader, I am reminded that we need public rituals of repentance and forgiveness. And that not only do persons sin but peoples – groups – sin, too. Part of what it means to lead is to confess these acts of wrong. To admit that we as individuals and also we as a church have committed sin “properly so called.”
(Came across a great article in my reflecting today linking this to Christ – The Atonement and the Scapegoat: Leviticus 16 )
Holy God, who forgave the sins of the people, bring to my mind today the sins of my people – the sins of my church and of the church. The wrongs done not just accidentally but also in rebellion, the deeds done that we knew were wrong. Or should have but wouldn’t know. Make us holy – make us righteous. Continue your great work in Christ of making us more holy, of transferring away what is wrong and in what is right. In the name of the Great Scapegoat, Jesus, who atones of all – Amen.