Here we learn about the very first Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. This is a bit different than the other offerings and sacrifices because prior offerings are done by individuals or families, while this yearly sacrifice is for the entire nation. It is also different in that when Aaron lays his hands on the goats head, he confesses “over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites–all their sins,” and they’re put on the goats head. In the previous sacrifices we read about there was no confession of sin, just laying on of hands, and the animal is killed.
But on this day instead of killing the goat and spreading the blood on the altar, the goat is sent out into the wilderness. This is called what most people today have heard, but have no idea where it comes from: the scapegoat. The goat is cast out. Atonement had already been made with a bull and another goat, but God wants the people to understand the ignominy, the shame and disgrace that sin carries with it. God is good with visuals; how pathetic to see a scrawny goat with all the peoples’ sin laid on it pushed out into the wilderness to suffer and die. And the writer says this process is also part of the atonement; the goat is taking away the sins of the people, like Jesus takes away the sins of the world. Paul was likely thinking of this when he said in 1 Cor. 5:21:
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This is astounding when you think about it. Jesus became the scapegoat for the sins of the entire world! And he too was cast out in shame, being crucified outside of the city; cursed as it says later in the Pentateuch is anyone who is hung on a tree. And in Isaiah 53 we read this some 700 years before Christ:
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
How Jews can ignore this as applying to Jesus I have no idea. We can now have peace and healing because we have the righteousness of God; before him now in Christ we have not only our sins completely washed away, we have Christ’s own righteousness imputed to us! I never ever have to worry if I will be accepted by the living God. As the Day of Atonement made the Israelites clean from all their sin (v.30) so we are now forever clean before our God.