Azazel is a term mentioned in the Bible, specifically in the context of the Old Testament, but its meaning and significance have been debated among scholars. The term appears in the Book of Leviticus, particularly in Leviticus 16, which describes the rituals of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
In Leviticus 16:8-10 (NIV), it is written: "Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat [Azazel]. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat [Azazel] shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat."
Here, Azazel is referred to as the "scapegoat," one of the two goats chosen during the Yom Kippur ceremony. The high priest would cast lots to determine which goat was for the Lord and which was for Azazel. The goat for the Lord was sacrificed as a sin offering, while the goat for Azazel was sent into the wilderness, symbolically carrying away the sins of the people.
The exact identity and nature of Azazel have been the subject of various interpretations and debates over the centuries. Some scholars suggest that Azazel might represent a demon or a fallen angel, while others believe it symbolizes the wilderness or a desolate place. The term's meaning remains somewhat ambiguous and open to interpretation.
It's important to note that the Bible provides limited information about Azazel, and most of the interpretations and discussions surrounding this term come from extra-biblical sources and theological traditions. However, we do see the name show up in apocryphal literature as a supernatural being who leads rebellious angels and symbolizes all things impure. As such, views on Azazel can vary among different religious groups and scholars.
What do we know about Azazel? How does Azazel play a part in this Leviticus passage, and why does it matter that we know this obscure name? We’ll dive into these questions and more in this article.
What Do We Know About Azazel from Scripture?
According to the International Standard Bible Encylopedia: "This word is found in connection with the ceremony of the Day of Atonement (which see). According to Leviticus 16:8, Aaron is to cast lots upon the two goats which on the part of the congregation are to serve as a sin offering (Leviticus 16:5), "one be lot for Yahweh, and the other lot for Azazel." In Leviticus 16:10, after the first goat has been set apart as a sin offering for Yahweh, we read:
"But the goat, on which the lot fell for Azazel, shall be set alive before Yahweh, to make atonement for him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness." In Leviticus 16:26 we read: "And he that letteth go the goat for Azazel shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water." Before this, in Leviticus 16:21f mention had been made of what should be done with the goat. After the purification of the (inner) sanctuary, of the tent of meeting, and of the altar, the living goat is to brought, "and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all .... their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a man that is in readiness into the wilderness: and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a solitary land: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness." But in this last mentioned and most important passage the term under consideration is not found."
Azazel, in this passage, seems to be synonymous with a term known as a scapegoat. We use that phrase colloquially to mean placing blame on someone who has done no wrong, to set free those who have done wrong from punishment.
For instance, if I were to steal my boss’s stapler, and my boss gets mad, I might pin the blame on someone else. I might say, “Jerry stole your stapler. I saw him do it.” Therefore, I made Jerry out to be my scapegoat. He takes on my sin and receives my punishment.
The Jewish understanding of scapegoat had a more literal meaning. The high priest would lay his hands on a goat and would symbolically place the sins of the people on that animal (Leviticus 16). Then they would drive that goat out into the wilderness, away from the people. Symbolically sending the sins of the people far away from them.
Of course, we can draw connections between this Old Testament practice and Jesus’ death on the cross. We placed our sins on him, and he drove them far away from us.
So, where in the world does a fallen angel come into play with this term? And why do we see a very different picture of Azazel in apocalyptic literature than we do in Scripture?
Where Does Azazel the Demon Come From?
In the Apocrypha, Azazel is a leader of rebellious angels, as seen in the Book of Enoch. He leads the pre-Flood civilizations of men, giants (perhaps Nephilim), in all matters of warfare and witchcraft.
Once beautiful, and now a fallen serpent or carrion bird, Azazel, according to Hebraic literature, tried to corrupt humanity. Most Jewish literature describes him as having a red appearance, like a demon, with yellow eyes and wearing goat skulls.
It also appears that, according to Jewish mythology, Azazel led the charge in having sexual relations with mortal women and having half-divine, half-human children known as the Nephilim.
What’s interesting about Azazel is that he has corrupted humanity so much that Jewish literature encourages readers and listeners to ascribe all sin onto him. In other words, scapegoat him. Place your sins on him, as you did with the goat before driving it out into the desert.
This may be why we see the word “Azazel” in place of “scapegoat” in the original Hebrew in the Leviticus 16 passage.
Why Does This Matter?
Granted, any piece of literature that is not part of the biblical canon needs to be read with discernment and caution. However, this can give us a glimpse into an ancient Jewish practice. And this practice bears a significant meaning because Jesus serves as our scapegoat on the cross.
Christians may debate about the nature of the Nephilim or whether a fallen angel named Azazel led the charge in creating a generation of giants, but we do know that even mythology and the Apocrypha have kernels of truth.
We can learn from the Jewish practice of the scapegoat. That like the mythological Azazel, we have become corrupted and fallen away from the goodness of God. But because Jesus serves as our scapegoat, our sins have been driven far away from us (Psalm 103:12).
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Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.
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