“Azazel” or “the scapegoat” is mentioned in Leviticus 16 as part of God’s instructions to the Israelites regarding the Day of Atonement. On this day, the high priest would first offer a sacrifice for his sins and those of his household; then he would perform sacrifices for the nation.
“And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.” Leviticus 16:5
The priest brought the animals before the Lord and cast lots between the two goats – one to be a sacrifice and the other to be the scapegoat. The first goat was slaughtered for the sins of the people and its blood used to cleanse the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar (v. 20). After the cleansing, the live goat was brought to the high priest. Laying his hands on the scapegoat, the high priest was to “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. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness” (vv. 21-22). Symbolically, the scapegoat took on the sins of the Israelites and removed them (v. 10). For Christians, this is a foreshadowing of Christ.
Christ is the complete atonement for our sins. In many ways, He embodies each aspect of the Day of Atonement. We are told that He is our great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). He is also the “Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) as a sacrifice for our sins. And He is our scapegoat.
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
Our sins were laid on Christ – He bore our sins just as the scapegoat bore the sins of the Israelites. Isaiah 53 prophesies Christ’s acceptance of the sin burden:
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6
After the sins were laid on the scapegoat, it was considered unclean and driven into the wilderness. In essence, the goat was cast out. The same happened to Jesus. He was crucified outside of the city. “He was despised and rejected by men … He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:3, 12). Jesus embodied what the scapegoat represented – the removal of sins from the perpetrators.
The Old Testament rituals carry a depth and richness that only God could create. The Day of Atonement foreshadowed the ultimate atonement Christ provides. No longer do we need to sacrifice animals to cover our sins, nor do we need to impute our sins to a scapegoat to have them carried away. Jesus has been sacrificed and “scapegoated” for us. Our sins have been atoned for and removed.
“For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.” Hebrews 10:1
“But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:3-4, 10
As a side note, the name “Azazel” shows up in some Jewish mythology. While there are different versions in the Book of Enoch, the Book of the Giants, and other pseudepigraphal books, the story is essentially that Azazel was the name of one of the fallen angels who sinned in Genesis chapter 6. As a curse on his sin, Azazel was forced to take the form of a goat-like demon. This myth is not supported by the Bible and is not compatible with what the Bible says about Azazel or the scapegoat. Satan is not Azazel..