November 13, 2015

Disappearing Into The Demonic Realm

The Day of Atonement...

There is a beautiful simplicity in the Scriptures. 

There are ideas and principles that, once they are revealed, should instill a sense of awe for all onlookers. Case-in-point: The Day of Atonement and the idea that justice prevails in the end according to a God-given plan. Those that repent, survive. Those that do not perish. Those that obey live to fight and believe another day, those that disobey are cursed and die a slow spiritual death each day until their final physical departure.

To what do I refer?

Nowadays it is called Yom Kippur by the Jewish people.In the Old Testament it is known as the Day of Atonement. It is central to the Jewish faith even though it is not practiced as it was in ancient times. Christians will be surprised to learn that, ideologically, it is central to the Christian faith also. Well, at least the idea of atonement is (through Jesus Christ).

It was outlined in Leviticus 16. Behind Leviticus 16 is a nefarious and sinister figure lurking in the realm of the wilderness. You see the Day of Atonement required a ram, a bull and two goats for sacrifice.

Leviticus 16:3-5 “This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

A ram to please God. A bull removed from its herd was sin offering for the high priest, in this case Aaron and his family. The bull sacrifice would restore the high priest to ritual purity. He could then enter the Holy of Holies in the temple. He could enter into God’s presence without risking instant death. The goats were a bit of a different story though.

Why two goats? Why not one?

Well, firstly the high priest would cast lots over the two goats (throw dice). With a sovereign God even  the result of the cast of the dice is God’s will. One of the goats would be sacrificed. It looks as if that goat would’ve got the shortest straw or the worst of it when we find out that the other goat would just be released to the desert wilderness to run wild. Such would not be the case though. Even though the second goat was not killed outright. Its life from that point on would most likely be one of deprivation and a slow excruciating death caused by the elements or attack of wild ravenous animals. Rather than a quick humane death,  the second would be subjected to torture and then death. This goat, would symbolically have the sins of God’s people laid upon it and it would carry the sins away from the camp of Israel into the wilderness. A sacrifice "of Azazel" or “for Azazel” (depending on how the Hebrew was interpreted).

Hold on to your hats, this is where the story really takes off.

Leviticus 16:8-10 ~ “And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

Azazel is an interesting word/construction in Hebrew.

The Hebrew term azazel עזאזל occurs four times in Leviticus 16 but nowhere else in the Bible. Many prefer to translate the term as a phrase, “The goat of departure or scapegoat.” Azazel appears to be a compound of `ez  aze or a goat (as strong), but masculine in plural and 'azal or to go away or disappear. A strong male (goat) that disappears (into the wilderness) for the sins of the people. Yet this word can also be interpreted as a proper noun or name as a counterpoint to Lord or Yahweh earlier in the passage. There is a suggestion that there are two spiritual entities being represented and subsequently contrasted in the two goats. There are extra-canonical sources (non-Biblical) that mention the goat for Azazel being led to a cliff and pushed over to die and never return (disappear).

We need to realize that the wilderness as mentioned in Scripture is often the embodiment of evil and the Devil (the Temptation of Christ in the wilderness by the Devil). If we bounce back to Leviticus 17 we see that, up until the time of Aaron and the writing of Leviticus, there had been wilderness sacrifices to “goat demons” in what amounted to a pagan and idolatrous practice. In other words, superstitious demon reverence. They were giving offerings to demon spirits to appease them just like pagan religions. Demons who deserved no acknowledgment or reverence.

Leviticus 17:1-7 states, "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, this is the thing that the Lord has commanded. If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord, blood-guilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people. This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the Lord. And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations."

So not only is the Day of Atonement that was created by God playing out in this sacrifice of the goats…it is also trumping and replacing the idolatrous practice of offering to the goat demon. God is actually taking the existing practice and assimilating it into something proper and good in worship of Him. God takes what people already know and appropriates it for Himself even when people are too dumb to realize their error. It is just another example of God working sovereignly and providentially in spiritually blind people’s lives and doing so to their benefit.

A goat would now, no longer be sent into the wilderness as a sacrifice to a foreign god (demon). The old pagan act of sending the live goat out into the wilderness which was seen as evil and unholy ground was now appropriated for Godly and Holy purposes. Ironically, a goat would now be sent with the sins of the people where they belonged symbolically. It would be sent to a place perceived as pagan, ungodly or evil….to the demonic or nefarious realm of the wilderness or desert.

I believe here we see what was once evil and nefarious actions and events taken or usurped for God’s purposes. People often ask why God allows evil. In this story we see a case where evil or wicked practices work to God’s glory and advantage. We know that anything that works to His advantage works to the advantage or believers too.

In one of these goats we see a sacrifice that brings ritual purity and access to God. In the other goat was see the people’s sins sent to the demonic realm. We see a cleansing of the people and a separation from their own sins. In this entire scenario we see God’s true character and obvious sovereignty over even the evil in people's lives. From evil and suffering of men we see it turned on its head and instead mercy and grace put in its place. Only God can cause a complete reversal like this, a paradox like this. Only God could cause a paradigm shift this profound. To turn evil to good. To make our sin disappear.

With one goat sacrificed to bring purification and access to God and one goat sent to carry the people’s sins to the demonic domain, this annual ritual reinforced the identity of the true God and His mercy and holiness. It also eschewed the evil that was formerly involved. God brought forth good from bad.

It is therefore not ironic that when Jesus comes and dies on the cross for all of humanity’s sins, He will be crucified outside the city on the edge of the wilderness, the sphere of darkness and the demonic in the Jewish/Semitic minds of His day. This  of course will be a direct fulfillment of the shadow that was once played out with the scapegoat sent to the wilderness to die. 

So not only did God negate the formed pagan practices by the offering of the goats called for in Leviticus 16…he would do away with all sacrifices once and for all in the parallel sacrifice that was His Son’s death forever abrogating the need to atone for sin. Jesus Christ had did it once and for all and he had done it right in evils backyard.

Why did God do it in steps? Most likely so that man could see Him in the workings of this plan and so they could acclimate to these facts in their weakness. It really is remarkable that God would send sin packing right into a realm long seen and long feared as the harbinger of evil itself. He would use former symbolic gestures in a physical act of crucifixion to send sin to the very place it belonged.away from mankind into darkness. He boldly faced the darkness and the darkness cowered away from Him.

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