Relevant verses:

Leviticus 16:7-10 7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, 10 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.

Leviticus 16:15-16 15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.

Leviticus 16:20-22 20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

Question: Are the lot cast for the two goats meant to communicate that they are interchangeable and thus are really the same goat or the same sacrifice whose complex function can only practically be expressed through the role played by two different goats?

In other words, is the casting of the lots meant to tie together the two outcomes, the purification of the Holy Place from the transgressions/uncleanness of the people of Israel and the carrying of their sins far away, so that we are to understand that the sacrifice of the one actually accomplishes both the temple purification and the mass carrying away of sins?

  • Good question that has produced volumes of nonsense, great theology and much dispute. This highly dependent on one's sacred cosmology - a VERY touchy subject.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 22:16
  • @Dottard, Thanks. Can you help me understand how the significance behind the casting of lots could be such a touhy subject?
    – Austin
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 22:35
  • There are a variety of interpretations such as: (1) the scarified goat represents Christ and the azazel represents (Satan) (2) Christ is represented by both (3) the goats variously represent the fate of sins, etc, etc. Each of these views have their adherents with almost hysterical defense and condemnation of opposing views. In my experience it is impossible to have a sensible debate without the discussion immediately descending into madness.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 22:43
  • One simple interpretation is that the casting of lots means that it isn't up to man to decide which one is which. Commented Aug 7, 2022 at 0:39
  • 1
    The doctrinal debates about what this means for Christ's nature, etc., are separate from the debates about whether the ritual is supposed to show that the two goats are identified.
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 7, 2022 at 1:23

4 Answers 4


Yes, I believe it's to show it is the same sacrifice. This originated in the fall:

Genesis 3:21,24 (KJV 1900)

21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. [...] 24 So he drove out [גרשׁ] the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

God made skins for Adam, so there was some animal that was sacrificed, and then Adam put on the skin of the animal and was driven out of Eden.

So really there were two animals, the one that was sacrificed and the one that was driven out.

Obviously they were the same animal, in association with the concept of the scapegoat, which purifies to cleanse of sin and is the quintessential purification offering. Eden had to be purified as Adam sinned there and so polluted the land.

To reinforce this, lots are cast, to emphasize that you don't know which is which. By tradition, the two goats are to be indistinguishable.

גרשׁ - to drive out - occurs frequently with respect to expulsion of the unclean from the clean and also has the connotation of divorce -- to divorce yourself from the unclean, and when it is your sin, then you want to divorce yourself from the sin nature. E.g. to purify yourself from yourself.

We also see when Jacob stole the blessing (by substituting himself for Esau) in Genesis 27:16

16 And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck:

Then Jacob had to flee the promise -- he was driven out:

43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran; [Genesis 27:43]

This principle of substitution is in all the sin offerings, you lay hands on the animal transferring your sins to it and identifying with it. Thus again there are now two animals, except in the scapegoat and two-bird offerings, it is made an explicit part of the ritual.

To see the indistinguishability in the two-bird offering, note that the blood of the sacrificed bird is put on the living bird, thus identifying the life of the sacrificed bird with the life of the freed bird:

Leviticus 14:6 (KJV 1900)

6 As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water:

So in both of the pair-animal offerings, the goal is to show that these are identified as the same offering.


The second goat is performing a specific function in the ritual so it must be part of the same sacrifice.

Let me explain the logic as I see it in the ritual description of Lev16.

But first we should note that what your translation call Azazel is translated as "a carrier for removal" in LXX αποπομπαίω https://lsj.gr/wiki/%E1%BC%80%CF%80%CF%8C https://lsj.gr/wiki/%CF%80%CE%BF%CE%BC%CF%80%CE%B1%E1%BF%96%CE%BF%CF%82 so this is not a proper name but rather a function (of that goat). Scapegoat is thus short for literally a goat carrier for removal (of something).

Second, in Lev16:4 and further it is required that before entering the tent of knowledge Aaron should wash himself and dress like our contemporary sterile environment workers would (micro-biologist, surgeons etc.). He should put on a clean linen pantsuit and a cap.

Now if we look at the sacrifice from a functional standpoint, first goat's body and blood is used for some manipulation that ends up cleaning people of Israel. And then that manipulated blood is placed on the head of the second goat, our Azazel or αποπομπαίω or a carrier for removal.

Right after these manipulations Aaron should take off his "surgical" clothes, wash himself clean, burn the clothes and the biological material (of the first goat), wash himself again and only then may he return to the camp. (Other animals in that sacrifice should also be burnt entirely and the clothes should be washed and people should wash themselves).

So something that was making sons of Israel unclean is taken away from them, manipulated in the tent or knowledge in the form of animal blood or meat and then put on the second goat that is sent to the wilderness. All the remains and even clothes of the priests involved are burned entirely, priests wash themselves up in the water in a place of cleaning.

The whole action looks like some (micro)biological manipulation from the beginning to the end. And the second goat is clearly a part of it. And this would be the answer to your question.

Could what is described in Lev16 be some form of pest engineering where micro-organisms causing illnesses are collected, (gen-)manipulated and then released into the nature in a weaker, possibly harmless (for sons of Israel) form? I have not found a definitive answer to that in the Bible yet. Though it might have been the way to slowly drive away the Canaanites in Deut7:22-26 by contaminating the environment with what the scapegoad would carry away. It would also explain why it is forbidden to take anything from them into the house of Israel in Deut7:25-26 as those things would be unclean/deadly.


Ultimately the meaning of the two goats is that one dies as a sacrifice for sin, and the other one is freed.

Notice that the Tabernacle coverings mimic this. The Ram skin painted red is the same as the goat sacrificed. A dead beast provides a pelt. The next covering was made of goat hair. Goat hair is obtained from living goats, brushed as it sheds. The badger skin waterproof covering was a type of Jesus’ flesh.

The goat hair covering sandwiched between the ram skin and the badger skin, was a type of sin.

The scapegoat is you and me. The dead goat is Jesus, our substitutionary sacrifice. He died so we can go free.


'And Aaron hath given lots over the two goats, one lot for Jehovah, and one lot for a goat of departure; Leviticus 16:8

Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart.

Casting the lot ends quarrels and separates strong opponents. Proverbs 18:18

The casting of lots should keep the people from rising up against each other as to who's goat was better...

The two goats were taken from the congregation of Israel. Both goats were were used as a sin offering,

"That is to say, They represented the sin itself that was to be slain, destroyed and put away. The three animals were one sin offering, Each one representing a different aspect of the same sin offering, and the anti-type of all three: Aaron's bullock, "The Lord's goat, " and the "scapegoat," are Jesus Christ. All of the sacrifices find there fulfillment in the Lord Jesus." Quote of Arthur Adams.

The lots gave God's sovereignty over which one He wanted to use for different purposes in His Relationship to His people at that time.

Two is also very significant in scripture. It usually has an idea of division or differences. (See Numbers in Scripture by Bullinger). Two together can also mean one, like male and female, tree of good and evil, Father and Son, Etc.

Another interesting note is the goat is to "stand" living before Jehovah.

That same word stand is also used when Abraham was standing and interceding for his nephew lot before the face of the Lord.

The word "Presented" is amad and means to take one stand.

Strong's Concordance amad: to take one's stand, Definition: to take one's stand,

And Abraham riseth early in the morning, unto the place where he hath stood before the face of Jehovah; Genesis 19:27

He was standing in the same place before the Lord when he was basically interceding for his nephew Lot to keep him from being destroyed if he stayed inside Sodom and Gomorrah.

Could this escape goat not be a continual sight or sign before the Lord as the people were in the wilderness as their many transgressions continued to take place? The first two sacrifices of sin takes place inside the tent in the holy place as a shelter for their transgress and their sins. The last goat takes their sins away.

'And the goat on which the lot for a goat of departure hath gone up is caused to stand living before Jehovah to make atonement by it, to send it away for a goat of departure into the wilderness. Leviticus 16:10 YLT

This goat is a visual for them to see they have been separated from their sins. They have been taken away from them. This goat is bearing all their iniquities away....

The goat shall carry all their iniquities on himself to a solitary land, and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:22

◄ 5799. azazel ► Strong's Concordance azazel: entire removal

Leviticus 16:8,10 (twice in verse); Leviticus 16:26 in ritual of Day of Atonement, = entire removal of sin and guilt from sacred places into desert on back of goat, symbol of entire forgiveness.

◄ 1509. גְּזֵרָה (gezerah) ► Englishman's Concordance Strong's Hebrew: 1509. גְּזֵרָה (gezerah) — 1 Occurrence Leviticus 16:22 HEB: אֶל־ אֶ֣רֶץ גְּזֵרָ֑ה וְשִׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־ NAS: their iniquities to a solitary land; KJV: unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go INT: about A land to a solitary shall release the goat.

This word is also taken from this root word.

◄ 1504. gazar ► Strong's Exhaustive Concordance cut down off, decree, divide, snatch A primitive root; to cut down or off; (figuratively) to destroy, divide, exclude, or decide -- cut down (off), decree, divide, snatch

From those we get the sense of what that goat being released in wilderness stood for. The people continued to sin and the goat could be symbolic of the sins continually be taken away since he lives to intercede for them.

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