Sin Is it All your Fault

By John Halford

Mesha watched the goat trot off into the wilderness without looking back. He was relieved. His instructions were to make sure that the goat did not return.

Better wait just a little longer, he thought. This was one job that had to be done properly. The priests would not be pleased if the goat followed him back to the camp.

Mesha sat on a rock and thought back over the events of the last few hours. He'd woken early to find the camp unusually quiet. There was none of the hustle and bustle of people preparing for the day.

Mesha had gone early to the Tabernacle to prepare for his responsibility. He'd been surprised to be selected, but the priests had assured him he was qualified. He was an honest man and was well respected in the congregation of Israel.

Mesha had watched the day's activities with great interest. He knew the rituals of the Day of Atonement were full of meaning, and he felt honored to be directly involved, even in a small way.

As the people began to assemble around the Tabernacle, they were subdued. It was partly because they were fasting, but also because they were moved by the solemnity of the occasion.

Aaron, the high priest, had laid aside his usual magnificent ceremonial robe and put on simple white clothing. A bullock and two goats were brought to him. Aaron had sacrificed the bullock and then entered alone into the Tabernacle.

As the high priest performed the rituals of the annual cleansing of the sanctuary, the holiest place of all, the congregation waited quietly. Finally, Aaron emerged into the bright sunlight and stood at the door of the tent.

Then the two goats were brought to him. He had cast lots over them. "This one," he announced solemnly, pointing to one of the goats, "is for the Lord. And this one"-his voice trembled with emotion-"this one is for Azazel. "

Mesha had shuddered at the sound of the terrible name. Azazel-the evil spirit beingadversary of God and enemy of the people of Israel.

The goat chosen for the Lord was quickly sacrificed, and Aaron, taking a bowl of its blood, went back into the Tabernacle. After some time, he came out, and Mesha was ushered forward, with the goat chosen for Azazel. A rope had been fastened around its neck.

When Aaron laid his hands on the goat's head, it tried to shake him off but a priest moved forward and held it steady. Aaron then prayed earnestly, confessing the sins of his people-their weakness, their lack of faith, their constant wavering in spite of the miracles they had seen. When he had finished his fervent prayer, he looked at Mesha and said quietly, "Do as we have told you. "

Mesha had led the goat out of the Tabernacle and through the watching congregation of Israel. He took it out beyond the tents, until he was well away from the camp. Then, when he was sure he was deep into the wilderness, he slipped the rope from the goat's neck and pushed it away. "Go," he said, "and don't come back. "

The goat hesitated for a moment and then trotted away into the desert.

The goat chosen for the Lord was sacrificed as a sin offering, and its blood, symbolic of Christ's shed blood, was sprinkled on the mercy seat. The sins of Israel were placed on the head of the Azazel goat, which was led away into the wilderness. Illustrations by Ken Tunell.

The Tabernacle is long gone now, but this ceremony, described in such careful detail in the 16th chapter of Leviticus, remains full of meaning. The ceremony of the Azazel goat is one of the most positive, encouraging and reassuring lessons of the Bible.

Each one of the annual Holy Days of the Bible represents a stage in the plan of salvation. God has set Himself to save the human race, and He is doing it systematically and carefully.

The Day of Atonement, the fifth of the Holy Days, focuses our attention on the vitally important moment when God's arch-enemy, Satan, is banished. Satan will no longer be able to tempt humans and deceive them about their true potential.

The influence of Satan

You may have heard someone use the expression, "The devil made me do it." It is usually meant as a joke. People use it to lightly brush aside mistakes and problems that have caused some minor embarrassment.

It's a shame that expression is taken so lightly! The devil may not make you do things, but he does make it easier for you to sin.

A sincere Christian hates to sin. His whole life is spent trying to overcome sin. When Christians sin, they feel guilty, embarrassed, ashamed and cut off from God. Thankfully, we can repent and ask that our sins be forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And, of course, they are. God says they are removed "as far as the east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12).

But then we sin again, and again, and again. After a while, we ask ourselves if God still believes we are sincere. Certainly Christ's sacrifice was great enough to cover all sin, but if we go on making the same mistakes, shouldn't God doubt if we really intend to overcome? If someone continued to offend you day after day, week after week, month after month, would you take the person seriously?

What we often fail to recognize is the role of Satan in our sins. The Bible tells us that he is a deceiver. Because Satan is such a master of deception we often do not realize how he does what he does. He likes to stay in the shadows, keeping a low profile, so that he can work on us while we are off guard.

Only Jesus Christ was never deceived by Satan. He knew what Satan was like. While He was on earth in human form, Jesus knew that He was susceptible to Satan's deceits. He prayed constantly that His Father would deliver Him from the evil one (Matthew 6:13).

The rest of us have been deceived. Satan is too clever for us. He outwits us constantly. His influence has filled the world with opportunities to break God's law.

Don't misunderstand. Your sins are not all Satan's fault. (Mind you, Satan wouldn't mind if you did believe that-it would get your mind off overcoming your faults.) Even if Satan was not around, you would still slip and fall occasionally, because you still have human nature, which is not naturally obedient to God's law (Romans 8:7, Galatians 5:17). These scriptures are talking about you-not Satan.

But Satan has produced an environment where you will find more opportunities to sin, and where you will hurt yourself more and more as you take advantage of them.

God knows our weaknesses

When my children were learning to walk, my wife and I did the best we could to help them with their first steps. My wife would be at one end of the room, and I at the other. We made sure that the distance between us had plenty of pillows and cushions scattered around. We put towels over the sharp edges of the furniture, just in case.

The baby would waddle along, lurching from side to side, with a look of great pleasure and achievement on her face. Her expression quickly changed to dismay and disappointment when she fell over. The pillows saved her from hurting herself, and after some reassurance and encouragement, she was ready to start again.

That is how God is with us. He knows we have weaknesses. Psalm 103:10-14 is reassuring in this regard. God knows we have to learn by experience, trial and occasional error to become what He wants us to become. This life is the training ground for eternal life.

In a world ruled by God, filled with His way and His love, there would be every incentive to do things right. If we made mistakes, there would be swift, sure, kind, considerate instruction. Maybe, if the situation warranted it, there would be punishment, but even that would be designed toward encouraging us to try again. Everything would be pointed toward helping us succeed. Any loving parent can understand that.

But Satan is not our parent. He isn't even our servant. He is our enemy dedicated to making us fail. As the present ruler of this world, he has created an environment where there seem to be definite advantages to doing wrong. There are, just as in Moses' day, definite "pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:25).

You can break God's law and seem to get away with it. Then, when Satan has lulled you into a sense of false security, the payoff comes-disillusionment, misery, pain, suffering and death.

Satan may appear as an "angel of light" (II Corinthians 11:14), but he has no love for any of us, no sense of responsibility, no loyalty and no mercy. His one aim is to see us cut off from God and destroyed. We often forget that. God never does.

Our Father in heaven understands that some of the blame for the mistakes we have made must rest squarely on the head of this evil fallen angel.

That is why God instructed ancient Israel in the ceremony of the two goats.

The Day of Atonement

After the goat representing Jesus Christ was sacrificed, the other goat-for Azazel, or Satan-was brought forward. This goat was not killed-for Satan is an immortal spirit being.

It's unfortunate that some translations of the Bible call this the "scapegoat." Scapegoat means "somebody who carries the blame for others." Nothing could be further from the truth. Satan knows what he is doing, and he is fully to blame.

The high priest confessed the sins of the people on the head of this goat, and then it was sent away live into the wilderness, symbolic of Satan's fate. Not until Satan has been restrained can the world be at one with God.

The Day of Atonement (or Atone-ment) comes after the Feast of Trumpets and before the exciting Feast of Tabernacles. Thus it focuses on events that will occur after Christ's Second Coming, but before He fully establishes God's government on earth.

God's Kingdom will be an environment where men and women will be encouraged to live according to the laws of God. Mercy, compassion and understanding will rule. Society will be organized toward helping mankind succeed. But first, Satan must be removed. How?

You'll read how in Revelation

20:1-3: "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished."

That is what "Mesha" was enacting on the Day of Atonement long ago in the wilderness. The goat chosen for the Lord was a type of Jesus Christ. It was sacrificed as a sin offering, as Jesus was, when He paid the penalty for our sins.

But Jesus Christ will not pay the penalty for Satan. Satan knows better. He deliberately rebelled against God, and he has deliberately tried to cut us off from God, too. As "god of this age" (II Corinthians 4:4) and "prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), he has spent nearly 6,000 years trying to make the potential sons of God as rebellious as he is.

Satan won't win-he can't. God's love is too great, His mercy too all-encompassing. God knows that without Satan working against us, the story would have been very different.

The great lesson of the Day of Atonement is that our sins are truly forgiven and forgotten, and that Satan will be banished to where he can hurt us no more.

Mesha was sure the goat had gone. He walked back to the camp, stopping off at the outskirts, where several urns of water had been left for him. He washed himself and rinsed out his clothes thoroughly, resisting the temptation to take a drink.

As the sun began to set, Mesha walked confidently back to the Tabernacle. The Azazel goat was gone.

The ceremonies were over and the fast was ending. Everyone now seemed in a happy, relaxed mood. The chosen people felt at one again with their God.