In a sermon, “As Far as the East is From the West”, a sermon on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), on Leviticus 16 by Coty Pinckney,
This sacrifice, while different and more detailed than the usual sin offerings, nevertheless is similar to that daily ritual. The next act on the Day of Atonement, however, is unusual, and a bit strange. Let’s continue reading in verse 20:
“When he finishes atoning for the holy place, and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat. “Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel, and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. “And the goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.
What is going on here? Aren’t the people’s sins already forgiven? Aaron has sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat, before the Lord’s very presence — how can he then place the people’s sins on this goat? Why does God prescribe this second ritual?
Both goats represent the work of Jesus. This goat whose blood is sprinkled on the mercy seat represents Jesus’ taking on our punishment, dying for us, satisfying God’s justice. But remember, all that takes place where the people cannot see. Sin not only separates us from God — sin also makes us feel defiled, sin leads to a guilty conscience. We promise God we will never, ever sin again — then we do. And we feel so impure, we feel unworthy of God’s love, we feel like we can’t even read the bible or bow down in prayer. So God provides this second picture, for all to see, of His separating us from our sin.
Jewish tradition says that the man appointed to drive off the goat would walk out of the camp, with the whole congregation watching. He would continue walking a distance of 12 miles — disappearing from the sight of the congregation, walking far beyond what anyone could see. Then he was to drive off the goat, and continue watching until he himself could see it no longer. The sins of the people are no more. They disappear into the wilderness.
You see why that is important? Have you ever done something to hurt your best friend — perhaps your spouse, or your sibling? You ask for forgiveness, and they claim to forgive you — but then, months later, in the midst of an argument, they drag up that old hurt, and throw it back in your face. “You always hurt me! Remember when . . .”
Through this picture God shows us that he will never act that way. Our sins are forgiven — not only temporarily, not only until our next disagreement. The blood of Jesus has covered those sins for all time. Satan will try to make us feel guilty, Satan will try to make us feel separated from God — but that goat carried our sins off into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
Note how God clarifies that this atonement is complete: Aaron confesses all their iniquities, and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins. Nothing is left out. There is no more worry — the blood of Jesus covers it all.
God puts it this way in Isaiah 43:25:
I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
Charles Spurgeon expresses this thought beautifully in his sermon on this passage:
We may have to take a long journey, and carry our sins with us; but oh! how we watch and watch till they are utterly cast into the depths of the wilderness of forgetfulness, where they shall never be found any more against us for ever.
“The wilderness of forgetfulness.” The scapegoat takes our sins to the wilderness of forgetfulness. God will never throw these sins back in our faces. Satan will try to do so, but we can throw those accusations back at him, remembering this image of the scapegoat carrying our sins to where they will be found no more.
The Psalmist says:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:11-12 NASB)
So God, in the picture of the scapegoat, meets our need for a clear conscience. He removes our sin, sending it far away where it can never be found; God promises he will never, ever hold those sins against us. And God keeps his promises. Praise Him!