Goats: Day of atonement

by | Jul 23, 2023

Cyndi and I are dealing with a rather large infestation of poison ivy. Both of us are allergic and risk serious side effects if we allow one of the plants to come in contact with our skin. However, we hope to put a fence through the middle of a large patch.

My language tells you that I’m not fond of poison ivy. Perhaps I wouldn’t call it an infestation if I wasn’t allergic.

While googling “How to get rid of poison ivy?” one suggestion was to get a goat. Apparently, goats like the taste of poison ivy. Of course, goats are known for eating almost anything they can put into their mouth. But we need to put in a fence first to keep the goat from straying.

The word “goat” has varied uses, including both derogatory and complimentary. A person may be called a silly goat if they’re not so bright or just a goat if they’re a gifted athlete. On the other hand, no one wants to be a scapegoat, taking the blame for something bad they didn’t do.

And when Jesus described the final judgment, he used goats for those of us who don’t show mercy to others in need. We don’t want to be counted among the goats when our days are over.

In Leviticus, God, speaking through Moses, shares detailed instructions for a ritual involving goats on a day known as Yom Kippur. Although the instructions don’t specify characteristics for the goats other than gender, over time, the selection of goats evolved with great specificity. In particular, the goats needed to be white with no different colors appearing in their coat. Moreover, the goats could not have other imperfections or marks distinguishing one goat from another.

According to Psychology Research, the origin of scapegoating comes from this ancient ritual that began during the time of the Exodus from Egypt. On The Day of Atonement, a goat is chosen by casting lots. The good news for the scapegoat is that the other goat is slaughtered as a sacrifice to God. The bad news is the scapegoat is led into the wilderness and pushed off a cliff to its death as a sacrifice for Azazel. William Tyndale is credited for the term scapegoat from a literal translation of the Azazel or “goat escapes.”

Professor Julia Blum writes, “Tradition tells us that during the Second Temple period, these two goats had to be purchased at the same time and for the same price: they had to be almost identical in appearance and value.”

In this week’s reading from our companion book, The Shepherd’s Wife, Pheodora and James travel to Caesarea to retrieve two pregnant goats as her husband, Chiram, instructed. He carefully chose the goats anticipating that each would bear identical, all-white male offspring. Perfect enough to be selected by the Levites in charge of purchasing goats for Yom Kippur when the goats were one year old.

White goats are rare, and the price paid for ceremonial goats was high enough to cover Chiram’s debt and release from prison.

Atonement involves reparations. That is payment for harm caused as a result of wrongdoing. Since we can rarely undo the adverse outcomes of sin, we trust that God is more patient and lenient than we are. And the rituals of Yom Kippur offer evidence of God’s grace towards humanity and our failures.

The Book of Isaiah begins with a reminder that while rituals help our memory, they can also dull our senses. The people of the covenant strayed far away from God’s plan for a just society. The marginalized were exploited instead of helped. Ancient holy rituals became meaningless, losing their significance. And God expected more.

God noted that donkeys know more than people when it comes to loyalty. Nevertheless, God promised that the stain of sin would be washed clean.

Instead of God leading you and me into the wilderness and pushing us off a cliff to our death, an innocent goat is selected to take our place. The Priest lays all of the people’s guilt onto the chosen goat, ties a red ribbon around its neck, and sends it off with a person selected as executioner. The belief is that God’s memory of our wrongdoing dies with the goat.

Blum also shares a revelation she discovered regarding the rationale for two goats. Remember, Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Issac. Ishmael and his mother were sent into the wilderness, where God watched over them. Issac was later chosen for sacrifice, but God provided a goat instead.

Donkeys know where their master feeds them, but that is more than my people know. They don’t understand at all.
Isaiah 1:3

Taking the sin of the world on Himself, we believe Jesus Christ took our place for all sins committed since the beginning of time. His death and resurrection were the final sacrifice. Jesus was the last scapegoat.

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Pastor Tommy


Our series was inspired by and relies on content provided by Angela Hunt. The Shepherds Wife. Jerusalem Road Series. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2020.

Scapegoat Theory.” © Psychology.iResearch, 2023. Retrieved from: link

Julia Blum. Two Goats Of Yom Kippur.” © Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, October 13, 2016. Retrieved from: link

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