Advent: Day 18

December 18, 2023 | The Scapegoat

There is one reference that I know of in the Bible to underwear, and today we are going to talk about it. It’s in the book of Leviticus chapter 16 and it’s in reference to what the High Priest should wear into the Holy of Holies.

It says, “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, 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.”

What hqppens in the Most Holy Place is so important that God outlines exactly what should be worn, right down to the underwear.

To understand why this matters, we first need to understand a few other important facts. We talked earlier in this series about Herod the Great, who was a vicious ruler and also a prolific builder. One of the things he constructed, in addition to Herodium, was the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Some scholars believe that when Herod finished building the temple, 18,000 people were left unemployed; that is how many people worked on the site; it was massive. 2.3 million stones were used to build it, some weighing hundreds of tons. Archeologists and engineers are still trying to figure out how the builders moved those huge stones because we don’t currently have machinery that could construct something similar.

Adding complexity to building the Temple Mount, one historian says that in order to preserve the site’s sacredness, while the temple was being built in Jerusalem not even the sound of a chisel was heard on the building site.

It’s believed that 210,000 people could assemble on the temple mount. During Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in Jewish tradition, people would gather to fast, weep, pray, and do some soul-searching, hoping to have their sins forgiven by God. But there was a process for atonement, and it had to be repeated every year. What would happen is one man, the High priest, would prepare for over a week to go into God’s presence to make a sacrifice. He’d fast, pray, repent, perform ritual cleansings, and put on a very specific outfit that God dictated. You know it’s high stakes when God tells you what underwear to put on, right?

The custom on the Day of Atonement was for the people who had assembled to stand completely still as the High Priest took two goats with him into the holy of Holies. One goat, he sacrificed on the altar, the other he brought back out. There, in front of all the people, the High Priest would then put his hands on the head of the goat and, in a solemn prayer, lay the sins of the people onto the head of the goat. Then, this goat, also known as the scapegoat, is led out of the city, taking the sins of the people with it. The word for scapegoat is Azazel. It is a word that carries with it the idea of “taking away.” This whole process was meant to be a tangible symbol of the fact that God had forgiven their sins, it was meant to bring relief to the people, and set them back into right relationship with God.

Now, it’s important to note two things:

First, according to Jewish teachings, a Gentile (a non-Jewish person) would be the one to lead the goat out of the city. Which is understandable because how do you interact with the goat carrying your sin if you see it wandering around the village a few days later?

Second thing to note, some Jewish traditions talk about how before the goat was led out of the city, a red cord was tied around its horns to show that this was ‘THE’ goat, the scapegoat, the one who carried the sins of the people along with the judgement of God, on its head.

Here’s why this matters. Fast forward many years, and Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate. The people who have assembled shout ‘Azazel,’ “Take him away. Crucify Him” (Jn 19:15). Then soldiers beat him and put a crown of thrones on his head. The thorns dig in, creating a ring of blood, and Jesus is led out of the city by Roman soldiers.

Do you see what is happening here? Jesus is standing before the people with a red ring of blood around his head from the crown of thorns; the crowd is shouting, “Azazel!” and then a Gentile leads him outside the city. The Lamb of God has come to take away the sin of the world. But what is different is that this Lamb accomplishes the task once and for all. No more sacrifices. No more ritual underwear, no more scapegoats are needed. It is finished.


Daily Reading: Leviticus 16

Source: Ray Vanderlaan,

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