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A Scapegoat


Bible Study #8

Common Bible Phrases #5


A scapegoat has also been referred to as a

whipping boy or fall guy.


Meaning: In modern usage a scapegoat may be any person, employee, peer, ethnic or religious group, or even a country, that is singled out for blame and responsibility over a negative situation, action or problem. Because of this unjustified blame they receive negative treatment or punishment.

Origin: Scapegoat, (i.e., "escape-goat") this phrase comes from the common English translation of the Hebrew word Azazel which appears in the book of Leviticus (16:8) in reference to the scapegoat.

Although the concept of a scapegoat is a very ancient one, we still find today that people can be or are used as scapegoats, so that the repercussions of bad decisions by political leaders, business people, religious leaders etc. can be avoided by them. Sadly, in our very connected modern world large amounts of what essentially is propaganda is published around the world to put blame on someone else.

In the Hebrew religion, by performing a ceremony, the collective sins or guilt of the people were placed on an innocent animal, thus the scapegoat paid the penalty for the guilt of the people. The animal was then taken out of the community symbolizing the casting out of the sins and guilt, it was then cast off a high cliff to perish, ensuring that it didn’t return to the community bringing back their guilt with it.

The scapegoat was a goat that was chosen to be outcast in the desert as part of the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement, that began during the time of the Exodus with Moses, continuing through the times of the temples in Jerusalem.

Historically, in different cultures the idea of placing blame on an innocent animal or person to take away the guilt or sins of the people has frequently, if not always, been present. Often, in times of natural disaster, such as a plague, famine or an invasion or in response to a calendrical crisis, such as the end of a year, a victim is sacrificed, in order to take away the guilt of the people.

An example of people wanting to put blame on someone for a disaster can be found in the Old Testament account of Jonah. In chapter one a ship, with Jonah aboard, sailed out to sea and encountered a terrible storm, believing that they would die, the sailors were determined to find out who was responsible for their calamity. In the case of Jonah, he knew he was to blame and accepted, in fact insisted, on the punishment of throwing him off the ship.

The story of the scapegoat in Leviticus from where we get the term scapegoat, has also been interpreted as a picture of the self-sacrifice of Jesus, (Hebrews 9:22-28) who not being guilty but innocent, was able to take on himself the sins or guilt of humanity, and was crucified on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem, by order of the gentile Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate a political leader, after pressure from the Jewish religious leaders.


To some modern thinkers, the idea that the innocent must pay for the guilty, sounds very unjust, so, let’s take a deeper look at it.


The consequence of disobedience and the punishment for guilt.

Throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, the clear punishment for capital offenses was death. That sounds very harsh, until we examine what the big picture is concerning this. Following is a concise explanation. Some of the links located in the text have more detailed in-depth studies, if you would like to check them out.


From the beginning chapters of the Bible narrative, we learn that, when Adam (along with Eve) became guilty of rebellion against God, through disbelieving His instructions to them, that there would be direct results or consequences for their choice of action.


Genesis 2:17 tells us the following: but you shall not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.

Then, Genesis 3:3 tells us that Adam and Eve were told and knew beforehand that rebellion or disobedience against God’s word or instruction would result in death.


Later, the New Testament tells us the same, in the book of Romans: Romans 3:23 For all have sinned. 6:23 For the wages of sin is death. Then in James 1:13-16 Let no one being tempted say, I am tempted from God. For God is not tempted by evils, and He tempts no one. 14 But each one is tempted by his lusts, being drawn away and seduced by them. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin. And sin, when it is fully formed, brings forth death. 16 Do not err, my beloved brothers.

So, then death is a direct consequence of our own choice and decision making.


It’s possible that death, may have been to some extent, an unknown quantity to Adam and Eve? Since up until their rebellion everything in the Garden of Eden, where they lived, was very good. (See Genesis 1:31) If everything was very good, do you think that death was present with them? I’ll leave that up to you to consider what you think?


In some ways, it may have been somewhat similar to us telling a small child, not to touch something that is very hot.


“Don’t touch, you’ll get burned!”


How do children react? Very often, they may try to touch it anyway and then find out the consequences and what getting burned really means! As we have probably experienced, the inborn desire in people, even in young children, to rebel against instruction or sound advice and for them to then discover the sad consequences.


Why is death the result of rebellion against God?


The Bible tells us that God is perfect or that there is no imperfection, sin or ‘guilt’ in God’s presence. When guilt occurs, the result is instant separation from God and since all life comes from God, separation from God brings death, the only alternative to life.

God does not want to be or stay separated from people or from His creation, that he made out of great love, due to the entry of guilt into the world. God gave people freewill and the ability to choose whether or not to be in a relationship with him. Knowing the real consequences of people’s choices, he made a way of rectifying the calamity of bad choices, made by humans, all the way from the beginning until now.


If you have read my study #7 on forgiveness you will have read that recompense or payment for guilt has to be made in order to set things ‘right’.


Because true payment for anyone’s guilt can only be made by someone who is not guilty of the same themselves, we can see why initially, animals were used, as a symbol of innocence, to take on the guilt of the people, as the scapegoats.


However, the true final fulfillment of this payment for guilt came through Jesus Christ, who knew no sin and as “a lamb to the slaughter”, died on a cross to take away the sins of the world.

See also: Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32,33.

8 Scapegoat
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