James Nisbet Commentary - Leviticus 16:22 - 16:22

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James Nisbet Commentary - Leviticus 16:22 - 16:22

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness’ (margin ‘a land of separation’).


I. The solitude of the sin-bearer is something altogether distinct from the solitude of the Holy One. The solitude of holiness separated Him from sinners; but that separation, which made Him lead in His humanity a strange, lonesome life, yet brought Him into such full contact with all the glorious beings and the realities of the spirit-world, that such a solitude could hardly be looked upon with any considerable regret, or be the source of actual pain. The solitude of the sin-bearer is different from that of the Representative of holiness and purity.

II. Consider the causes of this solitude.—(1) Wherever sin exists, it is an isolating principle. Its tendency is to induce seclusion and separation, to shut the person who is possessed of it from all connection with that which is outside itself. (2) The scape-goat was to bear upon its head all the confessed iniquity of the children of Israel, and to bear it into a land of separation. Christ was the scape-goat of the human family. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read that He, by the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself to God. The scape-goat finds the land of separation at last, all alone in the darkness. He bore our sins into the land not inhabited. No witnessing spirit can find them there; no denizen of those dreary regions can rediscover them. They are lost sight of by man; the angels find them obliterated from their view; and God Himself has turned His back upon them, and left them in the land of separation.

Canon Hay Aitken.


(1) ‘The story of the Great Day of Atonement is significant in every verse. The entrance once a year; the changing of the splendid garments of the High Priest’s dress for the raiment of linen (type of humility and purity); the mingled offerings, sin and burnt, by which Aaron first made an atonement for himself and for his house because they were not what Jesus was—pure and harmless and undefiled; and the entrance within the veil with the blood of sprinkling, in utter loneliness—how full of teaching are all these of the work of Jesus, not for Himself, but for us who comprise His house.’

(2) ‘How many books have been written, and how many sermons have been preached, to show how God could be just, and yet justify a sinner; how He had a right to do it, and what were the relations of forgiving mercy to law? These questions are not immaterial, but the spirit of atonement is far more important than its method. The secret tuth is this: crowned suffering, love bearing the penalty away from the transgressor, and securing his recreation. Love bearing love, love teaching love, love inspiring love, love recreating love—this is the atonement. It is the opening up of elements which bear in them cleansing power, inspiration, aspiration, salvation, immortality. It is the interior working force of atonement that we are most concerned in, though we are apt the feast to concern ourselves with it.’

(3) ‘Jesus Christ is the Reality of which both these goats were the shadows. He is the Victim slain for me, the Sacrifice offered once in the end of the world and never needing to be offered again. Moreover, He carries into the wilderness all my iniquities—carries them far and for ever away from me.

Why should I fear? It is a full salvation I have in Him.’


In considering the meaning of the particular rites of the day three points appear to be of a very distinctive character—

I. The white garments of the high priest.

II. His entrance into the Holy of Holies.

III. The two goats.

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches us how to apply the first two particulars. The high priest himself, with his person cleansed and dressed in white garments, was the best outward type which a living man could present in his own person of that pure and holy One who was to purify His people and cleanse them from their sins. The two goats at least clearly teach that no single material object could in its nature embrace the whole of the truth which was to be expressed. Hence the slain goat represents the act of sacrifice in which our Redeemer gave up His own life for others ‘to Jehovah,’ in accordance with the requirements of the Divine law. The goat which carried off its load of sin ‘for complete removal’ (such is the meaning some assign to ‘Azazel’) represents the cleansing influence of faith in that sacrifice. Thus in his degree the devout Israelite might have felt the truth of the Psalmist’s words, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.’ To the devout mind there can be no doubt that the whole spiritual truth has been revealed in historical fact, in the life, death, and resurrection of Him who was made sin for us, who died for us, and who rose again for our justification. This Mediator, it was necessary, should, in some unspeakable manner, unite death and life.


(1) ‘It had been a wondrous day from the very first dawn to the last streak of the setting sun. At the third hour of the morning (nine o’clock) every street or way of the camp had been trodden by a people going up to peculiar service—each moving along, serious and awe-struck. As many as the courts could contain enter—specially aged men and fathers of Israel; the rest stand in thousands near, or sit in groups under green bushes and on little eminences that overlook the enclosing curtains. Some are in the attitude of prayer; some are pondering the book of the law; some, like Hannah, move their lips, though no word is heard; all are ever and again glancing at the altar, and the array of the courts. Even children sit in wonder, and whisper their inquiries to their parents. The morning sacrifice is offered; the priest’s bullock and ram standing by, and other victims besides. They wait in expectation of what is to follow when the smoke of the morning lamb has melted into the clouds. They see the lots cast on the two goats, the priest enter the sanctuary with his own offering, and return amid the tremblings of Israel, who all feel that they are concerned in his acceptance. They see one goat slain and its blood carried in. The scape-goat is then led down their trembling ranks, out of the camp; and at length Aaron re-appears to their joy. The murmur of delight now spreads along, like the pleasant ruffling of the water’s surface in the breeze of summer’s evenings. The silver trumpets sound—the evening lamb is offered; Israel feels the favour of their God, and returns home to rest under His shadow. “O Lord, thou wast angry with me, but Thine anger is turned away and Thou comfortest me.”

How intensely interesting to have seen this day kept in later times in Jerusalem! The night before, you would have seen the city become silent and still, as the sun set. No lingerers in the market—no traders—no voice of business. The watchmen that go about the city sing the penitential psalms, reminding themselves of their own and the city’s secret sins, seen through the darkness by an all-seeing God: and the Levites from the temple responsively sing as they walk round the courts. As the sun rises over the Mount of Olives, none is seen in the streets—no smoke rises from any dwelling—no hum of busy noise; for no work is done on a holy convocation day. The melody of joy and health ascends from the tabernacles of the righteous. But at the hour of morning sacrifice, the city pours out its thousands, who move solemnly towards the Temple, or repair to the heights of Zion’s towers, or the grassy slopes of Olivet, that they may witness as well as join in all the day’s devotion. They see the service proceed—they see the scape-goat led away—they see the priest come out of the holy place; and at this comforting sight every head in the vast, vast multitude is bowed in solemn thankfulness, and every heart moves the lips to a burst of joy. The trumpet for the evening sacrifice sounds; Olivet re-echoes; the people on its bosom see the city and the altar, and weep for very gladness; all know it is the hour for the evening blessing. When the sun set, an angel might have said to his fellow, “Look upon Zion, the city of solemnities! behold Jerusalem, a quiet habitation!” ’

(2) Having completed the directions respecting the priest, the writer proceeds with that part of the service which refers to the whole congregation. The two goats (Jewish tradition says they were similar in appearance, size, and value) provided for out of the public treasury, were first of all formally presented before the Lord before “the door of the tent of meeting.” Lots were cast upon them. In later times the lots were of gold, originally they were of wood. One was engraved “for Jehovah,” the other “for Azazel” (compare verse 8, Revised Version). They were put into a little box or urn. Into it the high priest put both his hands and took out a lot in each, while the two goats stood before him, one at the right side and the other on the left. The lot in each hand belonged to the goat in the corresponding position. When the lot “for Azazel” happened to be in the right hand it was regarded as a good omen. “The other lot for the scape-goat.” The word in the original, “Azazel,” is found only in this chapter, and is adopted by the Revised Version. No better meaning has yet been found for it than “scape” or “escape.” The twofold teaching under these most suggestive symbols only finds fulfilment in the completed work of the Lord Jesus. The slain goat signified that by His death He suffered the penalty due for sin; by the scape-goat set free, it is signified, that He bore away our sin. “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” ’