10. The Scapegoat
To relate all the ordinances that the Lord appointed for His people in Sinai would take many pages. Yet there were certain examples that deserve to be kept in remembrance, and of these the chief was the setting apart of the scapegoat to bear away the sins of the people on the Day of Atonement. Once every year on the tenth day of the seventh month, the whole nation was assembled before the Lord. On that day no work was to be done by any person, nor was any food to be eaten. Early in the morning the High Priest purified himself, and arrayed himself in his robes, and, slaying a bullock for a sin-offering, he entered into the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice upon the Mercy-seat. Then coming forth, there were brought to him two goats, and of these one was chosen by lot to be sacrificed before the Lord, and the other to be marked “for Azazel,” the evil spirit that men believed to dwell in desolate places.
The goat on which the lot of the Lord fell was slain, and its blood was borne by the High Priest into the Holy of Holies and there sprinkled, like the blood of the bullock, upon the Mercy-seat. Once more Aaron came forth from before the Lord, and the other goat, the goat of Azazel, was brought to him. Upon its head he laid both his hands, and, standing in this position, he confessed over it the sins of the people. Then the goat, thus bearing, as it were, the nation’s guilt upon its head, was handed over to a man appointed for the task, and he drove it far away from the camp into the middle of the desolate wilderness. There he let it go loose, to wander until death should come to it; and thus God gave His people the sign that their sins were borne away from them and should be remembered no more. He who led the goat, and all who had a share in the sacrifices of this Great Day of Atonement — these purified themselves and washed their clothes before they returned to the camp. In this manner were the sins of Israel atoned for, and year by year, so long as the nation endured, this statute of the Lord was observed.
Many were the commands which were laid upon the people to guide them, and of these, while all were just and righteous, some were full of mercy and kindness, and of thoughtfulness for the poor and the weak. Thus in the days of harvest, or vintage, or of the gathering of fruit, no Israelite was allowed to reap the corners of his field, nor to glean after the reapers, nor to strip his vines and fruit-trees quite bare of their fruit. Something was always to be left for the poor and the stranger, that everyone might have a share in the plenty and joy of the ingathering. Moreover, once in every seven years the land was to have its Sabbath. In that seventh year the fields were not to be sown, nor the vineyards pruned, nor was the farmer to gather what might grow of itself for his own profit; it was to be left for all who needed to gather and use.
And after seven times seven years, in the fiftieth year, there came the Jubilee. It was proclaimed by sound of trumpet throughout all the land on the Great Day of Atonement; and all that year the land had rest, and even those on whom trouble and misfortune had fallen in the past shared in the joy of the nation. For with the Jubilee, all heritages were restored, and all servitudes were broken. It might be that, in their poverty and need, a person had been forced to part with their land or to sell themselves as a servant. But when the fiftieth year came round, their land was given back and the person was set free. Thus the Lord commanded, in order that the strong and rich might not oppress the weak and poor, and that no one of Israel might be a slave or be shut out from hope.
Even the foreigner and non-Jew who might be dwelling in the land was to be mercifully and kindly treated. “You shall not oppress them,” said the Lord, “but they shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Thus, with mercy and with judgment, God ordered the future of His people. And He taught them to remember that if they kept His Laws and were obedient, His mercy would be with them and His strength would give them victory; but if they forgot His words, and turned to disobedience and foolishyness, then trouble and disaster would fall upon them. So the Lord made an end of all the statutes and judgments and laws which He made between Him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.