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Leviticus 16:21

21 Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites' wrongdoings and rebellious acts-all their sins.[a] He is to put them on the goat's head and send [it] away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task.[b]

Leviticus 16:21 Meaning and Commentary

Leviticus 16:21

And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live
In this order as the Targum of Jonathan says, his right hand upon his left hand on the head of the live goat; this was done in the name of the people, hereby transferring their sins, and the punishment of them, to it:

and confess him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all
their transgressions in all their sins;
which takes in their sins, greater or lesser, sins of ignorance and presumption, known or not known F24, even all sorts of and all of them: the form of confession used in after times was this F25; O Lord, thy people, the house of Israel, have done perversely, have transgressed sinned berate thee, O Lord, expiate now the iniquities, transgressions, and sins, in which thy people, the house of Israel, have done perversely, transgressed, and sinned before thee, as it is written in the law of Moses thy servant (( Leviticus 16:30 ) ;) and it is added, and the priests and people that stood in the court, when they heard the name Jehovah go out of the mouth of the high priest, they bowed, and worshipped, and fell upon their faces, and said, blessed be God, let the glory of his kingdom be for ever and ever:

putting them upon the head of the goat;
that is, the iniquities, transgressions, and sins of the people of Israel before confessed, and that by confession of them, with imposition of hands; and which was typical of the imputation of the sins of the people of God to Christ, of the Lord laying, or causing to meet on him the iniquities of them all, and of his being made sin by imputation for them:

and shall send [him] away by the hand of a fit man into the
whether the wilderness of Judea, or what other is intended, is not certain. The Targum of Jonathan calls it the wilderness of Zuck; which, according to the Misnah F26, was three miles from Jerusalem, at the entrance of the wilderness; and whereas in another Misnah F1, instead of Bethchadudo, Bethhoron is mentioned, which is said also to be three miles from Jerusalem: it is not an improbable conjecture of Dr. Lightfoot F2, that the goat was sent in the way to Bethhoron, which was the same distance from Jerusalem as the other place was, in the northern coast of Judea, and had very rough hills about it, and a narrow passage to it. The man, by whom he was sent, was one fit for the purpose, that knew the way to the wilderness, and was acquainted with it; a man of years and understanding, and of a disposition suitable for such a service; the Septuagint version renders it one that was "ready"; and the Targums, one that was "prepared" to go, or "appointed", and got ready; Jarchi says, the day before; but the Targum of Jonathan a year ago: perhaps it designs one, that being once appointed, was continued, and so was used to it from time to time, and constantly did it: the phrase properly signifies "a man of time" or "opportunity" F3; Aben Ezra finds fault with those who render it a wise man, but observes, that some of their Rabbins say it was a priest that led the goat to the wilderness, which he approves of; according to the Misnah F4, all were fit for this service (formerly common and unclean), but what the high priest did (afterwards) was fixed, and they did not suffer an Israelite to lead him (i.e. a common Israelite, one that was not a priest); according to the Talmud F5, even a stranger, and an unclean person, was fit for this service. In the mystical sense, by this fit man, or man of opportunity, is not meant, according to Abarbinel, Nebuchadnezzar, who led the children of Israel into the wilderness of the people, into the Babylonish captivity; but rather, if it could be understood of Christ being sent, and carried into the wilderness of the Gentile world, upon his resurrection and ascension to heaven, the Apostle Paul might be thought of; who was a chosen vessel to carry his name there, and was eminently the apostle of the Gentiles: but seeing by Azazel, to whom this goat was let go, Satan seems to be meant; if, as some think F6, Christ was baptized on the day of atonement, and on that day was led by the Spirit to the wilderness of Judea, there to be tempted of the devil, that might be considered as a very singular accomplishment of the type; and the Jews seem to expect the Messiah on the day of atonement F7: or rather, as Witsius F8 observes, the hand of the fit man may denote the power that rose up against Christ, namely, the Gentiles and the people of Israel, and particularly Pilate, who took care that Christ, burdened with the cross, an emblem of the curse, should be led without the gate, where he had his last conflict with the devil; (See Gill on Leviticus 16:10). This is applied to Pilate by Origen F9.


F24 Vid. Maimon. Hilchot Teshnbah, c. 1. sect. 2.
F25 Misnah Yoma, c. 6. sect. 2.
F26 Misnah Yoma, sect. 8.
F1 Misn. Hieros. c. 6. sect. 9. fol. 43. 2.
F2 Chorograph. Cent. on Matth. c. liv. Vid. ib. c. 6. xix.
F3 (yte vya) "viri opportuni", Montanus; "viri tempestivi", Tigurine version.
F4 Ut supra, (F1) sect. 3.
F5 T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 66. 1, 2.
F6 Jackson & alii, apud Patrick in loe.
F7 T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 19. 2.
F8 De Oeconomia Foeder. l. 4. c. 6. sect. 72.
F9 In Levit. Homil. 10. c. 16. fol. 82.

Leviticus 16:21 In-Context

19 He is to sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse and set it apart from the Israelites' impurities.
20 "When he has finished purifying the [most] holy place, the tent of meeting, and the altar, he is to present the live male goat.
21 Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites' wrongdoings and rebellious acts-all their sins. He is to put them on the goat's head and send [it] away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task.
22 The goat will carry on it all their wrongdoings into a desolate land, and he will release it there.
23 "Then Aaron is to enter the tent of meeting, take off the linen garments he wore when he entered the [most] holy place, and leave them there.

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. Ezr 10:1; Neh 9:2-3; Dn 9:20; Jms 5:16; 1 Jn 1:9
  • [b]. Lit wilderness in the hand of a ready man
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