Scripture Imagery: 91. The Two Goats

Leviticus 16  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 12
One of the incidental proofs of the inspiration of the Scriptures is the way in which the precepts and commands are intermingled with the principles and historical circumstances whence they originally sprang. In that way not only is avoided the monotony, which is the bane of classified theology, but the ethical lessons are conveyed gradually and are impressed mnemonically by the context; whilst the precept throws light on the principle and the principle on the precept, the book interpreting and illustrating itself; as Giuliani used to say that Dante was his own interpreter, “Dante spiegato con Dante.” If the Bible had been constructed by professional theologians, it would have had a methodical arrangement like their own writings, no doubt,—doctrines here, history there, precepts somewhere else—all neat, symmetrical, and useful as a kitchen garden. Whereas it has been arranged more in the way in which God makes a continent, with a gigantic appearance of disorder which becomes more and more orderly and magnificent as we view it from higher and more comprehensive standpoints. Moreover, it is more difficult to avoid meeting the precepts when they are everywhere interspersed with the text.
After dealing in Leviticus with the subject of the leper, where human nature is shown in its most repulsive forms, we find some chapters of precepts which show by implication what horrible things it is capable of doing, and these are immediately connected with the atonement in the important and well known sixteenth chapter. They were very real sinners, these Israelites, these men for whom the atonement was provided. But, thank God, the atonement provided is very real too. And that is the difference between a divine gospel and a human religion. The human inventions are so grotesquely inadequate, inconsistent, and inconsequent, that they are seldom or never meant to be taken seriously. The reply of the ancient oracle (which fairly represents popular religion in all ages) is that men “To the pure precincts of Apollo's portal” must “come pure in heart, and touch the lustral wave.” There is no hope for the real sinner, but for the fictitious “pure in heart” it says, “One drop sufficeth for the sinless mortal; All else e'en ocean's billows cannot lave! “Now if a man be pure, he does not require cleansing at all; whereas those who really require and desire cleansing are informed that there is no power that can accomplish it. Men do not practice such preposterous foolishness in any other matters; no one ever saw a doctor professing that one drop of his medicine was sufficient for those who were perfectly well, and that not all the medicine he possessed could save any sick person. “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” The fountain which God opens is “a fountain for sin and for uncleanness.”
Thus as these chapters which recount such a fearful catalog of sins are connected with the Great Day of Atonement, so does the sense of sin at all times—in some form and degree—lead to the apprehension of the atoning work of Christ. And it is the weakening of this sense of sin that in recent times has been undermining the doctrine of atonement and other foundational doctrines of Christianity. A recent writer in the Revue des Deux Mondes says, “With us the notion of sin has long been abolished. Adultery is the contravention of a certain article of the Code—the violation of a contract signed in the presence of such and such lawyers.” Though I refuse to believe that such words are true of the bulk of the French people, yet unquestionably they are true of a very large number in that and all other nations professedly religious.
There are a great many who fancy they can see quite well; but when their eyes are tested, it is found that they are very defective: that they are myopic or, it may be, suffer from “Daltonism” —they are incapable of distinguishing certain colors, most frequently red. These people are astounded when told of the defect and find that others can see what they cannot. There is often the same kind of defect in the spiritual sight, and frequently those who assume to guide are unwittingly stone blind to the most important things which exist, and exist terribly, without their knowledge. These blind guides are more dangerous than the engine drivers who cannot distinguish the red lights on the railway that we hear of sometimes, for those lead only our bodies to destruction. One of the most fatal infatuations is for me to suppose that a danger does not exist because I do not see it, as one of the most stupid is to think that a phenomenon cannot exist because I do not understand it.
But the “advanced” theologians will find it more difficult to remove the atonement from the hearts of the people than probably they think. They have not yet quite succeeded in removing it even from the creeds. Heidelberg and Brooklyn must have been somewhat surprised lately when at the burial of that strong man of God who repudiated their “modern criticism,” the multitude burst with a great emotion into singing, “Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood Shall never lose its power”
The great Day of Atonement was ushered in with the most solemn, awful, and imposing ordinances. When modern criticism says that atonement by blood is shocking and terrible, it says what is true. It is meant to be shocking and terrible, for sin is shocking and terrible. The especial feature is the taking of the Two Goats, which give the two great aspects of the death of Christ. The first goat is the LORD'S lot: it is slain in order that His justice may be vindicated in respect of the presence of sin in the world, (apart altogether from the question of the forgiveness of sins). On the head of the second goat all the sins of His people are charged and it is sent into the wilderness bearing their offenses forever away from them to a land not inhabited—where there is no one to know them or charge them upon us. The first aspect—where God has the first and highest claim on the atonement—is perhaps little considered by us. In this sense Christ “tasted death for every man.” The blood was sprinkled once on the mercy seat, for one testimony is sufficient towards God, but it is sprinkled seven times before the throne out towards men, for the testimony must be repeated over and over again to man in order to be effectual. Goats are taken, because whilst they are really clean, yet they are put in the place of being unclean and regarded as symbols of impurity1 — God sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” yet was He “holy, harmless, and undefiled.”