(A·zaʹzel) [possibly, powerful against God].
Two goats (male kids) were obtained from the assembly of the sons of Israel by the high priest for use on the annual atonement day. By the casting of lots, one goat was designated “for Jehovah,” the other “for Azazel.” After a bull had been sacrificed for the high priest and his household (doubtless including all the Levites), the goat for Jehovah was sacrificed as a sin offering. However, the goat for Azazel was preserved alive for a time “before Jehovah to make atonement for it, so as to send it away for Azazel into the wilderness.” (Lev. 16:5, 7-10) Atonement for this live goat issued from the blood of the goat for Jehovah, which had just been killed as a sin offering, the life of the flesh being in the blood. (Lev. 17:11) The blood value or life value of the slain goat was thus transferred to the live goat or the goat for Azazel. Thus, though it was not killed by the priest, this live goat bore upon it a sin-atoning merit or a value of life. The fact that it was presented before Jehovah evidently indicates that he recognized this transfer of merit or sin-atoning power. A possible correspondency with this was the prescribed manner of cleansing an Israelite who was healed of leprosy (or of cleansing an entire house healed of that plague). In this case a living bird was dipped in the blood of a bird that had been killed. The living bird was then permitted to fly away to the unknown, carrying away sin.—Lev. 14:1-8, 49-55.
After sacrificing the goat for Jehovah, the high priest laid his hands upon the head of the living goat although not applying to it any of the blood of the “goat for Jehovah.” Then he confessed the sins of the people over it. This goat was then sent away, being taken into the wilderness by a “ready man.” (Lev. 16:20-22) The goat for Azazel thus symbolically carried off the people’s sins of the past year, disappearing with them into the wilderness, where it would probably be killed by wild beasts.
Both goats were to be unblemished, sound, and as much alike as possible. Before the casting of lots over them either goat stood the chance of being selected as the goat for Jehovah. In later times, Jewish rabbis endeavored to purchase the goats on the same day, twin goats being obtained when possible. In the temple rebuilt by Herod, the high priest reportedly cast lots over the goats by drawing from a basket two lots made of boxwood or gold, one in each hand, and placing these on the heads of the goats, one lot marked “for Jehovah” and the other “for Azazel.” The rabbis of the time when Jesus Christ was on earth are said to have made certain that the goat for Azazel died by having it led to a rocky precipice at the edge of the wilderness and then having it pushed over the cliff to meet death below.
According to its early derivation, the word “Azazel” has been held to signify either “strength of God” (if applied to a good angel) or “powerful against God” (if applied to such a spirit creature who had fallen). “Azazel” is ʽZa·za·e·ilʹ (the strong one against God), according to the Syriac Peshitta Version. The view that “Azazel” is an epithet for Satan the Devil has been widely held, by many Jews, by nominal Christians such as Origen, and by scholars of recent times. Satan is God’s chief opponent and hence is ‘strong against God.’ Of course, it should be realized that the goat sent away into the wilderness was not offered as a propitiation to the Devil. Both goats were “for a sin offering” to God.—Lev. 16:5.
Two goats were needed on the atonement day because it would not be possible to kill the goat for Jehovah as an atonement and yet keep it alive to serve a further purpose. On the atonement day the living goat became the ‘goat for Azazel,’ that is, for the one “powerful against God,” Satan the Devil, who was prophesied to bruise the Seed of God’s “woman” in the heel.—Gen. 3:15.
On the annual atonement day the ‘goat for Azazel’ was sent off into the desolate wilderness bearing the sins of the people, there to disappear forever. Likely, it died a violent death, being killed by wild beasts in the wilderness.