Questions From Readers
● What were the “goat-shaped demons” that are mentioned in the Bible?—T. W., U.S.A.
The Hebrew word sa‘ir, literally meaning “hairy or shaggy one,” usually refers to a goat or kid of the goats. (Gen. 37:31; Lev. 4:24) However, in four texts translators generally view the Hebrew word as having a meaning beyond its ordinary usage.—Lev. 17:7; 2 Chron. 11:15; Isa. 13:21; 34:14.
At Leviticus 17:7 and; 2 Chronicles 11:15 the term (se‘irim, plural) is used in reference to things to which worship and sacrifice are given in connection with false religion. In the Greek Septuagint the word is rendered “the senseless things” and in the Latin Vulgate it is “the demons.” Modern translators and lexicographers often adopt the same view, translating it “demons,” “satyrs” (Ro, AT, RS, The Jerusalem Bible) or “goat-shaped demons.”—NW, Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros, Hebrew, German and English Lexicon of the Old Testament.
Evidently the Israelites had been affected to some extent by the false worship carried on in Egypt. (Josh. 24:14; Ezek. 23:8, 21) Hence, some scholars consider Leviticus 17:7 and; 2 Chronicles 11:15 as indicating that there was some form of goat worship among the Israelites, as was prominent in Egypt. Herodotus claims that from such Egyptian worship the Greeks derived their belief in Pan and satyrs, lustful woodland gods that were depicted with horns, a goat’s tail and goat’s legs.
The Bible does not state just what such “hairy or shaggy” ones actually were. The term does not necessarily indicate idols in the form of goats, for the use of “goats” may merely be an expression of contempt even as the word for “idol” is drawn from a term originally meaning “dung pellets.” Possibly “hairy ones” or “goats” simply indicated that in the minds of those worshiping them such false gods were conceived of as goatlike in shape or hairy in appearance.
The sense of se‘irim at Isaiah 13:21 and Isa 34:14 is not as clear cut since false worship is not directly being condemned. In depicting the desolate ruin that Babylon would become, Isaiah wrote: “There the haunters of waterless regions will certainly lie down, and their houses must be filled with eagle owls. And there the ostriches must reside, and goat-shaped demons themselves will go skipping about there.” (Isa. 13:21) Interestingly, the Septuagint uses “demons” in this instance; and in Revelation 18:2 the description of Babylon the Great mentions that it is the habitat of unclean birds and “demons.”
Consequently, if se‘irim is to be understood as referring in Isaiah 13:21 and Isa 34:14 to something beyond the meaning “goat,” the rendering “goat-shaped demons” would be appropriate, being consistent with the rendering in Leviticus 17:7 and; 2 Chronicles 11:15.
Isaiah may have injected into his list of literal animals and birds a reference to demons, not meaning that they materialized in the form of goats, but that the pagans around Babylon and Edom would imagine such places to be inhabited by demons. History shows that the people of Syria and Arabia have long associated monstrous creatures with similar ruins. And if shaggy-haired animals were in the desolate ruins of Edom and Babylon, observers might be led to think of demons.
● Since the apostle Paul taught that Christians are not under the Mosaic law, why did he go through a ceremony at the temple in Jerusalem in connection with a vow to God?—M. G., U.S.A.
It is undeniable that the apostle Paul recognized that Christians are not bound by the Mosaic law. He wrote under inspiration: “We have been discharged from the law, because we have died to that by which we were being held fast”; “You are not under law but under undeserved kindness,” and, “If you are being led by spirit, you are not under law.”—Rom. 7:6; 6:14; Gal. 5:18.
That fact, though, does not mean that he viewed the requirements of the Law as sinful. He wrote: “On its part, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Rom. 7:12) The point is that God’s servants are not required to keep the Law in order to please Jehovah and gain salvation. For instance, it is not a sin to be circumcised; it is not an unchristian act. But it would be wrong to believe that a Christian must be circumcised in order to be saved.—Acts 15:1, 2, 5, 22-29; 16:3.
It was not uncommon among the Jews for one who had escaped some danger or misfortune to make a vow to Jehovah, possibly vowing to abstain from alcoholic beverages for a period of time. This might be similar to a Nazirite vow. (Num. 6:1-21) When the set period was completed the Jew would cut off his hair and probably render up sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem.
In Acts 18:18 we read that Paul “had the hair of his head clipped short in Cenchreae [near Corinth], for he had a vow.” Whether he had made this vow before becoming a Christian is not stated, nor do we even know definitely whether this was the beginning or end of his vowed period. We cannot rule out the possibility that this is related to what later took place in Jerusalem.
When Paul was in Jerusalem after his third missionary trip the Christians making up the governing body mentioned that there was a great deal of resentment among the Jews toward Paul. Believing rumors, the Jews thought that Paul was rabidly preaching against the Mosaic law. In this they were incorrect, as we have seen. So as to demonstrate that to all publicly, James and the spiritually older men advised Paul: “We have four men with a vow upon themselves. Take these men along and cleanse yourself ceremonially with them and take care of their expenses, that they may have their heads shaved. And so everybody will know that there is nothing to the rumors they were told about you, but that you are walking orderly, you yourself also keeping the Law.”—Acts 21:23, 24.
Paul and the four Christians who had a vow upon them did this. (Acts 21:26) Their course was not an apostate act or a compromise of Christianity. They demonstrated that the Jewish regulations regarding vows had not become wicked just because Christians need not follow them. It is not as if they had offered incense to a pagan deity—a thing that was definitely contrary to true Christian worship. What they did was not in itself improper, and it seemed that it would counteract Jewish prejudices and allow for many others to hear the good news of salvation that Paul was intensely interested in preaching.