6.4.3 Azazel’s Role in Yom Kippur

Azazel’s role in the Yom Kippur ceremony begins to make sense when we realize that Yom Kippur is just another incarnation of the most prominent judgment mystery in the Bible – the bitter water trial.  As we have seen, the first bitter water trial formulation in the Bible was the infamous judgment between the Serpent and Eve.  Of course, the most straightforward formulation was the Sotah’s bitter water trial in Numbers 5 for the wayward woman suspected of adultery by her husband.  Another critical formulation of the trial was Israel’s golden calf judgment at the foot of Mount Sinai. Yom Kippur is just another formulation. 

Israel’s Golden Calf Episode and the Bitter Water Trial

The Midrash teaches that Israel’s golden calf episode gave rise to a fully enacted bitter water trial.  In the golden calf episode, Israel was tested for idolatry against Jehovah, just as the Sotah was tested for adultery against her husband.  God’s judging Israel as a Sotah was appropriate because in accepting the Torah at mount Sinai, Israel had entered into a covenant with Jehovah.  This covenant was equivalent to a marriage contract, and Israel’s subsequent breach of this contract with the golden calf was the justification for their subjection to a bitter water trial.  Israel was the spiritual bride of Jehovah, and idolatry with other gods was equivalent to adultery against Jehovah. 

In the golden calf episode, Moses went alone atop Mount Sinai after God had given the Torah covenant to Israel.  Moses lingered there 40 days, and the people began to fear he had died.  They pressed upon Aaron to fashion an idol for them.  Aaron acquiesced and fashioned a golden calf with fire.  The Midrash holds that Aaron did this so that calf would be derision and curse amongst the people, and that indeed, the calf supernaturally emerged from the fire, alive and bleating.  Jehovah became angry with Israel and sent Moses down the mountain to judge them.  Upon arriving, Moses gathered the Levites, and they committed a great slaughter in the camp.  The Midrash explains that those slain were those against whom were at least two witnesses that confirmed they had worshipped the calf. 

Rashi and Ki Sisa of the Midrash explain that Moses then prepared bitter waters to determine who else in the camp was guilty, but against whom were no witness.  Moses burnt the calf and ground it to dust.  He strew this dust into water and forced the people to drink it (Ex 32:20, De 9:21).  Moses then ascended the mountain to pray for the people.  He declared to Jehovah that if the people’s names were to be blotted from God’s Book of Life, then his own name should be also.  In response, Jehovah agreed to save those who had not committed idolatry against him, but commanded that those who had sinned would die.  They would be blotted out of His book (Ex 32:33).  At that time a great plague struck the people because of the calf they made (Ex 32:35).  The Midrash holds that this plague was caused by the waters Moses made the people drink and that it only killed those whom had secretly committed idolatry with the calf. 

Shared Common Elements

The three formulations of the bitter water trial — the golden calf episode, Yom Kippur, and the trial itself – all shared common features summarized in Table 6‑4.  There is always the “Wayward Woman” element of the judgment.  She is the adulterous / idolatrous woman who shall be judged and destroyed.  In the garden episode, she is the Serpent.  In the golden calf episode, she is the Israelites who worshipped the calf.  In the Sotah trial, she is the defiled adulterous wife, and in Yom Kippur she is Azazel and all his host and unrepentant Israel. 

There is always the “Innocent Woman” element of a bitter water judgment.  She is the woman granted relieve from the curses.  In the garden, she is Eve.  At Mount Sinai, she is the Loyal Israelites who followed Moses.  In the Sotah trial, she is the innocent wife, and in Yom Kippur she is repentant Israel. 

All the formulations share a “Seed of Idolatry” element.  This is the seed of sin, which bears the curses of the judgment.  It is rejected as an acceptable sacrifice to Jehovah, and it returns its curses unto the Wayward Woman for her destruction.  In the garden this is the Serpent’s seed.  At Mount Sinai this seed is the Golden Calf.  In the Sotah trial, this seed is the supernatural seed of adultery, and in Yom Kippur it is Azazel and the goat given to him. 

All the formulations have a “Slain Promised Seed” element. This is the mystical seed of God, which is the incarnate manifestation of God himself, which is an acceptable sacrifice to God.  This seed is able to carry away the curses of the judgment from the Innocent Woman, and when its sacrifice is accepted by God, the curses are not returned to her.  This is Eve’s bruised promise seed in Eden, Moses in Sinai, the mystical seed formed from the dust of the water in the Sotah trial, and the high priest and the goat given to Jehovah in Yom Kippur. 


Wayward Woman
Innocent Woman
Seed of Idolatry
Slain Promised Seed
Revived Promise Seed
Serpent and Eve in Eden
Serpent’s Seed
Eve’s bruised seed
The Serpent eats dust and goes upon her belly.  She is cursed to be lowest of all beasts and shall be slain by Eve’s seed.
Eve’s promised seed, who although bruised, shall slay the Serpent and her seed.
Golden Calf at Sinai
Idolatrous Israelites who worshiped calf & were slain by plague of bitter waters
Loyal Israelites who followed Moshe and did not worship the calf
The Golden Calf
Moses prolonged stay on the mount, making Israel think he was dead.
The people against whom are no witness are forced to eat the calf’s golden dust suspended in holy waters.  A great plague slays the guilty. 
Return of Moses from the mount
Sotah Trial
The adulterous wife who perished
The innocent wife who lived and was granted a son
The seed of adultery
Mystical seed sacrificed in the woman’s offering to Jehovah
The woman eats dust suspended in holy water.  Her belly swells and she is consumed by fiery curses.
The seed promised to the innocent woman
Yom Kippur Azazel & his host; and sinful, unrepentant Israel who shall be cast with Azazel into the pits of hell on judgment day Repentant, cleansed Israel The goat to Azazel The goat to Jehovah All the sins of Israel are placed upon the goat to Azazel, which is slain in the place of Azazel’s confinement. The high priest who is cleansed by the accepted sacrifice of Jehovah’s goat and enters Holy of Holies to atone for all of Israel.

Table 64: Comparing Various Biblical Formulations of the Bitter Water Judgment (View Pic)

Finally, all formulations have a “Revived Promise Seed” element.  This is the slain promised seed restored to life.  In the garden this is Eve’s promised seed, which although bruised returns to slay the Serpent and her seed.  In the golden calf episode, this is the return of Moses from his extended stay atop Mount Sinai.  In the Sotah trial, this is the seed promised to the innocent woman, and in Yom Kippur this is the high priest who is cleansed by the blood of the goat to Jehovah.  He walks into the Holy of Holies and achieves atonement for Israel on Yom Kippur.

In Yom Kippur the goat to Jehovah, the high priest, and Jehovah are all manifestations of God.  The goat to Jehovah is the slain promised seed, whose blood and sacrifice allow the high priest, the revived promise seed, to ascend to Jehovah in the Holy of Holies and make atonement for all of Israel.  This is the Christian understanding of the ceremony, where Christ is the sacrifice, the high priest, and God.  By parallelism who expect the same imagery on the other side.  Then why is one goat “to Jehovah” while the other is “to Azazel” and not “to Lucifer”?  The accepted sacrifice is “to Jehovah” because God accepts the sacrifice and takes on the curses of the judgment himself.  However, the rejected sacrifice to returned “to Azazel” and the curses of the judgment return to him and his hosts.  Indeed, in the Yom Kippur ceremony lots and cast, and the goat on whom the lot to Azazel falls is rejected as a sacrifice in the Temple.  It is sent away back to Azazel with the sins and curses of Israel heaped upon it.  This is the same sequence of events in the Sotah trial.  The sacrifice of the defiled adulterous takes the curses away from her first drinking.  However, because this sacrifice is rejected upon the altar, when the woman drinks a second time from the bitter waters, the curses return to her again.  They do not depart again, but consume her in fiery curses.