Last night I was thinking (yes, I still think lots of thoughts, I just don’t always share them) about the Azazel goat (first mentioned in the current Torah portion—Leviticus 16). The sin of the Israelites was symbolically placed on the head of the Azazel goat, and then that goat was forcibly driven from the camp.
Because Yeshua is our High Priest in the Heavenly Tabernacle, and because we have received atonement through His sacrifice, we are no longer intimately familiar with the Yom Kippur rituals and the casting out of the Azazel goat. This, our forgiveness through Yeshua, is a beautiful thing that should never be taken lightly. But because we are not familiar with the yearly physical ritual, the picture, the earthly shadow cast by the spiritual reality, because we can’t see it leaving, we sometimes open the gate and let that damned goat right back in.
I’m the kind of person who can tangibly feel her sins following her around. I often hear goats bleating in the middle of the night. It’s fairly easy for me to forgive other people; the Father has been gracious to teach me. I’ll admit, though I’ve grown in this area over recent years, I still struggle when it comes to forgiving myself.
Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t fully make the connection between what I just wrote and what I am about to write:
I never get away with anything.
Some people get away with murder.
But I never get away with anything.
Case in point, I can still remember that terrible day when I showed up to my private high school in faintly pinstriped pants (almost the required “solid color,” but not quite). Would my rebellion go unchecked? Nope. Why?
Because I never get away with anything!
For a long time I have lived with the consequences of my sins as though my sins were not yet forgiven. But does forgiveness mean a lack of consequences? Does consequence mean that the goat has come back, or is discipline simply another matter? If I ground my daughter for playing games when she was supposed to be taking a test, is she forgiven when she says she’s sorry (and I say that I forgive her) or when her grounding is over?
Of course, I forgive her as soon as she asks. And sometimes, sometimes, I will cancel the consequence because I’m Mom and I do what I want. But what if I did that every time? Would that be in her best interest?
Genesis chapter fifteen is one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible. Right smack in there though is a curious little verse, verse sixteen, that used to cross my eyes:
“Only in the fourth generation will your descendants come back here, because only then will the Emori be ripe for punishment.” (CBJ)
“But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” (KJV)
“In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (NIV)
In II Maccabees, chapter two, the writer details the horrible defilement that happened to the Temple and the Jewish people around 167 BC. It’s hard to read, especially if you love God’s law. And no, Maccabees is not included in the Protestant cannon of Scripture, but it is historically important (in my opinion).
After the writer speaks of the persecution of his people, he says something I find to be extremely profound, especially in light of Genesis 15:16.
He says this:
“Now I urge those who read this book not to be disheartened by these misfortunes, but to consider that these punishments were meant not for the ruin but for the correction of our nation. It is, in fact, a sign of great kindness to punish the impious promptly instead of letting them go for long. Thus, in dealing with other nations, the Sovereign Lord patiently waits until they reach the full measure of their sins before punishing them; but with us he has decided to deal differently, in order that he may not have to punish us later, when our sins have reached their fullness. Therefore he never withdraws his mercy from us. Although he disciplines us with misfortunes, he does not abandon his own people.”
In other words, God’s people never get away with anything. And this is good. Someday His fist will come down and He will say “Enough is enough!” He waits for the wicked to reach the full measure of their sin; someday He will destroy them completely. Thank God He does not deal with His own people this way.
If you’re living in a season of discipline, as I often feel I am, do not misconstrue His chastisement as a sign of wrath or unforgiveness. The goat is long gone; let it die in the wilderness where it belongs. But be thankful for His mercy that often comes in the form of discipline, because He loves us too much to leave us as we are.