I stand with my people, trembling while we wait for the High Priest to come out of the tabernacle. When he comes, the tabernacle, the altar, and the Most Holy place, will be purified. When he comes, the time for my task will be near. The goat tied before us bleats its fear and we moan in response.
I am no priest, but the lot has fallen on me. It was cast last night, and afterward Moses and Aaron came to my tent to prepare me for what I must do.
“Do not touch it,” they said, their eyes dark with warning. “Use your staff, but do not touch it.”
My mother and father helped me prepare. She gave her best basin and showed me how to wash my garments so no stain would remain. My father helped carry water skins outside the camp. This was the personal sacrifice of my family.
The goat bleats again and Aaron comes out with slow steps. His face is solemn, but peaceful. I tighten the grip on my staff and feel for the bag of stones tied at my waist. Aaron approaches the goat and looks to me, waiting while I release the knot that ties the goat to a stake. I hope none can see my hands shake as I clutch the rope.
Aaron leans forward, and lays one hand, then the other, on the goat’s head. He looks to the sky and trumpets his prayer to the Holy One.
“O Lord, God of Israel, you are just. We confess that we have sinned against you, O Lord our God. Our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands. All Israel has disobeyed your instruction and turned away, refusing to listen to your voice.
“You, O Lord our God, brought lasting honor to your name by rescuing your people from Egypt in a great display of power. In view of all your faithful mercies, Lord, please turn your furious anger away from your people. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your people. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.
“O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive.”
He falls silent while the sins of the people pass through his hands on to the head of the goat.
Now it is my time. I drop the rope and wave my staff at the goat. The people fall back.
“Yeeeaaaaa,” I cry and the goat runs through the space they have opened for it.
I reach for the bag of stones as I follow, running behind the goat. Soon we have passed the people, but the animal is confused and turns into the camp, darting toward a tent.
“No,” I yell and throw a stone.
The goat swerves away from the tent, back toward the edge of the camp. My next stone hits it and it increases its pace. I take in deep breaths and for a moment I enjoy the chase, forgetting why I am running. But we are not out of the camp yet, and I scoop more stones out of my bag, pursuing it into the empty wilderness.
Then it stops. My stones have angered it and it lowers its head and paws the ground. It is going to charge me and I have no time to think. I swing the staff in front of me and brace my feet.
“Don’t let it touch you,” I mutter. “Don’t let it touch you.”
My staff catches on the horns, but I twist it and the goat turns. I shove it away and dance back, trying not to lose my balance. The goat races away from me; it is not so fierce after all. Gasping for breath, I pull the last of my stones from the bag and throw them after the running goat until it crosses a low mound and passes – with the sins of Israel - out of my sight.
I pause as my breathing slows. Then I turn to find the place where we left the water and basin. I must wash my clothes to purify myself before I return to camp. It will be a joyous place now that our sins are gone.
Until next year. The lot will not fall on me again, but we all long for the time when the Promised One will come and our sins will be removed forever.
“When Aaron has finished purifying the Most Holy Place and the Tabernacle and the altar, he must present the live goat. He will lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness. As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land.” Leviticus 16:20-22 NLT
Author’s note: Aaron’s prayer is taken from prayers in Ezra 9, Nehemiah 1, Jeremiah 14 and Daniel 9.
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