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The Two Goats and the Two Birds

 

And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, … And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

   And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.  And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.  But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness. …  Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:  And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation,  …  And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat:  And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:  And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. (Lv 16.5-22)

He commanded that two he-goats be brought and two dice be marked for them, so that the one of the he-goats would be named the Lord's and the other named the scapegoat. Accordingly, the names for the he-goats are, the Lord's and the scapegoat. Through both of them the one and only Son and Lord Jesus Christ is signified. By attending to the accuracy of our meditations, as far as is possible, we shall tell how this is so. Accordingly, the goat, or the he-goat, or the kid was the sacrifice for sin according to the decision of the law, for the divinely inspired Scripture in very many places compares the just to sheep and the lover of iniquity to a goat. And for what sort of reason? Because the just man is full of glory unto virtue and for this he is fittingly considered fruitful. But the sheep bears wool, and so for this reason the just man is likened to a sheep, and very fittingly. But one would behold the soul of a sinner as naked and sterile and bereft of all good deeds. Therefore, the goat is the sign of that soul, for the animal is unproductive and lower in price than a sheep. For this reason, also, our Lord Jesus Christ says, "But when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory; and he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left." (Mt 25.31-33)  To those on his right hand, since they have the fruits of justice, he delivers the kingdom prepared for them, but to those on his left hand, fire and punishment, and he will inflict the penalties proper to the devil.
    Accordingly, the kid was sacrificed for sin and you will understand this since the law clearly says, "If a prince shall sin and shall do so inadvertently, one of the things which shall not be done from all the commandments of the Lord, his God, and shall sin and shall err and the sin which he committed shall in itself be known to him, he shall bring as his offering from his goats an unblemished male goat." (Lv 4.22, 23)
    Thus Christ became a victim for our sins according to the Scriptures. For this reason, we say that he was named sin; wherefore, the all-wise Paul writes, "For our sakes he made him to be sin who knew nothing of sin," (2 Cor 5.21) that is to say, God the Father. For we do not say that Christ became a sinner, far from it, but being just, or rather in actuality justice, for he did not know sin, the Father made him a victim for the sins of the world. "He was counted among the wicked," (Is 53.12)having endured a condemnation most suitable for the wicked. And the divinely inspired prophet Isaiah will also vouch for this, saying, "We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way, but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all," "yet it was on our behalf he suffers," "and by his stripes we were healed." (Is 53.6,4,5)   The all-wise Peter writes, "he bore our sins in his body upon the tree." (1 Pt 2.24)
    Therefore, the lot of the necessary endurance of death hung over those on the earth through the transgression in Adam and through sin reigning from him until us. (Rom 5.12-17) But the Word of God the Father, being generous in clemency and love of men, became flesh, that is, man, in the form of us who are under sin, and he endured our lot. For as the very excellent Paul writes, "By the grace of God he tasted death for all," (Heb 2·9) and he made his life be an exchange for the life of all. One died for all, in order that we all might live to God sanctified and brought to life through his blood , (Rom 5.12-21) “justified as a gift by his grace.” (Rom 3.24) For as the blessed evangelist John says, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin." (1 Jn 1.7)
    The name, therefore, of the immolated goat was the Lord's, and he received his allotted immolation, a holy sacrifice, and it was sacred as a sign of Christ who did not die for himself but for us, as I said, and sanctified the church with his blood. Moses says, "He shall slaughter the male goat, the one for sin, the one for the people, before the Lord and shall bring its blood inside the veil, and shall sprinkle it upon the propitia­tory and before the propitiatory, and he shall cleanse the sanctuary from the defilements of the sons of Israel and from their transgressions on account of all their sins. And he shall do the same for the Tent of Testimony which is set up among them in the midst of their uncleanness." (Lv 16.15, 16) "For Christ entered into the Holy of Holies, not by virtue of blood of goats and calves, but by virtue of his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb 9.12) and sanctifying, as I said, the truer tent, that is, the church and all those in it. Therefore, the divinely inspired Paul once wrote, "and so Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people by his blood, suffered outside the gate." (Heb 13.12) And once again, "Be you, therefore, imitators of God, as very dear chil­dren and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and delivered himself up for us an offering and a sacrifice to God to ascend in fragrant odour." (Eph 5.1,2) Except for the destruction of death and sin we must perceive the Emmanuel in the slaughtered goat by his death in the flesh, for he was "free among the dead," (Ps 87·5) that is, untainted by sins and not subject to the penalty of death together with us.
    Let us see him in the other living goat sent away, and in his suffering as man, but not suffering as God, and in his dying in the flesh, but being greater than death, and in not remain­ing, according to the madness of the Jews, in the tomb as we do, and not being held fast by the gates of the underworld together with the other dead. For as his disciple says, "You will not abandon my soul to the underworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption." (Ps 15.10; Acts 2.27) For he rose again, despoiling death and "saying to the prisoners: Come out, to those in darkness: Show yourselves," (Is 49·9) and he ascended to his Father above in the heavens to a position inaccessible to men, having taken upon himself our sins and being the propitiation for them. Hence, the divinely inspired John writes to those who believe in him, "My dear children, these things I write to you in order that you may not sin. But if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just; and he is a propitiation for our sins, not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." (1 Jn 2.2)
    But I think it is necessary to make a comparison of the Scriptures as a reminder to my listeners! And the Scriptures are as follows, "And he shall bring forward the living male goat, and Aaron shall place his hands upon the living male goat. And he shall confess over it all the transgressions of the sons of Israel and all their wrongdoings and put them on the head of the living goat, and he shall send it forth into the desert in the hand of a man who is ready." (Lv 16.20-22) Consider, therefore, how he calls the second goat the living one, although the first goat was sacrificed! For, as I said, the one and only Son and Lord, Jesus Christ, was depicted in both as in suffering in his own flesh, and beyond suffering, as in death and above death. For the Word of God lived, even though his holy flesh tasted death, and the Word of God remained impassible, although he made his own the suffering of his own body and took it upon himself.
    One might see that this is a deep and great mystery and one delineated for us in a different way in Leviticus. For the law through Moses pronounces that the leper has been defiled, and has enjoined that he be sent forth from the encampment as unclean. But if it should happen that his disease has come to an end, then, indeed, then it bids that he be admitted. And moreover, it says: 

This is the law of the leper on whatever day he is cleansed; he shall also be brought to the priest, who is to go outside the camp to examine him. And behold the sore of leprosy has healed in the leper and the priest shall command and they shall take for the man who is to be purified two live, clean birds. The priest shall command and they shall slay one of the birds over an earthen vessel with living water in it. And he shall take the living bird, and shall dip it in the blood of the bird that was slain over the living water and then sprinkle seven times the man to be purified from his leprosy, and he shall be clean, and he shall send the living bird out in the plain. (Lv 14.2-7)

 There are two birds, therefore, and pure ones, that is, clean and having no fault, I mean according to the law. And the one was sacrificed over the living water, but the other, remaining free of being slain and then dipped in the blood of the one killed and in the living water, was sent forth in the exact same way as the goat is sent forth into the desert. And in this, a type would be indicated and, again, the great and august mystery of our Saviour. For he was from above, that is, from his Father, and the Word from heaven. In this, and very rightly, he is likened to the bird. And in the Incarnation he came among us in our likeness and "took the form of a slave." (Phil 2.6, 7) And yet he was from above. And he said, clearly speaking to the Jews, "You are from below, I am from above. I am not of this world"; (Jn 8.23) and again, "No one has ascended into heaven except him who has descended from heaven: the Son of Man." (Jn 3.13) As I said just recently, even after he was made flesh, that is, perfect man, he was not of earth or of dust as we are, but heavenly and above the world, just as in our thoughts God is conceived to be. Yet, it is possible to see him in the birds just as in the goats, suffering in his flesh according to the Scriptures, but remaining also beyond suffering, and dying as man, but living as God, for the Word was life. (Jn 1.4) And his all-wise disciple said that he "was put to death indeed in the flesh, but he was brought to life in the spirit." (1 Pt 3.18)
    Yet, even if he suffered death in his own nature, the Word has no share in death, but made his own the suffering of his own flesh, as I already said before. For the living bird was dipped in the blood of the one slain, having been stained with its blood, and all but took part in its suffering and was sent into the desert. The only begotten Word of God ascended in the heavens with his flesh united to him, and this was a new sight in the heavens. The multitude of holy angels was astounded seeing the king of glory and the Lord of hosts in the form like unto us. And they said, "Who is this that comes from Edom (that is, from earth), in crimsoned garments, from Bosor." (Is 63.1) But Bosor is interpreted flesh or anguish and affliction. Then the angels asked this, "What are these wounds in the middle of your hands?" And he said to them, "With these I was wounded in the house of my beloved." (Zec 13.6) For just as to Thomas, who doubted and did so very much in accordance with the economy of salvation after the Resurrection from the dead, he showed his hands and in them the marks of the nails, and ordered Thomas to feel the opening in his side, (Jn 20.26-28) so, also, after he was in heaven, he assured the holy angels that his beloved Israel was justly cast out and utterly lost from their friendship. For this reason, he showed his garment stained with blood and the wounds in his hands, not because he had wounds incapable of being cast aside, for, when he rose from the dead, he put off corruption and with it all that is from it, but, as I said, "in order that through the church there be made known to the principal­ities and the powers in the heavens the manifold wisdom of God according to his eternal plan which he accomplished in Christ." (Eph 3.10,11) For the most holy Paul writes thus to some. There­fore, just as in the goats the mystery of Christ is wisely depicted, so is it also in the small birds.

From: Saint Cyril of Alexandria: Letter to Acacius, bishop of Scythopolis,  in: ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA, LETTERS 1-50 , pp 168-182 available at amazon.com

The Fathers of the School of Alexandria pioneered the Allegorical method of Biblical interpretation, a methodology that always sought for a deeper spiritual meaning beyond the Old Testament texts. Saint Cyril wrote this letter in response to a request from his friend Acacius, bishop of Scythopolis (in Palestine) to explain to him the meaning of the these obscure Old Testament sacrifices. The answer is an example of the Allegorical exegetical technique at its best.