In Leviticus 16 the Lord instructs Moses on how Aaron, the high priest, is to enter the Holy Place once a year to make atonement for the sins of Israel. It is to be a day of solemn fasting and refraining from work. It’s called the Day of Atonement.

Aaron is to wash and dress in his holy garments and sacrifice a bull for his own sins and the sins of his family and then sacrifice a goat for the sins of Israel.

We’ve read about atonement and the shedding of blood for sins before, but in this chapter, there is a new element, the scapegoat. There are two goats. God chooses which goat will be sacrificed and which will be sent out into the wilderness.

These are the two ways God deals with our sins. They are washed clean from our record by the blood and removed from His sight. But the sins also have to be removed from our flesh. Our righteousness is not only ethereal; it’s practical. God doesn’t just save us in our sin; He saves us from our sin.

The scapegoat has the sins of the people laid on it. Then it is sent out to a remote area in the wilderness. That’s where God deals with our flesh, in the wilderness. Even Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days, though just 40 days; he was successful in overcoming every temptation the first time.

The Israelites wander in their wilderness for 40 years. Most don’t overcome their flesh and die there without ever receiving their inheritance in the Promised Land.

The apostle Paul spends time in his wilderness, shortly after becoming a believer. It’s where God refined and trained him, teaching Paul Himself.

In the wilderness we learn to die to the flesh and rely on God alone as Savior. It’s where we develop relationship with Him through that reliance instead of having a vicarious relationship through parents, pastors, or teachers. That, by the way, is what the Israelites did, those who died in their wilderness. They said they didn’t want to hear God speak and wanted to only hear from Moses. (Exodus 20:19)

The wilderness from the wrong perspective is a time of loneliness and lack, but from the right one, it’s a place of sweet fellowship and miracles.