From Leviticus 8-10
They might have given the offering with the best of intentions, but they were struck down suddenly. Prior to todays reading Aaron’s sons had just been ordained and Moses commanded Aaron to perform several offerings in sequence. But it all went horribly wrong.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
Moses and Aaron had just finished giving offerings to the LORD and the glory of the LORD appeared before the people and fire consumed their burnt offering. The people shouted and fell on their faces and worshipped him.
10 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.
2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ” And Aaron held his peace. (Lev 10:1–3)
The LORD’s instructions could be likened to fixing a new light globe in the socket. While the power is off, its safe to screw the old one out. But if the power is switched on before the new one is screwed in, be prepared for a shock!
Are you ever shocked about the LORD’s reaction to sin?
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu went beyond the LORD’s instructions. The LORD will be sanctified – treated as Holy and pure. The LORD will be glorified before the people, that is treated with respect. They went beyond his instructions. They thought they could offer something more and they died for it.
Aaron wisely holds his peace. He did not complain, he did not cry out.
4 And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near; carry your brothers away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp.” 5 So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said.
6 And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the LORD has kindled. (Lev 10:4-6)
‘Lest you die’. Moses calls some of Aarons relatives to remove the bodies. He instructs Aaron, and his remaining sons Eleazar and Ithamar not to grieve. Lest they and the house of Israel be punished.
7 And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses. (Lev 10:7)
‘Lest you die’. They are also not allowed to leave the tent of meeting. This is a difficult situation. They are in the middle of a ceremony where they and the whole house of Israel will be blessed. The LORD has come and now they need to finish what they started. They follow Moses’ instructions. Now the LORD speaks directly to Aaron.
8 And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. 10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.” (Lev 10:8-11)
‘Lest you die’. The LORD gives Aaron and his sons another law. Its not unusual for the LORD to burden Israel with more laws as a consequence of their sin (cf. Gal 3.19). The new law not to drink when in the tent of meeting may suggest Nadab and Abihu had been drinking and this is why they offered the unauthorised fire.
The LORD then emphasises the importance of respecting his commands. Knowing the difference between the holy and the common. The clean and the unclean. In the immediate context the offerings Moses commanded were holy. The unauthorised fire – common.
Story of Israel
No sooner had God taken up residence and lit the altar fire (9:23–24), the very next verse reports the violation by Nadab and Abihu (10:1). The failure of two charter members of the Aaronic priesthood just after their ministries had begun fits into a disturbing pattern that runs through Scripture.
Adam and Eve sinned (Gen. 3) not long after God had given them a perfect world with an ideal set of relationships.
After the great Flood, God graciously established a covenant with Noah (9:1–17). Then the grand old patriarch switched careers from zoology to viticulture, flooded himself with wine, shamed himself, and ended up cursing his grandson (9:20–27).
At Mount Sinai, God pledged his pact to the newly freed nation of Abraham’s descendants amid petrifying splendor (Ex. 19–20; 24). But when Moses tarried on the mountain to receive instructions for a tabernacle so that the Lord could bless them with his covenant Presence (chs. 25–31), the people disloyally turned to idolatry (32:1–6). (Gane, R., 2004. Leviticus, Numbers, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.)
Story of Jesus
This same patter continues in the Gospel. Just after Jesus announced the new covenant in his body and blood, did he predict his disciples would abandon him.
30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (Mt 26.30-35)
The story of Nadab and Abihu reminds us to honour the LORD and his instructions. It also reminds us that we stuff up and ought to be grateful for the LORD’s forgiveness in Christ.
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