The Death of Nadab and Abihu and Its Lessons.

THE SIN OF NADAB AND ABIHU AND ITS PUNISHMENT. - V.1. And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. Nadab and Abihu were probably the oldest sons of Aaron, and were distinguished by Moses in being selected to accompany him to the feast before the Lord, Ex. 24, 1. 9. The chances are that they were unduly exalted over their initiation into the priesthood and believed themselves competent to select their own methods of worshiping the Lord. They took two of the small vessels pertaining to the golden altar, put some fire in them which was not taken from the altar of burnt offering, and proceeded to offer incense to the Lord in these censers of their own selecting, whereas incense was to be offered only on the golden altar by the officiating priest twice daily, Ex. 30, 7. 8. V.2. And there went out fire from the Lord, this time in consuming wrath, as it had shortly before flashed forth in an expression of mercy, and devoured them; and they died before the Lord. It was like a bolt of lightning which struck them dead without consuming their bodies or even their clothes. The punishment struck them while they were yet in the Sanctuary or in the court. Our God, in His jealousy, is a consuming fire, and will occasionally even now strike down such as blasphemously presume upon rights before Him which they do not possess. V.3. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me, and before all the people I will be glorified. That was the explanation of this severe judgment. Since the two young men had omitted the proper preparation and had acted contrary to the commandment of the Lord, therefore He had sanctified Himself upon them by this punishment, which was to redound to His glory as the Holy One, who will not be mocked by disobedience. And Aaron held his peace; he was unable to gainsay the righteousness of the act of God, as set forth by Moses V.4. And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel, the uncle of Aaron, Ex. 6, 18, and his own cousins, and said unto them, Come near, carry your brethren from before the Sanctuary out of the camp. The two dead men were the brethren, the relatives, of the men who were to perform the last rites over them: and they were buried in their linen coats, for these priestly garments had been defiled with the dead bodies. V.5. So they went near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said, the people meanwhile looking on in a kind of stupefied awe. V.6. And Moses said unto Aaron and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes, the usual manner of showing a high degree of mourning being to let the hair of the head grow without trimming and cutting and to tear open the garments over the breast, lest ye die, and lest wrath come up on all the people. A transgression of the high priest, as the mediator between God and the people, involved the latter in the punishment of God. To mourn in this case would have been equivalent to expressing dissatisfaction with the judgments of the Lord and would have brought His punishment upon the offenders and upon all whom they represented. But let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord hath kindled, the terrible expression of God’s wrath in destroying the priests, the sad calamity that had befallen them. V.7. And ye shall not go out from the door of the Tabernacle of the Congregation, in order to join the funeral procession or in any way to permit an intermission to take place in the priestly functions, lest ye die; for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you. And they did according to the word of Moses. The anointing oil was the symbol of the Spirit of the living God, who has nothing in common with death, but rather conquers death, and sin which causes death. Cp. chap. 21, 12.

INSTRUCTIONS TO THE PRIESTS. - V.8. And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying, He now addressed Himself directly to the high priest to let him know His will, v.9. Do not drink wine nor strong drink, the latter being a very strongly intoxicating beverage made from barley, dates, and honey, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go in to the Tabernacle of the Congregation, when engaged in the duties of the priesthood, lest ye die; it shall be a statute forever through out your generations; it was practically equivalent to absolute prohibition in the case of Aaron and his sons, for they must have been on duty continually, especially in the early days: later the priests were on duty in the Sanctuary only a short time during the year; v.10. and that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; their minds had to be clear for the many cases which required careful distinguishing; v.11. and that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses. The priests were at the same time the teachers of the people, and their minds did not dare to be befuddled with the fumes of intoxicating liquors while they mere engaged in the discharge of their duties. V.12. And Moses spake unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons that were left, take the meat-offering that remaineth of the offerings of the Lord made by fire, only a handful having been offered, chap. 9, 17, and eat it without leaven beside the altar; for it is most holy. It was used as food for the priests in a place provided for that purpose in the court. V.13. And ye shall eat it in the Holy Place, because it is thy due; it was a fee which was intended for the sustenance of the priests while they were on duty in the Sanctuary, and thy sons’ due, of the sacrifices of the Lord made by fire; for so I am commanded. V.14. And the wave-breast and heave-shoulder shall ye eat in a clean place; thou and thy sons and thy daughters with thee; for they be thy due and thy sons’ due, which are given out of the sacrifices of peace-offerings of the children of Israel. This was the portion set aside for the priests and their families, fees or emoluments, a part of the salary, and this holy meal could be eaten outside of the court, in some clean place. V.15. The heave-shoulder and the wave-breast shall they bring with the offerings made by fire of the fat, to wave it for a wave-offering before the Lord; and it shall be thine, and thy sons’ with thee, by a statute forever, as the Lord hath commanded, chap. 7, 31-34. V.16. And Moses diligently sought the go at of the sin-offering, for since its blood had been poured out at the altar of burnt offering, its flesh, being a sin-offering, should have been eaten by the priests in the Holy Place, and, behold, it was burned; and he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron, which were left alive, saying, V.17. Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin-offering in the Holy Place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make an atonement for them before the Lord? The priests, being mediators of the people in offering the sacrifices, were bound to follow the ritual in all its details, and the eating of the flesh was an essential part of this service. V.18. Behold, the blood of it was not brought in within the Holy Place, to the altar of incense, as it was described chap. 4, 1-21; ye should indeed have eaten it in the Holy Place, as I commanded. Having undertaken the atonement for the people, the responsibility for the sins and that of carrying out every single precept of the sacrifice rested upon them. V.19. And Aaron said unto Moses, Behold, this day have they offered their sin-offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, the priests had made these offerings for themselves; and such things have befallen me, in being bereft of two of his sons; and if I had eaten the sin-offering to-day, should it have been accepted in the sight of the Lord? The fearful accident which had happened had made Aaron and his remaining sons incapable of and unfit for eating. Cp. Hos. 9, 4. V.20. And when Moses heard that, he was content, literally, “it was good in his eyes,” he was satisfied that no disregard of the Lord’s precepts was intended, that the circumstances warranted Aaron and his sons in acting as they did. The law of love is the highest law and supersedes all others. It was so in the Old Testament, as it is in the New, that God desired mercy rather than sacrifice.