Leviticus 10 – The Conduct of Priests
A. Nadab and Abihu.
1. (1) The sin of Aaron’s sons.
Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.
a. Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it: In the afterglow of the consecration experience (which Nadab and Abihu were part of), these two sons of Aaron sought out their own relationship with God, apart from the revelation granted through Moses.
i. We don’t know what their motivation was. Perhaps it was pride, perhaps it was ambition, perhaps it was jealousy, perhaps it was impatience that motivated them. Whatever their exact motivation, it wasn’t holiness unto the Lord.
ii. Nadab and Abihu had a legacy of great spiritual experiences. They saw first-hand:
· All the miracles God did in bringing the nation out of Egypt.
· The voice of God and saw the fire, lightning, smoke, and felt the thunder and the earthquake with the rest of the nation at Mount Sinai.
· They went up with Moses, Aaron, and the seventy elders for a special meeting with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:1-2), where they saw the God of Israel . . . so they say God, and they ate and drank (Exodus 24:9-11).
iii. This shows that even a legacy of great spiritual experiences can’t keep us right with God – only an abiding relationship grounded in the truth of God’s word can.
b. Which He had not commanded them: They came in an unauthorized way, coming to God, but demanding to come their own way. Therefore God considered this a profane fire before the Lord.
i. This was a misuse of special incense. This incense was regarded as holy for the Lord (Exodus 30:35-37). It wasn’t to be used in someone’s experiment with God.
ii. Profane fire was a fire not kindled from the altar of burnt offering; it was fire not associated with the atoning and redeeming work of sacrifice.
iii. The fire in the altar of burnt offering was sacred because it was kindled by God Himself. Nadab and Abihu offered a fire of their own making. Perhaps they thought that all fire was the same, and the undiscerning may have agreed with them. But all fire isn’t the same and there is a huge difference between the fire kindled by God and fire conjured up by man.
iv. We also should not forget that Satan himself can deceive with fire. In the great tribulation the Antichrist and his lieutenant will be able to make fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men (Revelation 13:13). They will use this fire to deceive the undiscerning.
v. Worst of all, before the Lord probably means they dared even to go past the veil into the Most Holy Place. Perhaps they thought they had accomplished too much during their time of consecration, and were now worthy to go right in.
2. (2) The judgment of God upon Nadab and Abihu.
So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.
a. So fire went out from the Lord: The same fire that showed forth God’s glory in Leviticus 9:24 now showed His judgment at these unfaithful priests.
b. And devoured them: The fire of Leviticus 9:24 was a fire of glory and this was a fire of judgment. Yet in many ways it was the same fire.
i. Fire is a figure of searching judgment and purification. Our works for Jesus will be judged by fire (1 Corinthians 3:13-15), and Jesus is described as having eyes like a flame of fire (Revelation 1:14). He has eyes of searching judgment and discernment.
ii. Many of those who cry out to God, “send your fire among us” think only of a Leviticus 9:24 fire, without considering the same fire is present to purify and cleanse in Leviticus 10:2. Truth be known, many of us desperately beg God not to send his fire, so the purity of His judgments will not be known among us. God reads our hearts and not only our pious prayers to send revival fire.
c. They died before the Lord: They may well have been struck down in the Most Holy Place itself.
3. (3) God’s warning to Moses and Aaron.
And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’ ” So Aaron held his peace.
a. So Aaron held his peace: Aaron just saw two of his sons struck down before the Lord. It was natural for him to question or even to lament – but God would not allow it. More important than Aaron’s right to grieve was the respect of God’s holiness.
b. By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy: Many think they can come their own way before God and do their own thing in His presence. But God demands to be regarded as holy by all those who come near to Him.
i. Make no mistake: We can come to God just as we are, but we may not come to Him our own way. We must come the way He has provided, the way made in Jesus Christ.
c. And before all the people I must be glorified: This reminds us that God must be glorified in the meetings of His people. The focus must not be on man, on his cleverness, on his insight, or on his ingenuity. Those who fail to glorify God will not be rewarded.
B. Aftermath of God’s judgment on Nadab and Abihu.
1. (4-5) The bodies are removed.
And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.” So they went near and carried them by their tunics out of the camp, as Moses had said.
a. Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp: Moses would not send a consecrated priest (Aaron or one of his sons) to carry these dead bodies outside the Tabernacle courts to burial. The work of burial had to be done instead by these relatives.
2. (6-7) Mourning is prohibited.
And Moses said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons, “Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the people. But let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord has kindled. You shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lordis upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.”
a. Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the people: This perhaps was the hardest day of Aaron’s life. Two of his sons were dead before him, and he could not mourn them. To mourn might have implied – even in the slightest way – that God was wrong in bringing this fire upon Nadab and Abihu, and Aaron or Moses could not communicate this.
b. You shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die: Aaron must also have thought, “I did worse than this at the golden calf incident; why did God take them?” But Aaron did that before his consecration as a priest. After his consecration, he and his sons had a greater accountability (for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you).
3. (8-11) The prohibition of drunkenness.
Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying: “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”
a. Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die: This commandment to the priests of Israel came right after the judgment of Nadab and Abihu. This causes us to believe they may have been drunk when they were so foolish as to offer their profane fire before the Lord.
b. That you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean: God did not want the hearts and minds of his servants clouded with alcohol when they came to serve Him. Since alcohol is a depressant, it takes away the ability to completely give one’s self to God.
4. (12-15) The priest’s portions defined.
And Moses spoke to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons who were left: “Take the grain offering that remains of the offerings made by fire to the Lord, and eat it without leaven beside the altar; for it is most holy. You shall eat it in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due, of the sacrifices made by fire to the Lord; for so I have been commanded. The breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering you shall eat in a clean place, you, your sons, and your daughters with you; for they are your due and your sons’ due, which are given from the sacrifices of peace offerings of the children of Israel. The thigh of the heave offering and the breast of the wave offering they shall bring with the offerings of fat made by fire, to offer as a wave offering before the Lord. And it shall be yours and your sons’ with you, by a statute forever, as the Lord has commanded.”
a. Take the grain offering that remains of the offerings made by fire to the Lord, and eat it without leaven beside the altar: What was left over from a grain offering belonged to the priests, but they could not take it home to eat it. It had to be eaten beside the altar.
b. The breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering you shall eat in a clean place: These portions of a sacrifice belonged to a priest and to his household. They could be eaten in any clean place.
5. (16-20) Confusion in the priesthood.
Then Moses made careful inquiry about the goat of the sin offering, and there it was; burned up. And he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron who were left, saying, “Why have you not eaten the sin offering in a holy place, since it is most holy, and God has given it to you to bear the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord? See! Its blood was not brought inside the holy place; indeed you should have eaten it in a holy place, as I commanded.” And Aaron said to Moses, “Look, this day they have offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, and such things have befallen me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been accepted in the sight of the Lord?” So when Moses heard that, he was content.
a. Moses made careful inquiry about the goat of the sin offering, and there it was; burned up: Moses wanted to know why Eleazar and Ithamar didn’t eat the portions of sacrifice that were given for the priests to eat. Since Aaron replied on their behalf in Leviticus 10:19, it seems they did not eat it because they followed their father’s example.
i. We often find it easy to burn the sin offering, and hard to eat it. Burning hard against sin in a judging manner is easy. To sit down with a brother or sister as a fellow sinner and partake of the sin offering with them means you realize you aren’t any better than them. Only this kind of heart can minister to people.
ii. Jesus had this kind of heart, even though He had no sin! He still identified with His people in his humble birth, simple life, baptism, and death. Moses said the sin offering was given to bear the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord. That’s why he was upset when Aaron didn’t eat it. But Jesus did “eat” the sin offering when He stood as a sinner in our place and received the judgment we deserved.
b. And such things have befallen me! Aaron did not eat of the sin offering because he mourned the loss of his sons. Though Aaron was not allowed to do any of the other signs of mourning, it was appropriate that he fast on the day of his sons’ death – and so he did, and Moses was satisfied with this explanation (he was content).
© 2004 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission