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Scripture reading – Leviticus 10-11
After consecrating Aaron as high priest, and his sons to serve as priests, the LORD affirmed the priests of Israel with “a fire…and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces” (9:24). Today’s devotion will focus entirely upon Leviticus 10.
Tragedy: The Sin and Deaths of Two Sons of Aaron (10:1-7)
Incredibly, the exhilarating moment we considered in Leviticus 9:24 was followed soon after with a great tragedy: “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. 2And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord” (10:1-2).
The exact nature of Nadab and Abihu’s sin was not revealed; however, we understand it was an act of willful disobedience that the LORD would not tolerate. They had “offered strange fire…which [the LORD] commanded them not” (10:1c), and He consumed them with a fire of judgment (10:2).
I am reminded of the principle, “unto whom much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). The sons of Aaron had violated their privilege to serve on behalf of the people and draw near to the LORD in His sanctuary. Thus God rejected them.
Warning: Do Not Bemoan the Judgment of God nor Mourn Publicly the Death of the Wicked (10:3-7)
Imagine the sorrow that took hold of Aaron’s heart when he learned two of his sons had disobeyed the LORD and been slain by the fire of His judgment. Yet, Moses warned 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. And Aaron held his peace” (10:3). Aaron, because he represented the people before God, was forbidden to mourn outwardly, lest his sorrow appear to contradict the LORD’s judgment (10:3c).
Moses then commanded “Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron” (10:4), and cousins of Aaron’s sons, to remove their bodies from the Tabernacle and carry them outside the camp. Aaron, and his surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, were cautioned a second time that they were not to show outward signs of mourning, “lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord hath kindled” (10:6b). Instead of mourning, Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar were reminded that they had been anointed to serve the LORD and were not to leave their duties in the Tabernacle (10:7).
A Prohibition of “Strong Drink” for the Priesthood (10:8-11)
Following the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the LORD spoke directly to Aaron. He said, “Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die:” (10:9a). Perhaps it was this principle the sons of Aaron violated (10:1). Knowing alcohol distorts a man’s judgment, and can compromise him morally, the priests were to “put [a] difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean” (10:10).
The Perpetual Nature of the Ministry (10:12-15)
Leviticus 10:12-15 rehearsed the laws that regulated the conduct and duties of priests and the sacrifices they were to offer to the LORD for the nation.
A Sin of Omission (10:16-20)
Leviticus 10:16 found Moses diligently seeking the “goat of the sin offering” that the LORD commanded be set aside for the priests (10:16). Moses discovered that Aaron’s surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, had failed to set aside and eat a portion of the offering the LORD commanded to be eaten by the priests.
Moses then confronted Eleazar and Ithamar and questioned, “17Wherefore 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 atonement for them before the Lord?” (10:17) The sons of Aaron had failed the LORD (10:18) and had not treated as holy that which He required. Instead, they had taken the flesh of the sin offering and burned it outside the camp.
Aaron assumed responsibility for his sons’ failures (10:19) and bemoaned the things that had befallen him and his family (10:19). Moses, when he heard the words of his brother, sympathized with him and “was content” (10:20).
Closing thoughts: A Lesson Concerning “Strange Fire.”
Some would argue that Nadab and Abihu might have had good intentions for offering incense in the LORD’S sanctuary! However, we must remember that their intent or motivation was not the issue. Instead, they had chosen to come to the LORD apart from His command and offered a “strange fire” that He refused.
I fear a lot is done in churches under the guise of worship that is “strange fire” to the LORD. Strange doctrine, strange preachers, and strange music abound in the name of worship in the 21st century. When worship leaders aim to be amusing and entertaining instead of hallowed and holy, they are the purveyors of “strange fire.”
When believers come to the LORD, they must come not on their merit, but on His terms. We are to be imitators of Christ, not imitators of the world (1 Peter 1:14; Romans 12:2). In the words of the apostle Peter:
“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15–16).
Questions to Consider:
1) Why did the LORD slay Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron? (Leviticus 10:1-2)
2) What did the LORD forbid His priests to drink? (Leviticus 10:8-9)
3) Why was Moses angry with the other sons of Aaron? (Leviticus 10:16-18)
Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith
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