In our lesson last week, we started our new quarter of lessons by taking a look at the ordination of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood of service to the Lord on behalf of the people. It is truly special to be called to the Lord and we should treat our calling as such. In our lesson this week, we are going to see two of Aaron’s sons make a very tragic error. Our lesson this week is being taught from Leviticus 10:1-7.
Aaron’s Sons Commit a Tragic Sin
Our lesson opens up with the tragic error of two of Aaron’s sons – Nadab and Abihu. We are told that Nadab and Abihu took their censers and put fire into them to burn incense before the Lord (v. 1). When we turn back to the book of Exodus, we can see God’s command about burning incense at the altar of incense (Ex. 30:1-10).
Being holy before the Lord
In Exodus, the Lord commanded an altar be made for the purpose of burning incense. We are specifically even told the location where this altar would be placed. God commanded the altar be placed before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony. This would place the altar of incense in the holy place which was separated from the Most Holy Place by a veil (Ex. 26:33). The Most Holy Place was where the high priest would enter once a year to offer up the atonement offering to the Lord.
So, let’s understand that the priests were entering a holy place when they would offer up an offering of incense. As we saw in our lesson last week, the priests were sanctified (consecrated) for the purpose of being able to enter the holy place to serve the Lord. So, they were supposed to be holy themselves as they entered into this holy place.
However, when performing their duties, something was not quite right about Nadab and Abihu’s incense offering to the Lord. We are told that their offering to God was profane – this means that their offering was sinful. We know that their offering was sinful because we are told that they went against God’s command with their offering. For their profane offering, we are told that fire went out from the Lord and devoured the two (v. 2).
Sin of Nadab and Abihu
So, what was profane about Nadab and Abihu’s offering? Well, we are not specifically told in this verse but we could infer a few reasons from scripture. Now, we know for a certainty that they did something that was against what God commanded.
Again, when we turn back to the book of Exodus, the Lord commanded that at the altar of incense, the priests were not supposed to offer strange incense on it, a burnt offering, a grain offering; nor were they supposed to pour a drink offering on the altar (Ex. 30:9). Now, in Leviticus, we don’t read about them pouring drink, offering a grain offering, or a burnt offering – we are only told about incense. So, it is possible that the incense that they used to burn was considered strange incense.
Now, if we take a look at what the Lord says in the next verse of our lesson, we will see that God said, “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified (v. 3).” Now, we can cross-reference God’s statement here with scripture in the bible that may lead us in the direction of the sins of Aaron’s sons.
Again, when we turn back to the book of Exodus. We are told by the Lord in Exodus 19:22, “let the priests who come near the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” The idea being that, when they would stand before the Lord in the holy place, they would present themselves holy before Him. Again, we will see in scripture, Leviticus 21:6, that the Lord said, “They (the priests) shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy.”
I believe what is apparent here is that Nadab and Abihu must have not consecrated themselves before they stood before the Lord in the holy place. Like all of us, they were sinful men, and they were supposed to consecrate themselves in their heart when they stood before the Lord. I believe what we can infer from scripture is that the two men did not present themselves holy before the Lord. Therefore, their offering to the Lord was sinful in itself and they were devoured for standing before the Lord being profane.
This reminds me of when Cain and Abel present an offering before the Lord in the book of Genesis. You will recall that Abel brought forth an offering that was pleasing to the Lord. The reason being because he brought his best to the Lord humbly and respectfully. Cain, on the other hand, just came to the Lord and presented whatever he had – it was not his best. Cain could not have cared less about what he presented to the Lord! There was nothing holy about him or his offering and the Lord, we are told, despised his offering (Gen. 4:4-7).
When we go before the Lord, we cannot present ourselves in any ol’ fashion as Cain did! Now, if we take a look at a verse that is just outside of our lesson, I believe we can infer even further that Nadab and Abihu’s failure was similar to that of Cain’s failure. God spoke to Aaron and said, “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, let you die. It shall be a statute (a law) forever throughout your generations (Lev. 10:8-9). I believe this verse hints at how Nadab and Abihu came before the Lord and that God was warning that He would not tolerate that kind of conduct from His priests.
Understanding God’s judgment
Now, if we put ourselves into the shoes of Aaron, I imagine many of us would be hurt and upset at our loved ones dying in such a manner while serving the Lord. So, I would have to imagine that Aaron was distraught at what had happened to two of his sons. Yet, we are told that Aaron held his peace at the Lord’s judgment of two of his sons.
He held his peace as Moses had two of their cousins carried the bodies of Nadab and Abihu away (vss. 4-5). We will see that Moses continues to give Aaron and his two remaining instructions on holding their peace and not acting out in a rage (vss. 6-7). Moses directed them not to uncover their heads or tear their clothes lest they die and wrath come upon all people. They are told to remain in the door of the tabernacle, again, lest they would die should they leave the tabernacle.
So, why was it so important for them not to uncover their heads or tear their clothes? Why was it so important for them to remain in the door of the tabernacle? I believe the answer to this question to be because it was a sign of understanding God’s judgment and trusting in the Lord’s judgment. Of the Lord, we know that He is righteous and that His way is perfect (Ps. 18:30).
The children of Israel, including Moses, Aaron, and now Eleazar and Ithamar, would have to learn to understand and trust in the Lord’s way and judgment. They would have to represent how to act when the Lord does something that we may not understand at first or when God does something that can upset us. The ideal response for every believer would be to not act out in a rage against the Lord. That was how Job’s wife wanted Job to respond to all that happened to him in the day he suffered great loss.
Should Moses, Aaron, Eleazar, or Ithamar had acted from a place of anger and recklessly at what had happened to Nadab and Abihu, it would have set a precedent for all of the children of Israel. Let us remember, those four men were going to be the faith leaders of the children of Israel. Had they acted that way and the children of Israel followed after them, it would have led to a very great sin that none of them would have been able to turn back from. (This is exactly what Moses states to us through scripture).
So, while a very tragic instance for Nadab and Abihu, there were a couple of very important lessons for the children of Israel to learn and for us as well. First, the children of Israel learned that how they presented themselves before the Lord was of the utmost importance. Secondly, they would have to learn how to trust the Lord’s judgment.
For us, we have to understand that how we present ourselves before the Lord is of the utmost importance as well. While we live, we the genuine believers, must understand that we are a temple of the Lord and that we should be holy. Now, I certainly know that all of us are going to have our downfalls and sin, but we must continuously consecrate ourselves in our heart. Be prayerful and diligently seek the Lord’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace.
We, as genuine believers, must also learn to trust the Lord’s judgment – His way. Oftentimes we get into the habit of griping and complaining about what God has not done for us. We even will gripe and complain about what God has given to us, believing it may have not been what we asked for or that He did not give us enough. There may even be a time when we get frustrated and upset at the death of a loved one.
Yet, I tell you, we have to learn how to hold our peace because how we act towards God’s judgments is seen by everybody – both believer and non-believer. We are the stewards of the Lord – this means that we are representatives of Him. So, like Aaron and his two sons, we must learn to understand and trust in God’s judgments. We cannot set a bad precedent for those that are around us and cause them to commit a sin because we chose to act out against the Lord.