Joyous scenes were recorded in the previous chapter. The priests of the Most High had presented their offerings to the Lord, and God blessed them. But now a painful, solemn, and strikingly impressive incident transpired. While the people were bowing before the Lord, adoring His presence and glory; two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, rushed into the Tabernacle to burn incense, although it was not the appointed time. And they went in with strange fire – that is, it had not been taken from the fire that had been sent down from heaven, which was burning upon the altar. If this sin had been done through ignorance, they would had been allowed to bring a sin offering. But the soul that acts presumptuously, in contempt of God’s majesty and justice – that soul shall be cut off. The wages of sin is death, and these two men died indeed – in the very act of their iniquity. And whoever saw the dead bodies could observe at once that it was the Lord’s stroke, for their priestly coats were left unconsumed! The Lord directed the fire in such a manner that the persons were struck, but not their clothes. And everyone in the camp saw them, for the dead bodies were carried out before all. All the people saw their presumption, and so they were all made to see their doom. They saw the law broken by their hands, and so the Lord caused them to see the broken law honored in their death.
Moses reminded Aaron that the Lord had said that He would certainly be glorified in the presence of His people, and that those who come near to Him must be sanctified. Whenever we worship God, we must come near unto Him with all reverence. He is holy, and He will take vengeance upon those who profane His sacred name. Although Aaron’s heart must have been filled with anguish, yet he acknowledged the justice of the stroke upon his two sons with silent submission. When God corrects us for sin, it is our duty to accept the chastisement and to say, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.”
None of Aaron’s immediate family were asked to take part in the mournful duty of removing the consumed bodies of the men who had literally become a burnt offering in the Lord’s sore displeasure. This task was laid upon the sons of Uzziel, who were cousins of the deceased. The mourning family received a message to sit still without putting aside their priestly character; they were not to dishevel their hair or tear their clothes. The special reason for this command seems to be because they were in a public position that represented to the people God’s perspective upon all matters. Therefore, as His representatives, they must show that such an act of judgment – however severe – was quite deserved and brought glory to His name. They who had the most to do in exhibiting the mercy of God at the altar were thus foremost in testifying that Jehovah continued to be holy, righteous, true, and faithful.
It seems that Nadab and Abihu were not only puffed up with pride when they committed their fatal sin, but it is likely that they were also under the influence of wine; for the Lord spoke directly to Aaron himself (not through Moses), saying, “Do not drink wine or strong drink.” The danger of death, to which we are continually exposed, should cause us all to be perfectly sober. And then the Lord reiterated some of the responsibilities of the priests, which had previously been given in former chapters. This was so that Aaron and his two remaining sons would not have reason to suppose that they had forfeited their privileges by that awful sin that had committed by some in their family. They were gently led into true consolation and reconciliation with the Lord under this sad event. He wiped away their tears by presenting to them His unchangeable love, for this is what was exhibited to them when they received the allotted portions of the peace offering. Herein the love of our Savior appears! How clearly is His tender, considerate kindness discernible in this part of the narrative!
Moses found that the goat for the sin offering had been burnt, and he questioned Aaron and his sons about it. This sin offering was being offered for the priests as individual sinners (not as public figureheads); and therefore, according to the Lord’s commandment, its blood was not to be brought into the holy place, and the meat should have been eaten by the priests. Aaron explained that since this sin offering was for Nadab and Abihu (now dead) as well as for Eleazar and Ithamar, it could not be handled in the same way as other similar sin offerings; for the Lord had interrupted the usual ceremonies attending such a sacrifice. It could not, therefore, be said to be accepted by the Lord. If they had sat down to feast upon it, it would have been as if they were declaring their belief that the Lord had accepted the sin offering in which Nadab and Abihu had taken part – even though there were certainly manifest tokens of displeasure all around. Moses saw that Aaron entered into the spirit and meaning of the ceremonies that he ministered in, and so he was satisfied with his answer. His service was not mere formality. Herein he glorified God, and gave Him the honor due unto His name! This careful attention to the spirit and not the mere letter of the ceremonial law indicated to Israel that the Lord Jesus and the Gospel, which were signified by these pictures and foreshadows, were to be their chief concern – not the bare symbols and pictures themselves.
Dearest Jesus! May we never kindle our own “strange fire” as we draw near to You. May Your blood and righteousness be the only sacrifice wherein we put our trust. Your precious offering of infinite value is the only propitiation to justify our souls, and Your robe of salvation is the only covering we desire! Amen.
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