1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.
-This is one of the “controversial” passages in the Old Testament that many try to use to show that the God of the Old Testament is cruel and vindictive. On the surface, it certainly does appear so. All these sons appear to be doing is sacrificing to God (a good thing that few do in an attempt to please Him) and they are killed for it because they did not do it perfectly. An honest mistake, right? This could have even been done the same day immediately after they saw the Lord appear as fire and it was a heat of the moment sort of thing. We do not know the specific setup, only what they generally did which was not follow procedure correctly. For the punishment, rather than focus on what these men did or did not do right and what the price of punishment should be, focus on God. As I’ve discussed and concluded the last chapter with, every single facet of these rituals tells us who God is and is representative of Him. For anything to be done incorrectly, it would give us a false idea of who God is. It would be distorting who is God and what is God. On top of that, these men made a vow to follow God. I also talked about how “cut off” from Israel does not mean cut off forever, but that there is atonement. So shouldn’t there be atonement for this as well? Why instant death? We need to understand that misrepresenting God is like dividing by zero, it does not compute, it cannot compute. For God not to take action would mean essentially that we can claim 2+2=5. The problem is 2+2=4, it does not equal 5. For God not to kill them would mean God was saying that He is not who He is and not about justice. This would be like those who believe in universalism and all are forgiven regardless of what they believe and no one goes to hell. If we are forgiven from nothing then there is no justice or order. There must be a payment for sin which is why we have Jesus and there must also be free will which is why many will not be saved despite Jesus dying so all can be saved. All CAN be, but not all will. Everything that comes from God must be perfectly consistent and logical rather than disorganized and chaotic. For God to forgive these men and allow this unauthorized fire out of compassion for an “honest mistake” would be chaotic and inconsistent. If the story of the bible was all the same up to this point and we read here that Aaron’s sons offered unauthorized fire and God gave them a stern warning or a small punishment would completely contradict the entire bible and who it claims God to be. We must remember too that we are nothing before God, we all deserve instant death, and it is only by God’s grace and love that we continue to breath another breath.
4 And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near; carry your brothers away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp.” 5 So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said. 6 And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the Lord has kindled. 7 And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.
-Moses is telling them not to mourn and have sorrow because that would be communicating a feeling of injustice and desire for revenge. Not a good idea! That and the fact that they are consecrated before God and covered in anointing oil mean that they belong to Him and would also misrepresent Him should they do what their emotions are telling them to do, to mourn and be angry over what happened.
8 And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. 10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.”
-Interesting to note that since alcohol is not called unclean anywhere in the law then therefore God distinguishes between Holy and common by classifying wine as “common”. It is not unclean or evil but at the same time, is something that is not Holy. This statement suggests that the proper view of alcohol is that it is not bad in any way but you are not at your best when you consume it.
12 Moses spoke to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his surviving sons: “Take the grain offering that is left of the Lord’s food offerings, and eat it unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy. 13 You shall eat it in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due, from the Lord’s food offerings, for so I am commanded. 14 But the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed you shall eat in a clean place, you and your sons and your daughters with you, for they are given as your due and your sons’ due from the sacrifices of the peace offerings of the people of Israel. 15 The thigh that is contributed and the breast that is waved they shall bring with the food offerings of the fat pieces to wave for a wave offering before the Lord, and it shall be yours and your sons’ with you as a due forever, as the Lord has commanded.”
-Despite what has happened, Aaron has his other sons continue the ritual properly.
16 Now Moses diligently inquired about the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it was burned up! And he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the surviving sons of Aaron, saying, 17 “Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the place of the sanctuary, since it is a thing most holy and has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord? 18 Behold, its blood was not brought into the inner part of the sanctuary. You certainly ought to have eaten it in the sanctuary, as I commanded.” 19 And Aaron said to Moses, “Behold, today they have offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, and yet such things as these have happened to me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would the Lord have approved?” 20 And when Moses heard that, he approved.
-What Aaron is saying here is that while the priests have the right and are expected to eat of the sin offering, Aaron is choosing not to because of what has happened. He feels like it is undeserved and better to give it all to the Lord because of the sin of his sons. Moses was worried that Aaron would suffer the same fate as two of his sons because everything was not proceeding perfectly with the ritual but after Aaron explained his logic, Moses accepted his choice. Aaron was not killed because God was not being misrepresented here. Nothing was being added to or taking the place part of the ritual but rather, Aaron is given a portion as a gift from God and Aaron is simply choosing what he would like to do with his portion. Aaron chose to return it back to God. This would be as if God blessed you by having a business that you run perform very successfully but rather than spending the money on yourself which you certainly are entitled to and there isn’t anything wrong with that, you choose to spend the extra profit by donating to a church or helping a cause. It’s totally your choice what you would like to do with God’s blessing. We can even deny it if we wish just like it is our choice what we would like to do in our lives. As Christians, we dedicate our lives to God and God shows us the best path towards the goal of being more like Christ. However, at any point, and we often do, we can reject it and veer away from the path He would have us walk until we decide that we were wrong and return back.