Leviticus 10:1 (HCSB)
1 Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own firepan, put fire in it, placed incense on it, and presented unauthorized fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them to do.
The focus of this pericope, which follows the inaugural offerings of the new priesthood, is the failure of two priests, and the results. We have as much to learn from the stories of disobedience as we do from the stories of obedience.
Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, perform an “unauthorized” offering before God. There is little detail about what this looked like. We are not given any further detail about the offering. The phrase, “which He had not commanded them to do,” could mean that they were not supposed to be making the offering at all, or it could just as easily mean it was performed in a way that was inconsistent with the way God commanded. In the end though, we can be assured that the two sons did something that God had not commanded. Leviticus 10:1 not only has the phrase about God not commanding them, but also refers to the presented fire as “unauthorized”.
It may be easy to read this and view God as someone who is just waiting for us to screw up so He can throw fire down us, but that is not what is being conveyed here. There are three things to notice:
- Notice the timing of this, the placement in the text. This event is recorded right after the long list of how to perform the offerings, and then the ordination and inauguration of the priesthood. This is sort of like reviewing every answer on a quiz, in detail, having a trial run, and then immediately bombing the quiz. Had it been us in God’s shoes, we likely would have uttered something like, “We just went over this.”
- The two brothers were priests. These are the men designated to represent the Israelites before God. These were the men designated to ensure sacrifices and offerings were done correctly, not just to fulfill some ritual, but to show obedience and worship of God, and provide atonement, fellowship, etc., for those bringing the sacrifice. If they are going off the play sheet, they are not jeopardizing just their own selves, but others. This is not a “victimless” crime, it potentially includes the entire nation.
- At best the two priests screwed up, made a mistake. At worst they were defiantly disobedient towards God. Again, we do not know the details, we are not given them. We will see though, in the next pericope, that God is forgiving, He does allow for, and understand, circumstances. God is not “out to get us” in a vindictive, destructive way; He is out to get us in a loving way, to draw us near to Him, for our own good. It would seem to me that whatever these two brothers did, it was likely on the more serious side, or without excuse, and therefore God dealt with the grievous nature of the offense with grievous punishment.
Lord, thank You for being just. There might be times when we do not understand why the punishment is severe, but we know we can trust in You to be working everything for our good. I pray for the wisdom to follow You, and not stray, not out of fear, but out of love. Amen.