Aaron's Sons, Pt. 2
“Note then the kindness and the severity of God” (Romans 11:22)
I’m sure you remember the story of Aaron’s two sons that disobeyed God in Leviticus 10, but in case you don’t, here’s the story:
“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. 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. 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. 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.”
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, “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? 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.” 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?” And when Moses heard that, he approved.”
I’m sorry… were you thinking of the other two sons? That’s understandable, since, for some reason, we often hear the story of Nadab and Abihu and rarely hear the story of Eleazar and Ithamar. Yet their story is every bit as much a part of the Bible’s teachings as is the story of Nadab and Abihu. In some ways more, since they are mentioned in the Bible more often than their two infamous brothers.
These two, along with their father, Aaron, disobeyed a direct command from God. One that Moses took special pains to make sure that they were aware of. They did so because of grief, even though God had warned them against mourning their brothers’ deaths. Moses had to be in a bit of a panic; if God also killed these men, the priesthood would be wiped out in one fell swoop. But they weren’t killed. They explained the motive behind their disobedience and seemingly received forgiveness for it.
How can we explain this? Is God a capricious God, punishing some sins and forgiving others? Did He just “have it in” for Nadab and Abihu? I think the obvious explanation is: God looks on the heart. Or, as Dr. Glenn Pemberton put it when discussing this story: “The good news is God looks at the heart. The bad news is God looks at the heart.”
(How much easier it would be if we could just “go through the motions.” Unfortunately for us, God wants us to worship Him from the heart.)
Do you remember how God describes himself in Exodus 34? “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”” (Ex 34:6-7) Leviticus 10 is a beautiful illustration of this. Our God is a forgiving God, slow to anger, steadfast in love. But He will punish the guilty.
Next week I want to look at Nadab and Abihu one more time. Although we might like to make that story say certain things, the story shows a great contrast between how God deals with the truly rebellious and how He deals with those whose motives are not those of rebellion against Him.