Monday, February 05, 2007

Aaron's Sons, Pt. 3

“Note then the kindness and the severity of God” (Romans 11:22)

All right, as Don said last week. let’s talk about “the boys.” Nadab and Abihu. While not mentioned as often as their brothers Eleazar and Ithamar, their story is definitely more dramatic (Sort of like why they always show tragedies on the news, not the happy endings).

Leviticus 10:1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. 2 And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

What’s that all about? Contrary to popular notion, it is not common in the Bible for God to strike people dead. This is the sort of incident that makes us say, “Man, whatever they did, I don’t want to do it.” So what did they do? With my best investigative skills, I’ve tried to reconstruct what happened. Here goes:

Aaron and his four sons have been named priests, going through an elaborate ritual that ended with fire coming out of the tabernacle and consuming the burnt offering and the pieces of fat that were on the altar. Seemingly, what happens to Nadab and Abihu happens in this same context (remember, that big number 10 in your Bible wasn’t in the original copy). During the festivities, Nadab and Abihu grab their new priestly censers, put fire into them and head off for the tabernacle. Apparently, they didn’t use the fire that God had provided (fire which was to be kept burning at all times and was to be used for holy purposes). The Bible calls what they used “strange fire”; think “strange” in the sense of stranger, not weird. It was fire from another place, not from the place that God had commanded.

A big part of their sin lies in the phrase “before the Lord.” They weren’t just making a strange offering; they were going to trot into the Holy of Holies to do it! Look at Leviticus 16:1-2. “The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD and died, and the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die.” They drew near before the Lord and died. Having been given power, they wanted more. They wanted to do what only the high priest could do, enter the Holy of Holies. They wanted to do it when they wanted, not just on the Day of Atonement. They wanted to use the fire of their choosing, not just what God had ordered. And they died for their audacity. They did not respect the holiness of God. (Leviticus 10:3)

How could this happen? I think the Bible gives us a clue. Look at Leviticus 10:9-10. “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. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.” Now I have to admit, it’s possible that God’s thinking was: “Now that I’ve got their attention, I’ll give them another law to remember.” But the more likely explanation is that this statute had to do with what had just happened. I think that Nadab and Abihu had been drinking. They were sacrificing under the influence. Their inebriated state kept them from recognizing God’s holiness, and they paid the price for it.

That’s my reconstruction of the crime scene. We’ll take a break for comments.

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