Aaron’s sons — what’s the point of Leviticus 10?
“Note then the kindness and the severity of God” (Romans 11:22)
This is the fourth in a series of lessons on Aaron’s sons. In the first post, I raised the question of why we in our fellowship have tended to focus so much on Aaron’s eldest sons while basically ignoring the other two. Since Nadab and Abihu are not mentioned in the New Testament nor are they ever held up as an example in the Bible, we need to take a long hard look at our fascination with them. We also need to look at why we don’t talk about Eleazar and Ithamar, even though the Bible talks about them more than their more famous brothers. As a “people of the book,” we should be concerned about such inconsistencies. In the second post, I talked about the forgotten sons, Eleazar and Ithamar. And in my third post, I looked at what happened to Nadab and Abihu.
I think that Leviticus 10 is a living example of what God says about himself in Exodus 34: 6-7 — “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.” God is first and foremost a loving and forgiving God. Yet He is also a God who punishes sin. God forgave Eleazar and Ithamar their disobedience yet punished Nadab and Abihu for their rebellion.
- Here are some conclusions that I’ve drawn from my study of Leviticus 10:
- The death of Nadab and Abihu is not a case of sincere, godly worshipers who made a mistake as to how they worshiped God. Theirs was irreverent rebellion. It was because of this that Aaron was silent after their death; he did not seek to defend them as he did Eleazar and Ithamar. Eleazar and Ithamar disobeyed God out of pure motives and their sin was forgiven. Nadab and Abihu did not recognize the holiness of God and died for their boldness.
- This story shows us once again that God looks on the heart, looking at our motives when we fail to do what He has said and looking at our motives when we do what He has asked. Prideful rebellion against God will be punished as such. Yet God reserves the right to forgive failure to keep “the letter of the law,” because He and only He looks on the heart.
- The sin of Nadab and Abihu was the failure to recognize the holiness of God. Theirs was the sin of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:7) and the sin of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16 and following). Theirs was the sin of Simon the magician (Acts 8) who sought to purchase the gifts of the Holy Spirit. God will be seen as holy by His people or they will not be His people.
And therein lies the main lesson for us. The holiness of God. The overwhelming characteristic of God, from what I can see, is holiness. Beings in His presence cry out “Holy, holy, holy.” His holiness overwhelms. We, as priests, enter into the Holy of Holies because of what Jesus did (“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:19-22) . He opened the way for us to do what Nadab and Abihu tried to do. We enter confidently (Hebrews 4:16), knowing that our entry is permitted where theirs was not. Yet we must not enter flippantly. We must be aware of the holiness of God. God is not my good buddy; He is the holy God. We fear Him, not in the sense of being afraid of Him, but as we fear electricity: we’re not afraid to be around it, but we’re not going to stick a fork in the socket, either. I remember William Barclay writing about a Jewish rabbi who began every prayer by saying “Lord, forgive me.” He says that this rabbi confessed his fear of dying after calling on the Lord and before asking forgiveness. I by no means advocate that kind of fear of God, but I think we need to recognize that, when we worship God, we are entering onto holy ground. We are entering into the same area where fire consumed Nadab and Abihu, consumed them because they were flippant about the holiness of God. If their story is to be a warning to us, surely that is the warning: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29) Acceptable worship has to do with the condition of our heart before God.
Our God, the Holy God, is a consuming fire. Let us draw near to Him with confidence; let us draw near to Him with reverence and awe.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord!