Not long after opening His Tabernacle for sacrifice, God has to deal out punishment. This is for the newly installed priests who broke God’s statutes.
During the ordination offerings Moses demonstrated how things should be done for the sacrifices. I’m pretty certain he explained how the rest of the daily activity in the Tabernacle should also be conducted. But as soon as this first offering is given two of Aaron’s sons decide to do things their way. And they pay the ultimate price for their actions.
We are not told what possessed these two men to break from the prescribed sequence of events. It isn’t even that this act should have come later in the program. NO WHERE in this context was what Nadab and Abihu part of the program. Let’s explore some possible reasons for their behavior.
My first “go to” explanation was that they didn’t realize what they were doing was wrong. This was a new role to them after all. But Moses had completed MANY sacrifices of these exact same ones throughout the week that these men were ordained. If they were paying attention, which they should have been, they would have known their actions were not part of the process.
My second thought was that maybe they thought they were giving God special praise by their actions. God had given them strict instructions on many different fronts, including how to bring special praise to Him. These actions didn’t fit with any of them.
My third explanation is that maybe they were trying to show off to the people. Aaron has conducted 90% of the activity surrounding the sacrifices on this day. The only task his sons had was handing him the container filled with the blood of the sacrifice. Is it possible that they wanted a “larger role” in the process? They wanted to be recognized as priests, not simply as errand boys.
These “explanations” are where my mind went when reading this text. So let’s look at how God might have viewed each of these in light of His character.
God gave explicit instructions as to how to approach Him. In praise, worship, or petition there was a sequence and a standard to be met. God INSISTED on order to keep the people from all “doing their own thing” when coming to Him. He established these standards and taught them to Moses who taught them to Aaron and his sons. Aaron and his sons were to teach these standards to the people.
EVERYTHING about the Tabernacle was to be holy. Sin was not to enter the doors except to be cleansed by the sacrifices being offered. God demanded that the people learn the right way to bring each of their gifts and how to behave in the temple. The priests were to be the ones teaching the people so their practices had to be perfect. How can you teach something that you don’t follow yourself?
This wasn’t a little mishandling of the weekly bulletin or even spilling a little of the blood as it was passed to Aaron. This was a HUGE slap to God. He had just finished setting things in order and Nadab and Abihu wanted to challenge it. “MY HOUSE MY RULES!” said God.
God acted decisively. He could not and would not allow anyone the liberty of doing things their own way. These two men were not fully ordained priests and they immediately stepped out of line. God put down that “rebellion” immediately and in such a manner that others would not try and emulate them. They paid with their lives for, what I believe was their arrogance.
While Moses was dealing with the two dead priests, Aaron had to continue on. He was in the middle of the sacrifice of the people’s sin offering. He deviated from the prescribed program too. Instead of keeping a portion of the meet as his due, he burned the entire animal. This would have been the required practice for a burnt offering but not the sin offering. Moses was still dealing with the “fallout” from the previous event to notice right away. God was also staying quiet regarding this change.
Moses’ second task after having the bodies taken away was to tell Aaron not to mourn his sons. That was a HUGE thing to require. I don’t care how old my children are, if something were to happen to them my heart would break. Moses knew that he couldn’t stop the inward pain but he give strict orders that the pain not become public on Aaron and his two remaining sons’ part. Yet Moses had enough compassion to call for the camp to demonstrate Aaron’s grief for him. Aaron was expected to carry on as if nothing had happened.
But we already saw that Aaron couldn’t go on unaffected. I don’t know if it was his grief that spurred him to burn his portion or his feelings of guilt. Was he afraid that the Lord would judge him guilty too if he ate of the sin sacrifice? He was the one in charge of his sons, as their father and their high priest. He was responsible for setting the example they were to follow.
I wonder what God would have done if Aaron and his two sons had eaten of the sacrifice as prescribed. Would He have been angry? Would He have been pleased that Aaron carried on unfazed? Moses expected it but was very accepting of Aaron’s answer. Moses recognized the truth of what Aaron said and he pursued the matter no further.
Father God, I can’t imagine watching my children being struck down right in front of me. I know they have done things that would have been punishable by death under the law. I’VE done things worthy of that same punishment. Yet You kept me and them safe! Thank You for that grace Father.
I know You have MUCH to tell me in Your word. Please don’t let me get out of line and do things “my way” like Nadab and Abihu did. Keep me within the confines of You will. I pray I taught my children enough of You that they will return to you. Until that day comes, help me be the example You want for them.