We get a quick accounting of Aaron and his sons in our reading today. They were the beginning of the priesthood. All future priests would come from this line of the tribe of Levi.
Aaron had four sons. God called them all to become His priests. But Nadab and Abihu angered Him by “offering unauthorized fire before the Lord” (verse 4b). We heard about this story in Leviticus already and God doesn’t go into detail here.
Honestly this is a very short, cut and dry passage today. We could easily go away from here thinking nothing more than what was presented. But that would make for a VERY short journal entry plus a boring reading.
I was thinking about this conundrum and wondered what God wanted me to learn from this passage. I always ask Him to speak to my heart and show me what I should take from our time together. Today I started thinking about the four brothers. I wondered what they were like when they were younger. I also wondered about how Eleazar and Ithamar’s lives changed after their brothers were stuck down. Let’s pose those questions and see where the Spirit leads us.
Looking back at the incident where Nadab and Abihu were punished for their actions I notice something in their behavior. The first thing that strikes me is that we are not told how long it was after starting their service in the Tabernacle until this happened. We don’t know if it was on the inauguration day, many days later, or even months later.
What we do see is Nadab and Abihu’s attitudes. Their actions speak of seeking recognition for themselves. They wanted to take a place that wasn’t their own and they wanted to do it their own way. They demonstrated pride, stubbornness and rebellion in this single act.
Another thing we are not told is how long they had planned their actions. Was this a spur of the moment decision where they were overcome with the excitement of the happenings? Or did they meet in secret and craft this plan of subverting their father’s authority and leadership? Did they think it would be recognized by God as sin? Did they think the people would abandon Aaron and follow them instead? What was REALLY at the root of this act?
To find that root how far back into their childhood would we have to dig? With my middle son I had to do daily digging. When he would blow up I had to trace back through the day and find the precipitating events that started his day in a downward direction. Then I had to address EACH issue that brought him to his final boiling point. How far back did Aaron look in his children’s lives?
Looking at the incident it appears (to me) that the brothers were broken into two groups. Two of them acted foolishly while the other two stood by and observed. Here is MY family dynamics assessment. Remember this is MY thoughts and is NOT spelled out anywhere in the bible.
As the oldest child Nadab was the leader of the group. He never met a challenge he didn’t want to rise to. He loved being first and being noticed. He craved his father’s attention. Abihu was his faithful follower. When Nadab came up with a plan Abihu was eager to help him accomplish it. Abihu soaked up the glory that reflected from his brother. Together they were invincible.
Eleazar and Ithamar were adventurous too but they stayed within the bounds set by their parents. They occasionally got into trouble as any boys will but their hearts were most content when there was peace in their household. They didn’t strive to stick out or go against their father. They took direction easily and accepted the places they found within the family unit. They were NOT swayed by Nadab’s boisterous personality. Nor were they enticed into his plans. They didn’t need to push the limits of their parents’ boundaries.
As they grew Nadab longed to get out from under is father’s shadow. He wanted to be “his own man” and make a name for himself. When called by Moses to serve in the priesthood he was willing and eager. This position would make him stand out in the community. He was in a position of power and he was content with it for a time. As time went on Nadab saw the differences in his and his father’s roles. He noticed the difference in dress, the difference in access, and the difference in respect. He also noticed the similarities with his brothers. As the oldest shouldn’t he have a higher place than his brothers? He wasn’t unique in any way where he was at. He needed to find a way to distinguish himself.
As the pleaser Abihu would go or do whatever Nadab said. “I don’t want to take father’s place but it isn’t fitting that we, the eldest, have no more authority than our younger brothers. So this is what we will do…”
Nadab never prayed and asked God for a different role or for permission to do what he purposed in his heart. His heart was NOT seeking to please or honor God at the time of his actions. His intent was to elevate himself in “service” to God. He was demanding that others notice HIM!
I say this because I honestly believe if Nadab’s actions were an accident or done out of being carried away in the Spirit he would NOT have been consumed by fire. I use king David as my example. David danced with all his might before the ark of the Lord as it was brought back into the Tabernacle. David also ate the showbread of the Tabernacle while he was on the run from Saul. God looked at David’s heart and judged him according to it. I believe he looked at Nadab and Abihu’s hearts in the same way.
Their actions were not accidents. Their intent was not to honor God. Their hearts were full of sin. And their punishment fit the crime. They knew the rules God had set down. Moses schooled them carefully in what was expected of them. I believe they had also performed these duties before to God’s specifications.
As to what lessons Eleazar and Ithamar learned I have a few ideas there too. Again, these are MY assumptions and are not spelled out in the bible. I believe that ANY inclination these two had to “step out from under Aaron’s shadow” would have burned up with their brothers. We are not told if they knew their brother’s plans beforehand. But the aftermath of those plans cemented the boundaries around Eleazar and Ithamar. They were probably doubly careful to do EXACTLY as God instructed from that moment on. I have a feeling that when Moses confronted them on burning up the entire sin offering they were shaking in their sandals! Fortunately Aaron had an answer for them. I would not doubt that all three were afraid to eat of the sin offering for fear that their hearts would condemn them also.
Aaron’s thoughts might sound like this. “WHY God! What did they do that was so unforgivable? Haven’t I done worse and yet You allowed me to continue to serve You and Moses. They were too young to understand their own folly. Couldn’t You have punished them in another way? They were not perfect but they were my sons.”
Eleazar and Ithamar’s thoughts might follow these lines. “I wish there had been some way to stop them. If only we had realized what they were up to and KNOWN the price they would pay this time. I wonder if they would have listened even if they had that knowledge. We have to make CERTAIN we do not follow in their folly. Be careful to follow the Lord’s commands to the letter. DO NOT assume an arrogant heart. We have to humble ourselves before the Lord and before our elders. We are His servants, not He ours. We are MORE than happy to wait to be moved into a deeper place of service IN HIS TIME.”
Father God, You know my heart as a child and You know my childish heart. Thank You for training me out of the first and for not giving up on me with the second. I was the child who wanted the recognition. I wanted to be the one my parents would turn to when they left the home. I was awake already as they tried to rouse my sister. “Why can’t they see how much more responsible I am than she is?” I think they knew where that “power” would lead me. I was pretty dominant as it was. I didn’t need license to “be the boss” too.
With my “childish heart” I get discouraged when I look at the “numbers” in many areas of my life. Weight and viewers are just a few easy ones to name. Another one I struggle with is dividing my time between those who “need my help.” I get frustrated when one won’t wait on the other. “Why can’t people see how busy I am an how important I am to the success of this project?” I need balance here BIG TIME! Help me be a servant in all these roles. Wash my heart and scrub the stains of pride away. Yes, I want to still be effective and a help to those who need me but I want to do it with the right attitude. PLEASE help me to remove the agitation and frustration that bubbles up in me over “interruptions”, appropriate or not. Let me show love!
HOW MANY TIMES DO I NEED TO PRAY THIS FATHER! I’m not shouting because You are not listening but because I’m still failing to put into practice YOUR insights. THERE IS NO MAGIC THAT WILL MAKE THIS ISSUE GO AWAY! I HAVE TO DO THE WORK. Forgive me Father again for failing to do so. Give me something I can use as a physical reminder to sing or pray or whatever else it is that YOU want me to do that will STOP my inappropriate reactions in their tracks. I ask this in Jesus’ precious name.