Book of Leviticus Chapter
Ten Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
This chapter is a startling reminder that responsiveness to the leading of the Holy Spirit is essential to our well-bring. In Verses 1-2, "Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord." Just like that, these two younger men, "Nadab" (willing) and "Abihu" (he is my father), sons of Aaron, were dead because they deviated from the clear leading of God. Their deaths occurred immediately after Leviticus 9:24, and the fire that killed them was the same fire "from the presence of the Lord" that "consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar." This event is a reminder of Romans 14:23, where Paul concluded, "whatever is not from faith is sin." They followed their whim instead of trusting in the Lord, who will love your faithfulness in staying within His clear boundaries.
Has life placed you into positions where you had nothing whatsoever to say? That's the way it was for a grieving Aaron in Verse 3: "Then Moses said to Aaron, 'It is what the Lord spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.' So Aaron, therefore, kept silent." He had nothing to say in response to Moses' words, though his heart was broken at the loss of his sons. And then in Verses 4-5, it was undoubtedly more than Aaron could bear, as two of his cousins were selected to dispose of the bodies: "Moses called also to Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, 'Come forward, carry your relatives away from the front of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp.' 5 So they came forward and carried them still in their tunics to the outside of the camp, as Moses had said." Aaron's sons were Moses' nephews and the two older men must have stared for a very long moment, as the bodies of Nadab and Abihu were unceremoniously carried away.
After a stunned silence, Moses spoke in Verse 6: "Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, 'Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, so that you will not die and that He will not become wrathful against all the congregation. But your kinsmen, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which the Lord has brought about.'" When leaders go outside of God's will, it affects more than just the one who did wrong. A huge parable was being enacted by the Levitical priests, Aaron and his sons, pointing ahead in time to the Lord Jesus Christ, who was to be God's acceptable Sacrifice for the sins of the world. Aaron's sons deviated from the "script" and their act would mislead others. An example had to be made. A similar problem was later to be seen in Moses, who in anger at the people, struck the rock twice instead of speaking to it as commanded, and the Lord denied him entry into the promised land (Numbers 20:8-12). Jesus Christ is our Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4) and Moses sent the wrong message to the people. The seemingly "little" things we do may hinder others in their need to find faith in the Lord, and right now, Aaron and the others would stand stoically, while the people mourned.
God is mighty, holy and wonderful, beyond our ability to fully comprehend Him, and when you "hear" His Holy Spirit, follow Him. Aaron and his remaining sons were getting that message in Verse 7: "You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent of meeting, or you will die; for the Lord’s anointing oil is upon you.' So they did according to the word of Moses." They were beginning to understand. This life we are given is not just about you and me. Humanity is a race of beings created by God and we have an affirmative duty to love one another (John 13:34-35). Often we do not know why we are supposed to do or not do something, we just KNOW. Just like a little child may not understand why he or she must stay out of the street, there are times when we simply obey. Aaron and his sons didn't know why—but blessedly they stayed in that doorway.
Our acceptance of the ministry assigned to us is a serious decision. We should say "yes" to the Lord, of course, but we can ask the Lord about the "journey" we are about to embark upon. He will answer your honest questions. The call of the Lord, by the way, is to a life of holiness, not only for your benefit, but also for the people you serve, as in Verses 8-11: "The Lord then spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 'Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—10 and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses.'" God is not condemning alcoholic beverages here, for He is the One who created grapes, allowing the process called "fermentation" along the way. But he doesn't want His priests to be a pack of drunks and we are to have clear minds and hearts as we minister to others.
You can feel the moments of stunned silence between the events of this chapter, like the one before Verses 12-13: "Then Moses spoke to Aaron, and to his surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, 'Take the grain offering that is left over from the Lord’s offerings by fire and eat it unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy. 13 You shall eat it, moreover, in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due out of the Lord’s offerings by fire; for thus I have been commanded.'" A common response of a grieving person is to lose his or her appetite, but here was Moses, reminding his relatives of their duty to model the things of God to Israel, and through the centuries, to the rest of us. They were to eat the grain offering, modeling the receiving of the Lord, the Bread of Life, into the depths of our being through faith.
His words continued in Verses 14-15: "The breast of the wave offering, however, and the thigh of the offering you may eat in a clean place, you and your sons and your daughters with you; for they have been given as your due and your sons’ due out of the sacrifices of the peace offerings of the sons of Israel. 15 The thigh offered by lifting up and the breast offered by waving they shall bring along with the offerings by fire of the portions of fat, to present as a wave offering before the Lord; so it shall be a thing perpetually due you and your sons with you, just as the Lord has commanded.” Not only were they to eat, but also to engage themselves in vigorous activity, which was the nature of the "wave offering," alerting themselves and others that God sees all we say and do. He doesn't have to be reminded of our acts—instead we are to know that He sees them.
Moses had a temper, with good reason—he was the reluctant leader of a rebellious people. Moses had just watched his two nephews die because they deviated from the command of the Lord and he was noticing a problem that might result in still more deaths. In Verses 16-18, we read, "But Moses searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it had been burned up! So he was angry with Aaron’s surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar, saying, 17 'Why did you not eat the sin offering at the holy place? For it is most holy, and He gave it to you to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord. 18 Behold, since its blood had not been brought inside, into the sanctuary, you should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, just as I commanded.'" All was not right in the Tabernacle, and Moses, in his fear, reacted with anger.
This man, Moses, was now very old. After forty years in Egypt, he spent forty more years in exile, adjusting to the lonely lifestyle of a sheepherder before God called him back to Egypt. Since that time, his life had been filled with unsettling events and constant surprises. Worried that more fire would come and kill his remaining relatives, Moses was now lecturing his two remaining nephews, until their father, Aaron, intervened in Verse 19: "But Aaron spoke to Moses, 'Behold, this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord. When things like these happened to me, if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight of the Lord?'" A frustrated Aaron, struck dumb by grief at the death of two of his sons, was now able to communicate once more, essentially asking, "How could we eat after what happened? How would that have pleased the Lord?"
Verse 20: "When Moses heard that, it seemed good in his sight." Moses stopped lecturing the others when his older brother, Aaron, began to speak. He looked around and saw there was no fire ready to consume them, and he nodded—it was going to be all right—the time of the "strange fire" had passed and his nephews, "Eleazar" (God helps) and "Ithamar" (island of palms), would live.
Father, create in me an awareness of the Presence and Leading of Your Holy Spirit. I am so slow to understand, Lord. Fill me anew, Holy Spirit, that I might do God's will, and truly care, as Moses did, for those You place into my life. Help me, Lord, to understand, to have true faith in the Lord and be filled with the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. In His Name I pray. Amen.