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.
Nadab and Abihu - The two elder sons of Aaron Exodus 6:23; Numbers 3:2, who were among those invited to accompany Moses when he was going up Mount Sinai, but who were "to worship afar off," and not "come near the Lord." Exodus 24:1-2.
Censer - See Exodus 25:38 note.
Strange fire - The point of their offence is evidently expressed in this term. This may very probably mean that the incense was lighted at an unauthorized time. And we may reasonably unite with this the supposition that they were intoxicated (compare Leviticus 10:9), as well as another conjecture, that they made their offering of incense an accompaniment to the exultation of the people on the manifestation of the glory of the Lord Leviticus 9:24. As they perished not within the tabernacle, but in front of it, it seems likely that they may have been making an ostentatious and irreverent display of their ministration to accompany the shouts of the people on their way toward the tabernacle. The offence for which they were immediately visited with outward punishment was thus a flagrant outrage on the solemn order of the divine service, while the cause of their offence may have been their guilty excess.
And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
The fire which had just before sanctified the ministry of Aaron as well pleasing to God, now brought to destruction his two eldest sons because they did not sanctify Yahweh in their hearts, but dared to perform a self-willed act of worship; just as the same Gospel is to one a savor of life unto life, and to another a savor of death unto death 2 Corinthians 2:16.
Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
Rather, I will sanctify myself in them that come near to me (i. e. the priests), and I will glorify myself before all the people. The words used by Moses on this occasion are not found elsewhere in the Pentateuch. But the sense is implied in such passages as Exodus 19:22; Exodus 28:41; Exodus 29:1, Exodus 29:44.
Aaron's silence (compare Psalm 39:9) on this occasion may be compared with his reasonable and natural expostulation with Moses when his surviving sons were rebuked for not having eaten the flesh of the sin-offering Leviticus 10:19.
And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said unto them, Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.
The first cousins of Aaron Exodus 6:22 are selected by Moses to convey the bodies of Nadab and Abihu out of the camp and bury them, probably because they were the nearest relations who were not priests. See Numbers 9:6.
So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp; as Moses had said.
Coats - See Exodus 28:39. Life had been extinguished as if by a flash of lightning, but neither the bodies nor the dresses were destroyed.
And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD hath kindled.
Aaron and his two surviving sons are forbidden to show the accustomed signs of mourning, or to leave the court of the tabernacle in order to attend the funeral, because, from their office, they were especially concerned as consecrated priests in outwardly maintaining the honor of Yahweh. They were to bear visible testimony to the righteousness of the punishment of Nadab and Abihu. The people, on the other hand, as not formally standing so near to Yahweh, were permitted to "bewail" as an acknowledgment that the nation had a share in the sin of its priests. (Compare 1 Corinthians 12:26.)
Uncover not your heads - Or, "set free ... let go loose." It was a custom to let the hair grow long and fall loosely over the head and face Leviticus 13:45; 2 Samuel 15:30; 2 Samuel 19:4; and the substance of the command would thus be that they should not let the hair go disheveled. Ripping the clothes in front so as to lay open the breast was one of the most common manifestations of grief (see Genesis 37:29; Genesis 44:13; 2 Samuel 1:11; Job 1:20; Joel 2:13, etc.). The garments as well as the persons of the priests were consecrated; this appears to be the reason of the prohibition of these ordinary signs of mourning. Compare Leviticus 20:10.
Lest ye die - See Exodus 28:35 note.
And ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you. And they did according to the word of Moses.
The anointing oil ... is upon you - See Leviticus 8:12, Leviticus 8:30. The holy oil, as the symbol of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Life and immortality and joy, was the sign of the priests being brought near to Yahweh. It was therefore by its meaning connected both with the general law which forbade the high priest ever to put on signs of mourning on account of death Leviticus 21:10-12, and with the special reason for the prohibition on this occasion.
And the LORD spake unto Aaron, saying,
Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations:
When the priest was on duty he was to abstain from wine and strong drink, lest he should commit excess (see Leviticus 10:1), and so become disqualified for carrying out the precepts of the ceremonial Law.
Strong drink - The Hebrew word is employed here to denote strong drinks of any kind except wine made from the grape.
And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;
Unholy ... unclean - Common, as not consecrated; and what would occasion defilement by being touched or eaten. Compare Acts 10:14.
And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.
That is, "that you may, by your example in your ministrations, preserve the minds of the Israelites from confusion in regard to the distinctions made by the divine Law."
And Moses spake unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons that were left, Take the meat offering that remaineth of the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and eat it without leaven beside the altar: for it is most holy:
The argument is, that as such meals were appointed in honor of Yahweh Himself, they ought to be conducted with due reverence and discretion.
Beside the altar - What is called "the holy place" in Leviticus 10:13, Leviticus 10:17 : it should be rather, a holy place, any part of the holy precinct, as distinguished from a merely "clean place" Leviticus 10:14, either within or without the court of the tabernacle.
And ye shall eat it in the holy place, because it is thy due, and thy sons' due, of the sacrifices of the LORD made by fire: for so I am commanded.
And the wave breast and heave shoulder shall ye eat in a clean place; thou, and thy sons, and thy daughters with thee: for they be thy due, and thy sons' due, which are given out of the sacrifices of peace offerings of the children of Israel.
Wave breast and heave shoulder - See Leviticus 7:30 note.
The heave shoulder and the wave breast shall they bring with the offerings made by fire of the fat, to wave it for a wave offering before the LORD; and it shall be thine, and thy sons' with thee, by a statute for ever; as the LORD hath commanded.
And Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and, behold, it was burnt: and he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron which were left alive, saying,
The Law on the point in question was clear. See Leviticus 2:3, note; Leviticus 4:5, note; Leviticus 4:15 note. But on this occasion, though the sin-offering which had been offered by Aaron was for the people Leviticus 9:15, its blood was not carried into the tabernacle. The priests might therefore have too readily supposed that their eating the flesh, or burning it, was a matter of indifference. Hence, Moses explains that the appropriation of the flesh by the priests is an essential part of the act of atonement Leviticus 10:17.
It was burnt - It was consumed by fire in an ordinary way, not; in the fire of the altar. See Leviticus 1:9.
Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD?
To bear the iniquity - See Exodus 28:38 note.
Behold, the blood of it was not brought in within the holy place: ye should indeed have eaten it in the holy place, as I commanded.
"The holy place," as it is called in our version, within the tabernacle (see Exodus 26:33; Exodus 28:29, etc.) into which the blood was carried, is regularly called in Hebrew, simply, "the holy" (as the innermost chamber is called "the holy of holies"), the adjective being used substantively; while the precinct in which the flesh of the sin-offering was eaten is generally called in full the holy place, the substantive being expressed Leviticus 10:13.
And Aaron said unto Moses, Behold, this day have they offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD; and such things have befallen me: and if I had eaten the sin offering to day, should it have been accepted in the sight of the LORD?
That is: "Behold this very day, in which we have done our part in sacrificing sin-offerings and burnt-offerings to the Lord, this great calamity has befallen me. Could it have been well-pleasing to the Lord if those who have been so humbled as I and my sons have been by the sin of our relations and the divine judgment, had feasted on the most holy flesh of the sin-offering?"
And when Moses heard that, he was content.