Leviticus 10
Benson Commentary
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.
Leviticus 10:1. Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron — He had other sons; but these were the two eldest, Exodus 6:23. Took either of them his censer — That is, a certain vessel, in which they put coals of fire for burning incense. This is supposed to have happened on the last day of their consecration, when fire came down from heaven, Leviticus 9:24. Their sin was that they offered incense with what is here called strange fire, that is, common fire, or fire not taken from the altar. Thus incense, which was not such as was prescribed, is called strange incense, Exodus 30:9. Which he commanded them not — This is what we call a Meiosis, where more is understood than is expressed. It implies not only that they did it of their own proper motion, without any command or authority from God, but that they did it against his command; in which sense the expression is used Jeremiah 32:35. For though no express law is recorded, as having been already given, prohibiting to offer common fire, yet as it was forbidden implicitly Leviticus 6:12, especially when God himself made a comment upon that text, and by sending fire from heaven, declared of what fire he there spake; so it is more than probable it was forbidden expressly, though that be not here mentioned, nor was it necessary it should. Indeed, it is not to be supposed they would have been punished with death, if they had not done something which God had expressly forbidden, or omitted what he had expressly commanded. It is not easy to say how two such persons, who had the honour and happiness of being with God on the mount, (Exodus 24:1; Exodus 24:9-10,) could be guilty of this fatal error. Some think they had drunk too freely at the feast upon the peace-offerings, which made them forget themselves; because of the prohibition against drinking wine or strong drink, which immediately follows the relation of this event.

And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
Leviticus 10:2. And there went out a fire from the Lord — From heaven, or rather, from the sanctuary; and devoured them — Not reduced them to ashes, as the word signifies at the end of the former chapter, but struck them dead in a moment, their bodies and garments remaining entire. Thus the sword is said to devour, 2 Samuel 2:26. Thus lightning often kills persons without injuring their garments. To take off from our surprise at this great severity, let it be considered, that the wisest legislators have always judged it necessary to inflict a heavy punishment upon the first transgressors of a law, especially in cases of great moment, in order to deter others from the like offence, Had this first irregularity been connived at in the inferior priests, it might have imboldened them, and much more the high-priests, to introduce further and more important innovations, to the total subversion of the order God had appointed. Thus Ananias and Sapphira, presuming to lie against the Holy Ghost, were punished in a way very similar, when the gospel law had been confirmed by the descent of a different fire from heaven.

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.
Leviticus 10:3. Moses said unto Aaron — This awful stroke having wounded Aaron with deep anguish, Moses endeavours to allay his sorrows, by representing to him how very faulty his two sons had been, and how agreeable their punishment was to the wisdom of the divine government, and what good ends it might answer. This is it that the Lord spake — Though the words be not recorded in Scripture, where only the heads of discourses are contained, yet it is probable they were uttered by Moses in God’s name. Howsoever, the sense of them is in many places. I will be sanctified — This may denote, either, 1st, Their duty to sanctify God, to demean themselves with such care, and reverence, and watchfulness, as became the holiness of the God whom they served; whence he leaves them to gather the justice of the present judgment. Or, 2d, God’s purpose to sanctify himself, to manifest himself to be a holy and righteous God by his severe and impartial punishment of all transgressors, how near soever they were to him. That come nigh me — Who draw near to me, or to the place where I dwell, and are admitted into the holy place, whence others are shut out. It is a description of the priests. I will be glorified — As they have sinned publicly and scandalously, so I will vindicate my honour in a public and exemplary manner, that all men may learn to give me the glory of my holiness by an exact conformity to my laws. And Aaron held his peace —

In acknowledgment of God’s justice, and submission to it. He murmured not, nor replied against God, nor against Moses, wisely considering that their sin was directly against God, and in that which is most dear and honourable in God’s account, his worship; and that God’s honour ought to be dearer to him than his sons. The words are most beautiful and emphatical.

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.
Leviticus 10:4. Moses called Mishael — For Aaron and his sons were employed in their holy ministrations, from which they were not to be called for funeral solemnities. Brethren — That is, kinsmen, as that word is often used. Out of the camp — Where the burying-places of the Jews were, that the living might neither be annoyed by the unwholesome scent of the dead, nor defiled by the touch of their graves.

So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp; as Moses had said.
Leviticus 10:5. In their coats — In the holy garments wherein they ministered; which might be done, either, 1st, As a testimony of respect due to them, notwithstanding their present failure; and that God in judgment remembered mercy, and when he took away their lives, spared their souls. Or, 2d, Because, being polluted both by their sin, and by the touch of their dead bodies, God would not have them any more used in his service.

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.
Leviticus 10:6. Uncover not your heads — That is, give no signification of your sorrow; mourn not for them; partly lest you should seem to justify your brethren, and tacitly reflect upon God as too severe; and partly lest thereby you should be diverted from, or disturbed, in your present service, which God expects to be done cheerfully. But let the whole house of Israel bewail the burning — Not so much in compassion to them, as in sorrow for the tokens of divine displeasure.

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.
Leviticus 10:7. Ye shall not go from the tabernacle — Where at this time they were, because this happened within seven days of their consecration: for the oil of the Lord is upon you — You are devoted and consecrated to the service of God and of his people, which, therefore, it is proper you should prefer before all funeral solemnities, and which must not be omitted out of respect to any person whatsoever. The ministers of religion ought to consider that this law is still binding upon them, as to the spirit and intention of it. They, of all men, ought to be so heavenly-minded, and of such elevated affections, as to maintain an unbroken manly fortitude, amid all the calamities and afflictions, both private and public, which are incident to humanity in its present state. Though religion does not require that they should divest themselves of their passions, yet they ought to be examples to others how to moderate those passions, and keep them within due bounds; especially they must not be so swallowed up in the sorrows of the world as to be incapacitated thereby for discharging their duty to God.

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:
Leviticus 10:9. Do not drink wine nor strong drink — It is certainly not improbable that the sin of Nadab and Abihu was owing to this. But if not, yet drunkenness is so odious a sin in itself, especially in a minister, and most of all at the time of his administration of sacred things, that God saw fit to prevent all occasions of it. And hence the devil, who is God’s ape, required this abstinence from his priests in their idolatrous service. By strong drink here, is meant such inflammatory, intoxicating liquors as were made in imitation of wine, as of dates, figs, honey, with many other sorts of liquors, particularly palm-wine, which was much used in those countries, and was reckoned the most intoxicating of any. The intention of this law was to be always in force: accordingly it is required of the ministers of the gospel, that they be sober, not given to wine.

And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;
Leviticus 10:10-11. Between holy and unholy — Persons and things, which Nadab and Abihu did not, mistaking unholy or common fire for that which was sacred and appointed of God for their use. Ye may teach — Which drunken persons are very unfit to do.

And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.
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:
Leviticus 10:12-14. Moses spake unto Aaron — Moses, being apprehensive that Aaron, in the confusion of his grief for the loss of his two sons, might forget or omit some part of his duty, here puts him in mind of it, repeating to him the order about eating the remains of the meat or meal-offering, (Leviticus 6:16-17,) and about the shoulder and breast, Leviticus 7:31. The former of which the priests alone might eat, and that only in the holy place, or court of the tabernacle. The other might be eaten in any clean place, that is, in any of their dwellings, or in any place in the camp which was decent, and kept clean from all ceremonial defilement; and where the women as well as the men might come; for the daughters of the priests might eat these as well as their sons, if they were maids, or widows, or divorced, Leviticus 2:11-13.

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.
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,
Leviticus 10:16. Behold, it was burnt — This justified Moses’s suspicion that some mistake might be committed in the holy things; for upon inquiry he found that the priests had burned upon the altar those parts of the people’s sin-offering which they ought to have eaten, Leviticus 6:26; Leviticus 6:29. He was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar — Moses, not willing to aggravate the sorrows of his brother Aaron, says nothing to him, but expostulates with his sons for their neglect. He knew, however, that the reproof, though directed to them, would concern him too.

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?
Leviticus 10:17. God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation — It was given them as an encouragement to, and a reward of the careful performance of that part of their duty, whereby they expiated, bore, and took away the sins of the people by offering those sacrifices, by which, as being typical of the sacrifice of the Messiah, God was reconciled to the penitent and believing offerers.

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.
Leviticus 10:18. Behold the blood was not brought within the holy place — And consequently it was not one of those sacrifices ordered to be burned, (Leviticus 6:30,) but should have been eaten in the court of the tabernacle, Leviticus 6:26.

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?
Leviticus 10:19. Aaron said unto Moses — Though Moses expostulates only with Eleazar and Ithamar, yet Aaron, taking the reproof to himself, makes an apology in his own and their behalf, the amount of which is, that he and his sons had performed the substance of their duty, offering the people’s sin- offering and burnt-offering in all respects according to the divine direction; only as to eating their share of the sin-offering, the death of his sons, happening at that juncture, had so overwhelmed him with grief, that he judged himself unfit for feasting at God’s table: Such things, says he, have befallen me; and if I had eaten the sin-offering to-day, should it have been accepted? — Would God have been pleased with me if, in such heaviness and dejection, I had eaten the sacrifice? My sorrows unfitted me for that service; it being the voice of nature as well as of religion, that men ought to celebrate feasts upon joyous occasions, and with a cheerful heart, (Deuteronomy 12:7,) and not eat holy things in their mourning, Deuteronomy 26:14.

And when Moses heard that, he was content.
Leviticus 10:20. Moses was content — He rested satisfied with Aaron’s answer, who, it appeared, had sincerely aimed at pleasing God; and those who do so, will find he is not extreme to mark what is amiss.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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