Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
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.3. Nadab and Abihu: The False Worship and Its Results
1. The false worship and the judgment (Leviticus 10:1-7)
2. New instructions (Leviticus 10:8-15)
3. The neglect of Eleazar and Ithamar (Leviticus 10:16-20)
The ceremonies were ended and the people, beholding the glory of the Lord, had worshipped. A terrible occurrence follows the beautiful ending to the previous chapter. Nadab and Abihu, two sons of Aaron, offered strange fire before Jehovah. The fire before Jehovah devoured them and they died before the Lord. The sin consisted in taking strange fire, which Jehovah had not commanded; most likely it was fire they produced themselves, instead of taking the fire from off the altar (Leviticus 16:12). The whole action was in utter disregard of the commandment given and an act of disobedience. This sin in the form as committed by Nadab and Abihu was never repeated. However, the principle of this sin is to be seen on all sides and in many forms in Christendom. It was “will worship.” It was doing that in their own will, what God had not commanded. And in Christian worship, so called, how much there is which is will worship! How numerous the carnal things, the inventions and traditions of men, used in worship which have not alone no sanction whatever in the Word, but are altogether contrary to a true worship in the Spirit. Well has one said: “When one goes into many a church and chapel and sees the multitude of devices by which, as it is imagined, the worship and adoration of God is furthered, it must be confessed that it certainly seems as if the generation of Nadab and Abihu was not yet extinct; even although a patient God, in the mystery of His long suffering, flashes not instantly forth His vengeance.” The fire of judgment, however, will some day fall upon all the false worship and make an end of it.
What induced them to act in this way so that the judgment of God fell upon them? The warning which follows this incident gives a strong hint on the possible cause of their presumptuous deed. Read verses 8 and 9. The warning against strong drink hints, no doubt, that they had been under the influence of strong drink. It must have been intoxication. May we remember that there is also another intoxication, which is a strange fire and which God hates. How much of Christian service and activity is there which is not done under the leading of the Holy Spirit. Then there are the so-called “revivals,” with their purely soulical emotion and carnal means which are used. The unscriptural, and alas! sometimes even vulgar language used by a certain class of evangelists, aiming at excitement and popularity, the forced and often spurious results, heralded to increase the fame of the leader, the aim to receive large financial remuneration, etc., belongs all to the strange fire. In one word, all which is not done in worship and in service in dependence on the Holy Spirit and under His guidance in obedience to the Word, is strange fire.
The judgment of the two sons of Aaron makes known the holiness of Jehovah, who dwelled in the midst of His people. In some respects it is analogous to the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament (Acts 5).
Aaron held his peace. Grace sustained him, so that he could submit to the divine judgment without a murmur, though his heart was greatly burdened (verse 19). He and his sons were not to mourn the dead according to priestly custom. Then follows the command to abstain from the use of wine and strong drink when they were exercising their priesthood. The reason first is stated in verses 10-12. “That ye may put a difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; and that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes, which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.”
“The prohibition of wine and strong drink when going into the tent of meeting connects itself, of course, with the sin of Aaron’s sons: and for us plainly covers all fleshly stimulus, which prevents clear discernment of what is or is not according to the mind and nature of God. For us also who are called to walk in the light of God’s presence continually, this is not a casual, but a constant rule. The impulse of nature needs the restraining of Christ’s yoke; even where, as the apostle says, things are lawful to us, we must still not be brought under the power of any (1Corinthians 6:12). And how easily do they acquire power!” (Numerical Bible).
Commandments previously given to them are then restated. The judgment demanded this. All what follows in this chapter may be looked upon as the effect of the judgment which had fallen upon Nadab and Abihu. Eleazar and Ithamar failed in not eating the sin offering, and only the intercession of Aaron kept them from judgment. The earthly priesthood has failure stamped upon it.