Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
The Sin and the Punishment of Nadab and Abihu, with Instructions founded upon that Event
1AND Nadab and Abihu, the1 sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein,2 and put incense thereon,2 and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. 2And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. 3Then 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. 4And 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. 5So they went near, and carried3 them in their coats out of the camp; as Moses had said.
6And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazer and unto Ithamar, his4 sons, Uncover5not 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. 7And 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.
8And the LORD spake unto Aaron,6 saying, 9Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, 10lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: and7 that ye may put difference between holy and unholy [common8], and between unclean and clean: 11and that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.
12And Moses spake unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons that were left, Take the meat offering [oblation9] that remaineth of the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and eat it without leaven beside the altar: for it is most holy: 13and ye shall eat it in the [a] 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. 14And the wave breast and heave shoulder [leg10] 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. 15The heave shoulder [leg10] 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’11 with thee, by a statute for ever; as the LORD hath commanded.
16And 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 wereleft alive, saying, 17Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given12 it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them13 before the LORD? 18Behold, the blood of it was not brought in within the holy place: ye should-indeed have eaten it in the 19[a14] holy place, as I15 commanded. 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? 20And when Moses heard that, he was content.16
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
Lev 10:1. Three MSS., followed by the Vat. LXX., read “the two sons.”
Lev 10:1. In the Heb. the first pronoun, בָּהֵן, is plural, while the, second, עָלֶיהָ, is singular. 16 MSS., the Sam. LXX. and Syr. have the latter in the plural.
Lev 10:5. וַיִשּׂאֻם. The fuller form וָיִּשּׂאוּ אֵתָם is given in the Sam.
Lev 10:6. One MS., followed by the LXX. and Syr. specifies “his remaining sons.”
Lev 10:6. אַל־תַּפְרִעוּ. The A. V, ye shall not uncover is quite correct, and is the sense given in most of the ancient versions; but the Targ. of Onkelos, followed by several Jewish and other commentators, gives the very different sense ye shall not let your hair grow, derived from the use of פֶּרַע Num. 6:5=hair.
Lev 10:8. Eight MSS. substitute the name of Moses for that of Aaron. The variation is unimportant; for, as Boothroyd suggests, the communication to Aaron may have been made through Moses.
Lev 10:10. The and at the beginning of Lev 10:10 is omitted in the Sam. and all other ancient versions except the Vulgate.
Lev 10:10. הַחֹל is in contrast to הַקֹּדֶשׁ and means simply that which is not especially consecrated. The word common conveys the sense better than unholy.
Lev 10:12. Oblation. See Textual Note2 on 2:1.
Lev 10:14, 15. Leg. See Text. Note30 on 7:32.
Lev 10:15. The Sam. and LXX. add and thy daughters’, as in Lev 10:14.
Lev 10:17. The Syr. reads in the 1st person, I have given.
Lev 10:17. Thirteen MSS. read for you in the 2d person.
Lev 10:18. The Masoretic punctuation of בַּקֹּדֶשׁ here indicates the article; it would seem proper, however, to omit it according to invariable usage. All the versions make a distinction between the sanctuary, into which the blood had not been carried, and the court where the flesh should have been eaten. We can only express this by a change of the article.
Lev 10:18. Most of the versions have the passive, as I was commanded, and the LXX, ὃν τρόπον μοι συνέταξε κύριος.
Lev 10:20. Rosenmüller notes that “הַיִּיטַב scribitur hic ἀνομαλῶς pro הֲייִטַב.”
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
“We should expect here immediately the description of a great thank offering feast of the people. But instead of this we are told of a great misfortune which closes a sacrificial feast disturbed in the very beginning. The story is not of the thank offering feast of the people, the festal meal of the installation of the priests. The joy of the people was very soon destroyed by anxiety and fear; for the inadequacy of the typical sacrifice has soon come to light.” Lange.
The events of this chapter occurred on the same day as those of the preceding (see Lev 10:19), that is on the day after their consecration when Aaron and his sons first entered upon the discharge of their priestly functions. Moses therefore still appears here, as in Lev 9, in a peculiar relation as introducing the new-made priests to their duties, taking care that all things should be rightly done, and communicating to them further instructions (Lev 10:3, 5, 12, 16).
Lev 10:1–5. The sin, death and burial of Nadab and Abihu.
Lev 10:1. Nadab and Abihu, being mentioned first in the genealogies (Ex. 6:23; Num. 26:60), are supposed to have been Aaron’s eldest sons. They had been selected to accompany Moses and Aaron and the seventy elders in the beatific vision of Ex. 24:1, 9. Wordsworth suggests that “perhaps they were ‘exalted above measure through the abundance of their revelations’ (2 Cor. 12:7), and were tempted to imagine that they were not bound by ordinary rules in the discharge of the duties of the priest’s office.”
His censer.—מַחְתָּתוֹ. This is the first time the word is translated censer in the A. V., because it has occurred before only in connection with the golden candlestick (Ex. 25:38; 37:23), or as a pan for receiving the ashes from the brazen altar (Ex. 27:3; 38:3). There can be no doubt, however, that it is rightly translated here in a sense in which it frequently occurs afterwards; but the fact that there is no previous mention of censers adds to the probability of some unrecorded command having already been given in regard to the offering of incense. The word מִקְטֶרֶת for censer is much later, occurring only 2 Chron. 26:19; Ezek. 8:11.
Put incense thereon.—Incense was to be burned upon the golden altar twice daily; in the morning, when the lamps of the golden candlestick were trimmed, and in the evening when they were lighted (Ex. 30:7, 8). It does not certainly appear from the narrative at what time the act of Nadab and Abihu occurred; but from the abundance of events that had already occurred on this day, it is not unlikely that the latter time was at hand. The unseasonableness of the time assigned by many commentators (Keil and others) as a part of their sin cannot therefore be maintained.—And offered strange fire.—The sin of Nadab and Abihu is always described in the same terms (Num. 3:4; 26:61); but in precisely what it consisted has been the occasion of much difference of opinion. By many (Kurtz and others) it is supposed to have consisted in the offering of incense not prepared according to the directions given in Ex. 30:34; but this would rather have been called “strange incense” as in Ex. 30:9, and it does not seem likely that the new priests, who had now been eight days in the court of the tabernacle, would have had ready access to any other incense, whereas other fire than that of the altar must have been in the court for cooking the flesh of the sacrifices. By others (as Keil) the sin is supposed to have been in offering the incense at a time not appointed; but it does not appear why such a fault should have been described as “strange fire,” and moreover, as shown above, it seems not unlikely that it was actually the proper time for the burning of the evening incense. Knobel thinks that Nadab and Abihu proposed, of their own motion, to prepare an incense offering to accompany the shouts of the multitude as they saw the Divine fire fall upon the sacrifice—which may or may not have been the fact, as there is no evidence upon the point. Another supposition of Knobel must be absolutely rejected as at variance with the tenor of the narrative: “or, frightened by the consuming fire, 9:24, they considered an appeasing of God necessary.” It is better to follow the general opinion, and take the expression just as it, is given, making their sin to have consisted in offering strange fire, that is fire other than that commanded. “The chief thing is that the strange or common fire forms a contrast to the fire of the Sanctuary.” Lange. So Rosenmüller, Outram (l. xvi. 13), and others. In 6:12 it is required that the fire should be always burning upon the altar, and as this fire was for the consumption of the sacrifices, it would naturally be understood for the burning of the incense; in 16:12 it is expressly prescribed for the incense on the great day of atonement, and it became a part of the symbolism of the sanctuary service (Rev. 8:5). The fact that no command on this point of detail is anywhere recorded does not preclude the supposition that such a command had been given. At all events, the general principle of exact conformity to the Divine commands should have prevented Nadab and Abihu from offering “strange” or uncommanded fire before the LORD.
As to the causes which led them to commit this sin, the narrative is equally silent; but the connection of the precept in Lev 10:9 with this event seems to imply that there had been some violation of it. (See Targ. Hieros., Nic. de Lyra, Patrick, etc.) This might have concurred with already existing spiritual pride and self-will, or have temporarily produced them. “From Lev 10:8, 9, it is likely that they had lost their soberness in the feast which had begun.” Lange. But however this may have been, Von Gerlach’s remark is in place: “By this connection is taught, that as no external event was to depress with grief the priest, so ought he to apply no artificial means to his senses to produce exhilaration: his whole thoughts and attention are to be directed to the sacred offices which are commanded him. We are reminded of the antithesis, Eph. 5:18.” In the expression which he commanded them not, Rosenmüller notes a μείωσις of frequent occurrence, meaning “which He forbade.”
Lev 10:2. Fire from the LORD.—Plainly a miraculous fire as that which consumed the sacrifice (9:24). It did not consume their bodies, or even their clothes (Lev 10:5), and it must have been by an inadvertence that Lange says: “If they came thus strongly excited with their glowing fire into the half darkness of the sanctuary, they may have set themselves a-fire, by which they were destroyed.”
The severity of this judgment may be compared with that upon Uzza (2 Sam. 6:7; 1 Chron. 13:10), upon the Sabbath-breaker (Num. 15:32–36), or in the New Testament with that upon Ananias and Sapphira. In all these cases the punishment was not determined so much by the aggravation of the offence itself as by the necessity of vindicating God’s majesty and by a signal judgment on the first occasion, preventing a repetition of the offence. In such cases it is very necessary to separate the temporal from the thought of eternal punishment. Philo (as quoted by Calmet) undoubtedly pushes this too far when he says: “The priests Nadab and Abihu died that they might live, receiving an incorruptible for their mortal life, and passing from creatures to their Creator;” but yet we may not argue from temporal punishment to eternal doom, and the recollection of this may often serve to remove much of the inscrutableness of the Divine judgments.
Lev 10:3. This it is that the LORD spake—not in precisely these words, but again and again in their substance. See Ex. 29:44; 19:22; Lev. 8:33. Yet the very words may have been spoken, although not recorded, as in Ex. 33:12. Priests are continually designated as those that “come nigh” to God (e.g.Ezek. 42:13).—I will be sanctified.—Comp. Ex. 19:4, 5. “The law of the sanctuary is proclaimed to mean: that all approach to Jehovah of those who draw near to Him, of the priests in the holy acts of sacrifice, has the purpose of showing forth Jehovah in His holiness, i.e. in His pure and strict and all-folly-abhorring personality; and this hallowing of His name in highest solitude should have the result of revealing Him before all the people in His majesty, in the glory of His manifestation. The pure and brilliant exterior of the Cultus depends in its purity and chasteness upon the most perfect interior purity and truth. But when Moses applies this law to the present mishap, it expresses the truth that it is fulfilled not only in the pure service of God of good priests, but also in the unclean service of evil priests. Should these, for example, bring before the LORD, in passion or excitement, strange fire, fire of the intoxication of extravagance, fire of fanaticism, they should be seized and consumed by that fire changed, as it were, into the fire of the judgment of Jehovah; and also by such judgments on such priests Jehovah should be glorified before all His people—as it has always clearly been, especially to-day. How many a Protestant zealot has screamed himself dead in the sanctuary! But the mediæval priests began to burn themselves when they kindled the flames of the pyres.” Lange.
Aaron held his peace means not only that he abstained from the customary wails and cries of the mourner; but that he uttered no murmur against the judgment of God, or remonstrance against the law as set forth by Moses. This may perhaps have been made easier to him by the stunning effect of so great and sudden a bereavement.
Lev 10:4. The sons of Uzziel.—From Ex. 6:18 it would appear that Uzziel was the youngest of Aaron’s three uncles. Brethren is used, as so frequently in Scripture, in the sense of kinsmen. Elzaphan was the “chief” of his father’s house, Num. 3:30.—From before the sanctuary.—Notwithstanding the Jewish tradition that they perished within the sanctuary, it appears from this expression that the Divine judgment fell upon them while they were still in the court. “They buried the dead in their linen coats: these priestly garments had been defiled with the dead bodies, and were buried with them. There is nothing else degrading in the form of burial. The burial without the camp was common for all corpses. The buriers were also reminded that the dead were their brethren.” Lange. This was now the eighth day of the month; the Passover lamb was to be slain on the 14th. Mishael and Elzaphan were therefore unable to keep the Passover on account of their defilement by a dead body, for this lasted seven days (Num. 19:11–13). In view of these facts Blunt suggests (Undesigned Coincidences, I. 14) that it was the case of these Levites which was considered and provided for by the law of the Passover of the second mouth, Num. 9:6–12.
Lev 10:6, 7. All signs of mourning are forbidden to the priests. By a subsequent enactment these were in all cases perpetually forbidden to the high-priest (21:10–12), but in moderation allowed to the ordinary priests for those nearest of kin (ib. 1–6). Here, however, they are absolutely forbidden to both, doubtless because “any manifestation of grief on account of the death that had occurred would have indicated dissatisfaction with the judgment of God” (Keil); “because, from their office, they were especially concerned as consecrated priests in outwardly maintaining the honor of Jehovah.…. The people, on the other hand, as not formally standing so near to Jehovah, were permitted to bewail the burning which the Lord had kindled” (Cook).
Uncover not your heads.—This is the sense of the LXX. and Vulg., and means that they were not to remove their priestly turbans, as they were still to go directly on with their priestly functions. The word means literally to set free, and it may therefore have here the added sense, “do not go about with your hair dishevelled, or flowing free and in disorder (13:45).” Keil. Both this and the rending of the clothes were among the most common signs of mourning among the Jews.
Lest wrath come upon all the people.—They were to observe this precept not only for their own sake—lest ye die—but also for the people’s. It has already been shown (4:3) that the sin of the high-priest, as their theocratic head, brought guilt upon the people, and involved them in the consequent punishment; in this case emphatically it must do so, because Aaron and his remaining sons were now the sole appointed mediators with God, and any mark of dissatisfaction with His judgments would have placed them in an attitude of opposition to God.
Though the priests might not turn aside from their sacred functions, yet Nadab and Abihu were not to go unmourned. The whole house of Israel were to bewail the burning—not indeed as murmuring against the Divine judgment, but yet as recognizing that a sad calamity had befallen them.
Lev 10:7. Ye shall not go out—viz: for the purpose of accompanying the remains of the slain priests to their grave, and in any way ceasing from their sacred functions on their account. A like command is made of perpetual obligation upon the high-priest in 21:12. The reason is given—for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you; consecrated wholly to His service, they might not turn aside from it for any purpose. Comp. Matt. 8:22.
Lev 10:8. Spake unto Aaron.—Either through Moses (see Textual note 6); or else Aaron, being now fully constituted high-priest, and having shown his submission in what had just occurred, was made directly the recipient of a Divine communication concerning the duties of the priests.
Lev 10:9–11. Strong drink.—Heb. שֵׁכָר used apparently in Num. 28:7 as a synonym for wine, but generally taken for an intoxicating drink prepared from grain or honey, or especially from palms. The prohibition of wine and strong drink to the priests is only in connection with their service in the tabernacle. For the present this must have amounted to an almost absolute prohibition, as the service of Aaron and his two sons could have been little less than continuous; but as the priesthood multiplied, of course the time of service for each of them was reduced. The connection of this precept with what goes before and what follows seems almost necessarily to imply that it was called forth by some violation of it on the part of Nadab and Abihu. This supposition, Lange says, “is made probable by the otherwise unexplained command here given, and thus indeed the outward strange fire was only the symbol of the inner strange fire of wine-produced enthusiasm, which so often can mingle itself in pious and animated speeches and poems, by which indeed holy and unholy things are confused.” The object of the command is expressed in Lev 10:10, 11: that the mind of the priests might be clear in the exercise of their own duties, and in the instruction of the people in regard to theirs.
Lev 10:12–15. The oblation that remaineth from the sacrifices of the day mentioned in 9:17. Eat it in a holy place—as has been so often before commanded in regard to those things which might be eaten only by the priests—not in the sanctuary, but in a place provided for the purpose in the court—LXX.: ἐν τόπῳ ἁγίῳ. After this followed the holy meal upon the priests’ portion of the peace offerings (Lev 10:14, 15), eaten with their families without the court, in any clean place.
Lev 10:16–18. The goat of the sin offering had indeed been offered for the whole congregation (9:3), but its blood had not been brought within the sanctuary. Under these circumstances Moses emphatically declares, and Aaron tacitly acknowledges, that its flesh should, under ordinary circumstances, have been eaten by the priests, instead of being burned. Origen characterizes it as being in consequence an imperfect sacrifice. This shows distinctly that the law for the burning of the sin offering for the whole congregation (4:19, 12) turned upon the treatment of the blood, as Moses shows in Lev 10:18, and not upon the fact that it was offered for all the people. It is said that Moses was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, while Aaron is not mentioned; doubtless because the fault was with them as the ordinary priests, to whom this duty belonged, and not to the high-priest. Lange: “Eleazar and Ithamar also, the two remaining sons of Aaron, have apparently made an error in form; that is, they ought to have eaten this flesh of the goat of the sin offering (not their own, but that of the people) in a holy place as being a most holy thing. This they had neglected; still more, they had burnt the goat. But if they would thus treat the sin goat of the people, as if the ritual for the sin offering of bullocks was to be applied, they ought also to have brought its blood into the sanctuary; but they had not done this, and thus had violated the ritual in two ways” [i.e., in one or other of the two ways; but as they had treated the blood exactly as they were commanded, their fault consisted only in the wrong treatment of the flesh]. “In other words: since the blood had been poured out at the altar in the court, they must also in consequence eat the flesh of the sin offering, since it was given them as a right from Jehovah, as a recompense because they had as priests to bear the misdeeds of the congregation, and to make atonement before Jehovah. But at this reproach of Moses, Aaron knew how to excuse himself and his sons. In the first place, his sons had done their duty in regard to their own sin and burnt offering. In the second place, this fearful accident had happened to him and them, and made them incapable of eating. He appeals to feeling: would it please Jehovah if he should eat in such a frame of mind? This time Aaron has conquered Moses. The first violation of the law proceeded from gross disrespect of the law in carnal conduct; this second violation proceeded from a righteous spiritual elevation above the letter which even Moses must allow.”
Lev 10:17. To bear the iniquity of the congregation.—This expression, however difficult it may be to define the exact limits of its meaning, certainly makes two points clear: first, that the eating of the flesh of the ordinary sin offering by the priests was an essential part of its ritual; and second, that the priests, in receiving the sacrifice and undertaking to make expiation for sins, did act in a mediatorial capacity. “The very eating of the people’s sin offering argued the sins of the people were in some sort laid upon the priests, to be taken away by them.” Patrick. This eating, however, does not constitute with the sprinkling of the blood “a double atonemenent,” to which Lange rightly objects; but is simply a lesser part of the one atonement of which the blood was the more essential portion. The office of the priests, receiving the victim at the people’s hands, was with it to make an atonement or “covering” for the people’s sins. Having undertaken this, the responsibility for those sins in a certain sense rested upon them; they must bear the iniquity of the congregation.—This was only possible to do by a strict observance of the Divine appointment, since the sacrifice could have no inherent efficacy. They must both sprinkle the blood and eat the flesh. Without the latter, “the sacrifice was imperfect and the sin remained.” Origen.
Lev 10:19. In Aaron’s excuse that “spiritual elevation above the letter” which Lange has noted becomes very plain. It is striking to find this not only in the law, but in regard to the very centre of the law, the sin sacrifice, and that, too, in the very first moment of its institution. On Aaron’s unfitness now to eat this offering comp. Hos. 9:4.
Lev 10:20. He was content.—“Moses admitted Aaron’s plea, but it is not stated whether he was conscious that he had himself spoken hastily and now conceded the point at issue (as we find him doing on another occasion in reference to the settlement of the two tribes and a half, Num. 32:6), allowing that the priests had done what was in itself right, as S. Augustin, the later Targums, Kurtz, and others, interpret the passage; or whether he yielded out of sympathy with Aaron’s natural feelings. The latter alternative is perhaps the more probable one.” Clark. But neither alternative is necessary. Both here and in the case cited from Numbers (parallel to which also is Josh. 22:10–31) Moses remonstrated against an apparent disregard of the command of God; he was appeased when assured that no disregard was intended, and that in this case the act was exceptional under entirely exceptional circumstances.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
I. Self-chosen service (ἐθελοθρησκεία, Col. 2:23) is displeasing to God, as a substitution of what He has not commanded for what He has commanded. It is of the nature of rebellion and is so regarded by Him. “The symbolical meaning of this history is very deep and comprehensive. Every gift to God, every sacrifice for Him, every act of zeal in His service, however it might otherwise outwardly be right, is displeasing to the Lord so soon as the fire of self-denial ceases to originate from the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 13:3.” O. von Gerlach.
II. Nadab and Abihu were honored with being “brought near” to God, and were the appointed persons to burn incense in the proper way. They perverted their office and abused their privilege, and they perished. So generally God’s gifts perverted work harm to him who perverts them, and this harm is intensified in proportion to the greatness of the gift, 2 Cor. 2:16.
III. Hence comes the general principle that religious responsibility is proportioned to religious privilege (Lev 10:3)—a principle often insisted upon in our Lord’s teaching.
IV. Under the old covenant, death, as the fruit of sin, brought defilement by its touch. Even father and brothers might not touch the dead bodies of the fallen, lest they should be defiled. Under the new covenant, sin has been conquered by Him who knew no sin, and death by Him who rose from the grave. “No longer, therefore, under the Gospel, is death an unclean thing. “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord,” Rev. 14:13. The Levitical law, by its treatment of death and burial, shows us our condition by nature in contrast with the blessings given by Him who is “the Resurrection and the Life.” Wordsworth.
V. It was required of the Levitical priests that in their service in the sanctuary they should drink neither wine nor strong drink. Similarly St. Paul provides (1 Tim. 3:2, 8) that the Christian ministry must be “not given to wine,” and when requiring it for his infirmities, should use it moderately (ib. v. 23). Theodoret. The service of God must be “a reasonable service,” with faculties unimpaired, and not disturbed by artificial stimulants.
VI. When the priests are said (Lev 10:17) to bear the iniquity of the congregation, the temporary and typical character of the Levitical system is at once manifest. It was plainly impossible for men, who yet had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, to bear the sins of others, and so present them as holy before God, except as they represented something else, viz.: the great High Priest who should atone for the sin of the world.
VII. The burning, instead of eating, the flesh of the sin offering, finally acquiesced in by Moses, is instructive doctrinally as showing even in the most rigid part of the Levitical law, “a certain freedom in the arrangement of the minor details, while the substance of the rules is kept inviolate. It is one of the examples we occasionally meet of a distinction being judiciously and honestly made between the letter and the spirit of a law.” Murphy. Under the Old Testament as under the New, God desires “mercy and not sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13; 12:7).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
In this chapter, instead of the expected festivities consequent upon the inauguration of the new priesthood, we find a fearful judgment; so the sin of man ever comes in to mar the good work of God and turn to wormwood His cup of blessing. By this fearful example all will-worship is shown to be displeasing—all attempt to serve God in opposition to the ways of His appointment. “They also offer a strange fire, who offer any thing of their own to God without truly and humbly acknowledging that they have received all from God.” Estius. “When we bring zeal without knowledge, misconceits of faith, carnal affections, the devices of our will-worship, superstitious devotions into God’s service, we bring common fire to His altar. These flames were never of His kindling; He hates both altar, fire, priest, and sacrifice.” Bp. Hall.
The greatness of the punishment was in proportion to the appointed nearness to God of those who had offended. Privilege always brings responsibility. The judgment on Chorazin and Bethsaida must be heavier than upon Sodom and Gomorrha. Compare Heb. 2:3; 12:25.
God may use the same means for showing His love and His anger. He consumed the sacrifice by fire; He slew Nadab and Abihu by fire. The result to us of His action depends on our attitude towards Him. The same Gospel is a “savor of life unto life” and of “death unto death.” Again: He often uses for man’s punishment the very instrument of man’s sin; these men sinned by fire and perished by fire; so also the companions of Korah, Num. 16:35. So under the laws of His Providence are men’s passions made the means of punishing them, and often the objects of unlawful ambition or desire, when attained, become the very scourges of those who sought them.
Aaron held his peace, as the righteous must needs do before the judgments of God, however distressing. See Job 1:22; Ps. 39:9. There can be no hope and no comfort in the world if we may rightfully murmur at the doings of “the Judge of all the earth.”
The touch of the dead communicated defilement, but the touch of the Giver of life caused him who was borne out upon the bier to arise (Luke 7:14), and the damsel who slept in death to arise and walk (Mark 5:42). Wordsworth. Thus does the Antitype excel the type.
Aaron and his surviving sons might not leave the sanctuary to mourn those who had fallen, but all Israel might bewail them; so is the immediate service of God more pressing than all else; what may be right at another time, or to other persons, must be foregone by those who have a duty to God with which it interferes. His service is the prime object to which all other things must conform themselves.
The priests’ fervor is not to come of wine or strong drink. In the service of God they who draw near to Him have need of all the calmness and clearness of their minds, lest they do Him dishonor while they profess to serve Him. The excitement of worship, which comes of the abuse of His gifts, though showing itself in eloquence or in more than natural zeal, is not pleasing to Him.
From the fault of the priests in not eating the flesh of the sin offering, Theodoret thus reasons of the duty of the Christian minister: “Hence we learn that we who eat of those things which are offered by the people, and do not live according to the law, nor diligently pray to God for them, will bring down punishment from God;” and Origen says that it behooves the priest first to make himself acceptable to God before he presumes to seek from Him acceptance for the people.
1Lev 10:1. Three MSS., followed by the Vat. LXX., read “the two sons.”
2Lev 10:1. In the Heb. the first pronoun, בָּהֵן, is plural, while the, second, עָלֶיהָ, is singular. 16 MSS., the Sam. LXX. and Syr. have the latter in the plural.
3Lev 10:5. וַיִשּׂאֻם. The fuller form וָיִּשּׂאוּ אֵתָם is given in the Sam.
4Lev 10:6. One MS., followed by the LXX. and Syr. specifies “his remaining sons.”
5Lev 10:6. אַל־תַּפְרִעוּ. The A. V, ye shall not uncover is quite correct, and is the sense given in most of the ancient versions; but the Targ. of Onkelos, followed by several Jewish and other commentators, gives the very different sense ye shall not let your hair grow, derived from the use of פֶּרַע Num. 6:5=hair.
6Lev 10:8. Eight MSS. substitute the name of Moses for that of Aaron. The variation is unimportant; for, as Boothroyd suggests, the communication to Aaron may have been made through Moses.
7Lev 10:10. The and at the beginning of Lev 10:10 is omitted in the Sam. and all other ancient versions except the Vulgate.
8Lev 10:10. הַחֹל is in contrast to הַקֹּדֶשׁ and means simply that which is not especially consecrated. The word common conveys the sense better than unholy.
9Lev 10:12. Oblation. See Textual Note2 on 2:1.
10Lev 10:14, 15. Leg. See Text. Note30 on 7:32.
11Lev 10:15. The Sam. and LXX. add and thy daughters’, as in Lev 10:14.
12Lev 10:17. The Syr. reads in the 1st person, I have given.
13Lev 10:17. Thirteen MSS. read for you in the 2d person.
14Lev 10:18. The Masoretic punctuation of בַּקֹּדֶשׁ here indicates the article; it would seem proper, however, to omit it according to invariable usage. All the versions make a distinction between the sanctuary, into which the blood had not been carried, and the court where the flesh should have been eaten. We can only express this by a change of the article.
15Lev 10:18. Most of the versions have the passive, as I was commanded, and the LXX, ὃν τρόπον μοι συνέταξε κύριος.
16Lev 10:20. Rosenmüller notes that “הַיִּיטַב scribitur hic ἀνομαλῶς pro הֲייִטַב.”
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.