Leviticus 10:1
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
X.

(1) And Nadab and Abihu.—Immediately after the Divine manifestation of God’s acceptance of the services connected with the institution of the priesthood, and whilst the congregation are still giving utterance to their profound expressions of thankfulness and joy, the assembled people see a most daring act of sacrilege committed by two of the five newly-installed priests, and have to witness the most awful punishment which befals the offenders. The offenders are the two eldest sons of Aaron, who had received the high distinction to be invited to accompany their father and Moses to the summit of the hallowed mount (Exodus 24:1); the lesson to the Israelites being that the priests, though mediators between God and the people, are beset with the same infirmities as the laity, and must not presume upon their office.

Took either of them his censer.—The sin of Nadab and Abihu was of a complicated nature, and involved and consisted of several transgressions:—(1) They each took his own censer, and not the sacred utensil of the sanctuary. (2) They both offered it together, whereas the incense was only to be offered by one. (3) They presumptuously encroached upon the functions of the high priest; for according to the Law the high priest alone burnt incense in a censer. (Sec Leviticus 16:12-13; Numbers 17:11.) The ordinary priests only burnt it on the golden altar in the holy place (Exodus 30:7-8), or on the brazen altar as a part of the memorial. (See Leviticus 2:2-3; Leviticus 2:16, &c.) The case of Korah and his company was an exception, since it was ordered by Moses for an especial purpose (Numbers 16:6-25). (4) They offered the incense at an unauthorised time, since it was apart from the morning and evening sacrifice.

And offered strange fire.—They filled their vessels with common fire instead of taking it from the holy fire of the altar, which was always to be used in burning incense. (See Leviticus 9:24; Leviticus 16:12.) It is with reference to this practice that we are told—“And the angel took the censer and filled it with fire off the altar” (Revelation 8:5). Ancient tradition says that Nadab and Abihu had partaken too freely of the drink offering, and performed their service in a state of intoxication, when they were incapacitated to distinguish between what was legal and illegal. So general was this tradition that it is actually embodied in the Palestinian Chaldee Version of Leviticus 10:9, which contains the solemn warning against wine to those engaged in the service of the sanctuary, and which is regarded as a sequel to this awful catastrophe. Others, however, suppose that the phrase “strange fire” denotes not offered according to the prescribed law, just as “strange incense” is used in the sense of incense not prepared in the manner ordered by the Law (Exodus 30:9).

Before the Lord.—This may mean before the door of the sanctuary (see Leviticus 1:5), or in front of the holy of holies. (See Leviticus 4:6.) As the dead bodies are said in Leviticus 10:4 to have lain in the court of the tabernacle, the former must be the meaning in the passage before us.

Which he commanded them not.—According to a figure of speech frequently used in Hebrew, where the negative form is used for the emphatic affirmative, this phrase is better rendered, “which he had strongly forbidden them.” Though the command is only expressed in Leviticus 16:12, there can hardly be any doubt that it was previously given by Moses, since it is implied in Leviticus 1:7; Leviticus 6:12. A similar reference to a well known statement, though not here recorded, we have in the following verse.

Leviticus

STRANGE FIRE

Leviticus 10:1 - Leviticus 10:11
.

This solemn story of sin and punishment is connected with the preceding chapter by a simple ‘and.’ Probably, therefore, Nadab and Abihu ‘offered strange fire,’ immediately after the fire from Jehovah had consumed the appointed sacrifice. Their sin was aggravated by the time of its being committed. But a week had passed since the consecration of their father and themselves as priests. The first sacrifices had just been offered, and here, in the very blossoming time, came a vile canker. If such licence in setting aside the prescriptions of the newly established sacrificial order asserted itself then, to what lengths might it not run when the first impression of sanctity and of God’s commandment had been worn by time and custom? The sin was further aggravated by the sinners being priests, who were doubly obliged to punctilious adherence to the instituted ritual. If they set the example of contempt, would not the people better {or, rather, worsen} their instruction?

Unquestionably, their punishment was awfully severe. But we shall entirely misconceive their sin if we judge it by our standards. We are not dependent on forms as Israel was, but the spiritual religion of Christianity was only made possible by the externalism of the older system. The sweet kernel would not have softened and become juicy without the shelter of the hard shell. Scaffolding is needed to erect a building; and he is not a wise man who either despises or would keep permanently standing the scaffold poles.

We draw a broad distinction between positive commandments and moral or religious obligations. But in the Mosaic legislation that distinction does not exist. There, all precepts are God’s uttered will, and all disobedience is rebellion against Him. Nor could it be otherwise at the stage of development which Israel had reached.

What, then, was the crime of these two rash sons of Aaron? That involves two questions: What did they do? and What was the sin of doing it? The former question may be answered in various ways. Certainly the designation of ‘strange fire’ seems best explained by the usual supposition that it means fire not taken from the altar. The other explanations, which make the sin to have been offering at an unauthorised time, or offering incense not compounded according to the prescription, give an unnatural meaning to the phrase. It was the ‘fire’ which was wrong,-that is, it was ‘fire which they had kindled,’ caught up from some common culinary hearth, or created by themselves in some way.

What was their sin in thus offering it? Plainly, the narrative points to the essence of the crime in calling it ‘fire which He had not commanded.’ So this was their crime, that they were tampering with the appointed order which but a week before they had been consecrated to conserve and administer; that they were thus thrusting in self-will and personal caprice, as of equal authority with the divine commandment; that they were arrogating the right to cut and carve God’s appointments, as the whim or excitement of the moment dictated; and that they were doing their best to obliterate the distinction on the preservation of which religion, morality, and the national existence depended; namely, the distinction between holy and common, clean and unclean. To plough that distinction deep into the national consciousness was no small part of the purpose of the law; and here were two of its appointed witnesses disregarding it, and flying in its face. The flash of holy fire consuming the sacrifices had scarcely faded off their eyeballs when they thus sinned.

They have had many successors, not only in Israel, while a ritual demanding punctilious conformity lasted, but in Christendom since. Alas! our censers are often flaming with ‘strange fire.’ How much so-called Christian worship glows with self-will or with partisan zeal! When we seek to worship God for what we can get, when we rush into His presence with hot, eager desires which we have not subordinated to His will, we are burning ‘strange fire which He has not commanded.’ The only fire which should kindle the incense in our censers, and send it up to heaven in fragrant wreaths, is fire caught from the altar of sacrifice. God must kindle the flame in our hearts if we are to render these else cold hearts to Him.

‘The prayers I bring will then be sweet indeed

If Thou the Spirit give, by which I pray.’

The swift, terrible punishment does indeed bear marks of the severity of that earlier stage of revelation. But it was not disproportioned to the offence, and it was not the cruelty of a martinet who avenged ceremonial lapses with penalties which should have been kept for moral offences. The surface of the sin was ceremonial impropriety: the heart of it was flouting Jehovah and His law. It was better that two men should die, and the whole nation perish not, as it would have done if their example had been followed. It is mercy to trample out the first sparks beside a powder-barrel.

There is a very striking parallel between Leviticus 10:2 and the last verse of the preceding chapter. In both the same expression is used, ‘There came forth fire from before the Lord, and consumed’ {the word rendered devoured in Leviticus 10:2 is the same in Hebrew as consumed} . So, then, the same divine fire, which had graciously signified God’s acceptance of the appointed sacrifice, now flashed out with lightning-like power of destruction, and killed the two rebel priests. There is dormant potency of destruction in the God who reveals Himself as gracious. The ‘wrath of the Lamb’ is as real as His gentleness. The Gospel is ‘the savour of life unto life’ and ‘of death unto death.’

Moses’ word to the stunned father is of a piece with the severity of the whole incident. No voice of condolence or sympathy comes from him. The brother is swallowed up in the lawgiver. He puts into words the meaning of the terrible stroke, and expects Aaron to acquiesce, though his heart bleeds. What was his interpretation? He saw in it God’s purpose to be ‘sanctified in them that come nigh Him.’ The priests were these. Nadab and Abihu had been consecrated for the purpose of enforcing the truth of God’s holiness. They had done the very opposite, by breaking down the distinction between sacred and common.

But their nearness to God brought with it not only corresponding obligations, but corresponding criminality and penalty, if these obligations were not discharged. If God is not ‘sanctified’ by His servants, He will sanctify Himself on them. If His people do not set forth His infinite separation from all evil and elevation above all creatures, He will proclaim these truths in lightning that kills and thunder that roars. It is a universal law which Moses sternly spoke to Aaron instead of comfort, bidding him recognise the necessity of the fearful blow to his paternal heart. ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.’

The prohibition to Aaron and his sons to show signs of mourning is as stern as the rest of the story, and serves to insist upon the true point of view from which to regard it. For the official representatives of the divine order of worship to mourn the deaths of its assailants would have seemed to indicate their murmuring at God’s judgments, and might have led them to participate in the sin while they lamented its punishment. It is hard to mourn and not to repine. Affection blinds to the ill-desert of its objects. Nadab’s and Abihu’s stark corpses lying in the forecourt of the sanctuary, and Aaron’s dry eyes and undisturbed attire, proclaim the same truths,-the gravity of the dead men’s sin, and the righteous judgment of God. But the people might sorrow, for their mourning would help to imprint on them more deeply the lessons of the dread event.

While the victims’ cousins carried their bodies to their graves in the sand, their father and brothers had to remain in the Tabernacle, because ‘the anointing oil of Jehovah is upon you.’ That oil, as the symbol of the Spirit, separates those on whom it is poured from all contact with death, from participation in sin, from the weight of sorrow. What have immortality, righteousness, joy in the Holy Ghost, to do with these dark shadows? Those whom God has called to His immediate service must hold themselves apart from earthly passions, and must control natural affection, if indulging it imperils their clear witness to God’s righteous will.

The prohibition {Leviticus 10:8} of wine and strong drink during the discharge of the priestly functions seems to suggest that Nadab and Abihu had committed their sin while in some degree intoxicated. Be that as it may, the prohibition is rested upon the necessity of preserving, in all its depth and breadth, the distinction between common and holy which Nadab and Abihu had broken down. That distinction was to be very present to the priest in his work, and how could he have the clearness of mind, the collectedness and composure, the sense of the sanctity of his office, and ministrations which it requires and gives, if he was under the influence of strong drink?

Nothing has more power to blur the sharpness of moral and religious insight than even a small amount of alcohol. God must be worshipped with clear brain and naturally beating heart. Not the fumes of wine, in which there lurks almost necessarily the tendency to ‘excess,’ but the being ‘filled with the Spirit’ supplies the only legitimate stimulus to devotion. Besides the personal reason for abstinence, there was another,-namely, that only so could the priests teach the people ‘the statutes’ of Jehovah. Lips stained from the wine-cup would not be fit to speak holy words. Words spoken by such would carry no power.

God’s servants can never impress on the sluggish conscience of society their solemn messages from God, unless they are conspicuously free from self-indulgence, and show by their example the gulf, wide as between heaven and hell, which parts cleanness from uncleanness. Our lives must witness to the eternal distinction between good and evil, if we are to draw men to ‘abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good.’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.10:1,2 Next to Moses and Aaron, none were more likely to be honourable in Israel than Nadab and Abihu. There is reason to think that they were puffed up with pride, and that they were heated with wine. While the people were prostrate before the Lord, adoring his presence and glory, they rushed into the tabernacle to burn incense, though not at the appointed time; both together, instead of one alone, and with fire not taken from the altar. If it had been done through ignorance, they had been allowed to bring a sin-offering. But the soul that doeth presumptuously, and in contempt of God's majesty and justice, that soul shall be cut off. The wages of sin is death. They died in the very act of their sin. The sin and punishment of these priests showed the imperfection of that priesthood from the very beginning, and that it could not shelter any from the fire of God's wrath, otherwise than as it was typical of Christ's priesthood.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.

CHAPTER 10

Le 10:1-20. Nadab and Abihu Burnt.

1. the sons of Aaron, &c.—If this incident occurred at the solemn period of the consecrating and dedicating the altar, these young men assumed an office which had been committed to Moses; or if it were some time after, it was an encroachment on duties which devolved on their father alone as the high priest. But the offense was of a far more aggravated nature than such a mere informality would imply. It consisted not only in their venturing unauthorized to perform the incense service—the highest and most solemn of the priestly offices—not only in their engaging together in a work which was the duty only of one, but in their presuming to intrude into the holy of holies, to which access was denied to all but the high priest alone. In this respect, "they offered strange fire before the Lord"; they were guilty of a presumptuous and unwarranted intrusion into a sacred office which did not belong to them. But their offense was more aggravated still; for instead of taking the fire which was put into their censers from the brazen altar, they seem to have been content with common fire and thus perpetrated an act which, considering the descent of the miraculous fire they had so recently witnessed and the solemn obligation under which they were laid to make use of that which was specially appropriated to the service of the altars, they betrayed a carelessness, an irreverence, a want of faith, most surprising and lamentable. A precedent of such evil tendency was dangerous, and it was imperatively necessary, therefore, as well for the priests themselves as for the sacred things, that a marked expression of the divine displeasure should be given for doing that which "God commanded them not."Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire, are devoured by fire from heaven, Leviticus 10:1,2; for God will be sanctified by them that draw near unto him, Leviticus 10:3. Their dead bodies carried without the camp, Leviticus 10:4,5. Aaron and his two other sons forbad to mourn, Leviticus 10:6; also to drink wine or any strong drink, Leviticus 10:8,9. Their duty to distinguish between holy and unholy; and to teach the people all the statutes of the Lord, Leviticus 10:10,11. Moses declares to them what of the burnt-offerings they might eat, Leviticus 10:12-15; is angry that the sin-offering was not eat, nor the blood carried into the holy place, Leviticus 10:16-18. He is appeased by Aaron, Leviticus 10:19,20.

Strange fire; so called, as not appointed for, nor belonging to, the present work; fire not taken from the altar, as it ought, but from some common fire.

Before the Lord; upon the altar of incense.

Which he commanded them not; for seeing Moses himself neither did nor might do any thing in God’s worship without God’s command, which is oft noted of him, for these to do it was a more unpardonable and inexcusable presumption. Besides, not commanding may be here put for forbidding, as it is Jeremiah 32:35. Now as this 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 be.

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron,.... His two eldest sons, as seems from Exodus 6:23,

took either of them his censer; a vessel in which coals of fire were put, and incense upon them, and burnt it, and so it follows:

and put fire therein, and put incense thereon; which, as Aben Ezra says, was on the eighth day, that is, of their consecration, the day after their consecration was completely finished, and the same day that Aaron had offered the offerings for himself and for the people, see Leviticus 9:1,

and offered strange fire before the Lord; upon the golden altar of incense, which stood in the holy place right against the vail, within which were the ark, mercy seat, and cherubim, the symbol and seat of the divine Majesty: this fire was not that which came down from heaven, and consumed the sacrifice, as related at the end of the preceding chapter Leviticus 9:24, but common fire, and therefore called strange; it was not taken off of the altar of burnt offering, as it ought to have been, but, as the Targum of Jonathan, from under the trivets, skillets, or pots, such as the flesh of peace offerings were boiled in, in the tabernacle:

which he commanded not; yea, forbid, by sending fire from heaven, and ordering coals of fire for the incense to be taken off of the altar of burnt offering; and this, as Aben Ezra observes, they did of their own mind, and not by order. It does not appear that they had any command to offer incense at all at present, this belonged to Aaron, and not to them as yet; but without any instruction and direction they rushed into the holy place with their censers, and offered incense, even both of them, when only one priest was to offer at a time, when it was to be offered, and this they also did with strange fire. This may be an emblem of dissembled love, when a man performs religious duties, prays to God, or praises him without any cordial affection to him, or obeys commands not from love, but selfish views; or of an ignorant, false, and misguided zeal, a zeal not according to knowledge, superstitious and hypocritical; or of false and strange doctrines, such as are not of God, nor agree with the voice of Christ, and are foreign to the Scriptures; or of human ordinances, and the inventions of men, and of everything that man brings of his own, in order to obtain eternal life and salvation.

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered {a} strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.

(a) Not taken from the altar, which was sent from heaven, and endured till the captivity of Babylon.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
(3) The first priestly transgression and its punishment (1–7)

1. Nadab and Abihu were specially chosen to ‘come up unto the Lord’ with Moses, Aaron and the 70 elders (Exodus 24:1; Exodus 24:9-11, the only reference to these sons of Aaron outside P).

his censer] The Heb. word is used in this sense here, in ch. Leviticus 16:12 (of Aaron on the Day of Atonement), and in Numbers 16 (the censers of Korah and his company, and of Aaron). A dish or pan for carrying live coal is meant.

offered strange fire] This is sometimes explained as fire not taken from the altar of Burnt-Offering (cp. Leviticus 16:12; Numbers 16:46); but then the adjective ‘strange’ would have been used with fire when first mentioned—‘and put [strange] fire therein.’ If the offence consisted in bringing ‘strange incense’ (Exodus 30:9), i.e. incense not prepared according to the prescription in Exodus 30:34-36, then the next clause would have been—‘and laid [strange] incense thereon.’ The whole action is here described as ‘offering strange fire before the Lord,’ an expression found only here and in passages referring to this event (Numbers 3:4; Numbers 26:61). It was an irregular fire-offering, and the sin of Nadab and Abihu consisted in offering that which the Lord had not commanded them. At the commencement of priestly ministrations both priests and people are taught by this visitation to observe scrupulously the Divine commands in all that concerns the ministration of the sanctuary. From Leviticus 16:1 it may be conjectured that the regulations for entering into the Holy place were at one time more closely connected with this narrative.

there came forth fire from before the Lord] As in Leviticus 9:24; see note there.

devoured them] They were not wholly consumed (cp. Leviticus 10:5). For similar punishment cp. Numbers 11:1; Numbers 16:35; 2 Kings 1:10.Verse 1. - Nadab and Ahibu are said to have each taken his censer. This is the first time that the word used in the original is translated "censer." It means any vessel or pan that will hold embers or tinder (see Exodus 25:38; Exodus 37:23; Exodus 38:3). They put fire therein, and put incense thereon. No doubt they used the incense ordered in Exodus 30:34. They are not found fault with for the incense, but for the fire that they used. They offered strange fire, that is, fire not taken from the altar of burnt offering, which they might have feared to approach after the miracle that had occurred. In chapter Leviticus 16:12 it is ordered that, on the Day of Atonement, the incense fire should be taken from the brazen altar, and this was no doubt the rule on all occasions, though the law has not been recorded. Of the sacrifices of the nation, Aaron presented the sin-offering in the same manner as the first, i.e., the one offered for himself (Leviticus 9:8.). The blood of this sin-offering, which was presented for the congregation, was not brought into the holy place according to the rule laid down in Leviticus 7:16., but only applied to the horns of the altar of burnt-offering; for the same reason as in the previous case (Leviticus 9:8.), viz., because the object was not to expiate any particular sin, or the sins of the congregation that had been committed in the course of time and remained unatoned for, but simply to place the sacrificial service of the congregation in its proper relation to the Lord. Aaron was reproved by Moses, however, for having burned the flesh (Leviticus 10:16.), but was able to justify it (see at Leviticus 10:16-20). The sin-offering (Leviticus 9:16) was also offered "according to the right" (as in Leviticus 5:10). Then followed the meat-offering (Leviticus 9:17), of which Aaron burned a handful upon the altar (according to the rule in Leviticus 2:1-2). He offered this in addition to the morning burnt-offering (Exodus 29:39), to which a meat-offering also belonged (Exodus 29:40), and with which, according to Leviticus 6:12., the special meat-offering of the priests was associated. Last of all (Leviticus 9:18-21) there followed the peace-offering, which was also carried out according to the general rule. In המכסּה, "the covering" (Leviticus 9:19), the two fat portions mentioned in Leviticus 3:3 are included. The fat portions were laid upon the breast-pieces by the sons of Aaron, and then handed by them to Aaron, the fat to be burned upon the altar, the breast to be waved along with the right leg, according to the instructions in Leviticus 7:30-36. The meat-offering of pastry, which belonged to the peace-offering according to Leviticus 7:12-13, is not specially mentioned.
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