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.
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.
And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
Verse 2. - And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured. These are the exact words used in Leviticus 9:24 of the fire that consumed the sacrifices. The fire was the same; its source was the same; its effect was the same, and yet how different! They died before the Lord; that is, they were struck dead at the door of the tabernacle.
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.
Verse 3. - This is that the Lord spake (see Exodus 19:22; Exodus 28:41; Exodus 29:44; Leviticus 8:33). God will be sanctified either by the obedience or by the punishment of those that come nigh him, that is, his priests. If they have greater privileges, they have greater perils (cf. Matthew 11:21). Aaron held his peace - in submission (see Psalm 39:9; Job 1:22), acknowledging that Moses had justified the act of God in executing so terrible a judgment.
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.
Verse 4. - Uzziel was the youngest brother of Amram (see Exodus 6:18-22). His sons, Mishael and Elzaphan, were therefore second cousins of Nadab and Abihu, who are here called their brethren. (Cf. the use of the term "brothers of the Lord," applied probably to his first cousins in the New Testament.)
So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp; as Moses had said.
Verse 5. - They went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp. Their coats were the tunics which they had put on as their priestly attire (Leviticus 8:13). The lightning flash which had struck them down had not injured their clothes. As Mishael and Elzaphan became ceremonially defiled by contact with the corpses, and as the Passover was now at hand, it has been thought that it was in reference to their case that the concession was made, that those d, filed by a dead body might keep the Passover on the fourteenth day of the second instead of the first month (Numbers 9:6-11). The defilement caused by death ceased when Christ had died.
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.
Verse 6. - Uncover not your heads. They are to abstain from all the conventional signs of mourning, in order to show that they acknowledged the justice of the punishment. The whole house of Israel, that is, the people in general, might mourn the death of their priests, but the high priest and his remaining sons must prove their submission to the Divine chastisement by crushing their individual feelings of sorrow. A murmur on their part would have brought God's wrath on themselves and on the whole congregation, which they represented (Leviticus 4:3). Uncover not your heads may be otherwise translated, Let not your hair fall disheveled (see Leviticus 21:10).
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.
Verse 7. - The priests are not to be taken away from their duties at the door of the tabernacle, that is, the court in front of the tabernacle, even for the sake of burying their dead. They had now been in the court for eight days continuously, and they had to remain there until, in the fulfillment of their public function, they had eaten the sacrificial meal. Cf. Matthew 8:21, 22, "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me." God's service comes before all things.
And the LORD spake unto Aaron, saying,
TO ABSTAIN FROM WINE (verses 8-11). The law given to Aaron (some manuscripts read Moses) against the use of wine by the priests during their ministrations, by its juxtaposition with what has gone before, has led to the probable supposition that Nadab and Abihu had acted under the excitement of intoxicating drink. It is possible that the sacrificial meals on the peace offerings had begun, and that at the same time that the congregation was feasting, the two priests had refreshed themselves with wine after their long service. The special ceremonial meal of the priests had not yet been eaten.
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:
And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;
Verse 10. - Wine and other intoxicating liquors (שֵׁכר, whence the Greek word σίκερα, Luke 1:13, was made from dates, or barley, or honey) are forbidden to the priests during their ministrations, that they may pat a difference between holy and unholy; that is, that their minds may not be confused, but be capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, what ought and what ought not to be done. Nadab and Abihu, on the contrary, had not distinguished between the sacred and profane fire, or between God's commands and their own unregulated impulses. If they had partaken too freely of the wine provided for the drink offerings, their sin would be similar to that of the Corinthians in their abuse of the Lord's Supper. As to the use of wine by the minister of God under the New Testament, see 1 Timothy 3:2, 8; 1 Timothy 5:23. The spiritual emotion, which, in the service of God, shows itself in pouring out the feelings in "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," is contrasted, in Ephesians 5:18, 19, with the physical excitement caused by wine, the former being commended and the latter forbidden.
And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.
Verse 11. - That ye may teach the children of Israel. This shows that one part of the priest's office was teaching the Law (cf. Deuteronomy 24:8; Malachi 2:7).
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:
Verses 12-20. - Moses takes care that the remaining part of the ritual of the day shall be carried out in spite of the terrible interruption that has occurred. Under his instructions, Aaron and Eleazar and Ithamar eat the remainder of the meat offering (Leviticus 9:17), in the court of the tabernacle, and reserve the wave breast and heave shoulder to eat in a clean place, that is, not necessarily within the court; but he finds that the sin offerings (Leviticus 9:15), which ought to be eaten by the priests, had been burnt. The rule was that, when the blood was presented in the tabernacle, the flesh was burned; when it was not, the flesh was eaten by the priests. In the present case, the blood had not been brought within the holy place, and yet the flesh had been burned instead of being eaten. Moses was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, and demanded an explanation. Aaron's plea of defense was twofold.
1. His sons had fulfilled aright the ritual of their own sin offering and burnt offering, that is, the offerings made for the priests, and it had been rather his duty than theirs to see that the ritual of the sin offering of the congregation had been properly carried out.
2. The state of distress in which he was, and the near escape that he had had from ceremonial defilement, and the sense of sin brought home to him by his children's death, had made him unfit and unable to eat the sin offering of the people, as he should have done under other circumstances. With this plea Moses was content. It was true that the letter of the Law had been broken, but there was a sufficient cause for it (see Hosea 6:6; Matthew 12:7). It appears from hence that the expiation wrought by the sin offering was not complete until the whole ceremony was accomplished, the last act of which was the eating of the flesh by the priests in one class of sin offering, and the burning the flesh outside the camp in the other. It has been questioned, what is the full meaning of the expression, God hath given it you - the flesh of the sin offering - to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord. Archdeacon Freeman expresses the view of A Lapide, Keil, and many others when he says that, by eating the flesh of the offering, the priests "in a deep mystery neutralized, through the holiness vested in them by their consecration, the sin which the offerer had laid upon the victim and upon them" ('Principles of Divine Service,' part 2). Oehler, on the other hand (Herzog's 'Cyclop.,' 10), maintains that the priests did no more by this act than declare the removal of the sin already taken away; with which accords Philo's explanation ('De Vict.,' 13, quoted by Edersheim, 'Temple Service,' chapter 6.) that the object of the sacrificial meal was to carry assurance of acceptance to the offerer, "since God would never have allowed his servants to partake of it had there not been a complete removal and forgetting of the sin atoned for." Neither of these explanations seems to be altogether satisfactory. The former attributes more meaning to the expression bear the iniquity than it appears to have elsewhere; e.g. Exodus 28:38 and Numbers 18:1, where Aaron is said to bear the iniquity of the holy things and of the sanctuary; and Ezekiel 4:4-6, where the prophet is said to bear the iniquity of Israel and Judah. The latter interpretation appears too much to evacuate the meaning of the words. It is quite certain that the part of the ceremony by which the atonement was wrought (if it was wrought by any one part) was the offering of the blood for the covering of the offerer's sins, but yet this action of the priests in eating the flesh of the victim was in some way also connected with the atonement, not only with the assurance of its having been wrought; but in what way this was effected we are not told, and cannot pronounce. The words bear the iniquity are equivalent to making atonement for by taking the sin in some sense upon themselves (cf. Isaiah 53:11, "He shall bear their iniquities," and John 1:29, "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away [or beareth] the sin of the world'). Accordingly, Bishop Patrick comments: "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. From whence the sacrifice of Christ may be explained, who is said to bear our iniquity (as the priest is here said to do), all our sins being laid on him, who took upon him to make an expiation for them by the sacrifice of himself. For the priest, hereby eating of the sin offering, receiving the guilt upon himself, may well be thought to prefigure One who should be both Priest and Sacrifice for sin; which was accomplished in Christ" (on Leviticus 10:17).
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,
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?
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.
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?
And when Moses heard that, he was content.