Regarding our purposes this morning, chapter 8 closes with Moses telling “Aaron and his sons” to “stay at the door of the tabernacle of meeting day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of the Lord, so that you may not die.’ So Aaron and his sons did all the things that the Lord had commanded by the hand of Moses.” (Leviticus 8:35-36)
Leviticus 9:1-6, “It came to pass on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons (they come forth out of the tabernacle) and the elders of Israel (the representatives of the people). And he said to Aaron, ‘Take for yourself a young bull as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering, without blemish, and offer them before the Lord.
And to the children of Israel you shall speak, saying, ‘Take a kid of the goats as a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering, also a bull and a ram as peace offerings, to sacrifice before the Lord, and a grain offering mixed with oil; for today the Lord will appear to you.’
So they brought what Moses commanded before the tabernacle of meeting. And all the congregation drew near and stood before the Lord. Then Moses said, ‘This is the thing which the Lord commanded you to do, and the glory of the Lord will appear to you.’”
Following these “seven days of consecration” where “Aaron and his sons” had to remain inside the tabernacle of meeting by the door, “it came to pass on the eighth day” that Moses calls them out and gives them new instructions. As the High Priest Aaron’s first task was to offer both a “sin offering” and a “burnt offering” for himself before then commanding “the children of Israel” to bring to the tabernacle their “sin, burnt, peace, and grain offerings.” Not only does this mark “Aaron and his sons” first day on the job, but these specific directives indicate the tabernacle of meeting was now officially open for business!
Not to sound like I’m beating a drum, but I hope you’ve already picked up on the numerical significance of this scene. The fact it took “seven days” for the consecration process of the priesthood to be completed intends to take the reader back to the original creation account of Genesis in order to gain a much deeper insight into what’s happening. During this week God has taken normal men and recreated them into new people — the priests!
It’s not an accident that “Aaron and his sons” are then called out from the tabernacle on the “eighth day!” While seven is the number of completion, eight implies newness of life. In our New Testament context eight is by extension representative of the grace of God!
In being in the tabernacle for “seven days” we understand God was completing a work in the lives of “Aaron and his sons.” Being called out by Moses on the “eighth day” indicates this work was now finished, newness of life given, and something fresh was beginning.
Not to take the typology further than would be appropriate, but this scene is similar to Jesus’ resurrection. Following the completion of His Week of Passion, our Great High Priest emerged from a Garden Tomb on the eighth day! Jesus finished the work of redemption and then came forth initiating a brand new work founded upon His grace alone.
The other thing you need to see is that within the undercurrent of “Aaron and his sons” making their first offerings we find a palpable anticipation. In the initial instructions to “Aaron and the elders of Israel” in verse 4 before then reiterating them to the entire “congregation” in verse 6, Moses has promised that in response to their obedience “to do what the Lord had commanded, the glory of the Lord would appear” that day!
Before we move on there is one point I want to make about this… While there are those who find the idea of God determining a specific way He must be approached as narrow, such a person overlooks two incredible realities: (1) We should be amazed there is any way a sinful human being can approach a holy God, and (2) If you seek God the way He established, He promises to reveal Himself! In James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you!”
Leviticus 9:7, “And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Go to the altar, offer your sin offering and your burnt offering, and make atonement for yourself and for the people. Offer the offering of the people, and make atonement for them, as the Lord commanded.’”
In the previous chapter we witnessed Moses acting on behalf of “Aaron and his sons” as a High Priest to initiate the priesthood. In this chapter we see a transition has taken place from Moses to Aaron. From this point forward Aaron would be the High Priest — not Moses!
Leviticus 9:8-14, “Aaron therefore went to the altar and killed the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself. (Do you think the irony that Aaron “killed the calf” was lost on him? What grace God allowed the creator of the Golden Calf to act as the first High Priest.) Then the sons of Aaron brought the blood to him. And he dipped his finger in the blood, put it on the horns of the altar, and poured the blood at the base of the altar.
But the fat, the kidneys, and the fatty lobe from the liver of the sin offering Aaron burned on the altar, as the Lord had commanded Moses. The flesh and the hide he burned with fire outside the camp (there would have been an entire process to this). And he killed the burnt offering; and Aaron’s sons presented to him the blood, which he sprinkled all around on the altar. Then they presented the burnt offering to Aaron, with its pieces and head, and he burned them on the altar. And he washed the entrails and the legs, and burned them with the burnt offering on the altar.”
Leviticus 9:15-22, “Then Aaron brought the people’s offering, and took the goat, which was the sin offering for the people (we understand it would have been the “elders of Israel” who’d laid their hands on the goat for the people), and killed it and offered it for sin, like the first one. And he brought the burnt offering and offered it according to the prescribed manner. (Aaron is doing these things exactly the way he was told to do it.)
Then he brought the grain offering, took a handful of it, and burned it on the altar, besides the burnt sacrifice of the morning. Aaron also killed the bull and the ram as sacrifices of peace offerings, which were for the people. And Aaron’s sons presented to him the blood, which he sprinkled all around on the altar, and the fat from the bull and the ram — the fatty tail, what covers the entrails and the kidneys, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver; and they put the fat on the breasts.
Then Aaron burned the fat on the altar; but the breasts and the right thigh he waved as a wave offering before the Lord, as Moses had commanded. Then Aaron lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them, and came down from offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and peace offerings.”
Two quick observations… First, what a day! After offering the necessary Sin and Burnt Offerings to atone for his own sin, “Aaron and his sons” get to work making the appropriate offerings on behalf of the entire congregation. Again, keep in mind, this is the first time any of these men have ever done these things. Everything about this is new and it’s hard work!
The second observation develops from a larger narrative that began back in Exodus… You can’t help but notice Aaron has undergone a transformation! A man who just a few weeks earlier had been pressured into building the Golden Calf to facilitate the people’s idolatry is now acting as their High Priest making the appropriate offerings to provide atonement!
Though there was nothing about Aaron that made him any better than anyone else, being chosen by God and surrendering to his new identity had changed everything. Imagine Aaron covered in blood, drenched in sweat, “lifting his hands and blessing the people.” People who experience God’s grace when they know they don’t deserve it never remain the same!
Leviticus 9:23-24, “And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. (We have no idea how long they were in the tabernacle or for that matter what takes place.) Then the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.”
Imagine being in the crowd to see these things happen… First and foremost, the reaction of “the people” of “shouting” and “falling on their faces” when they “saw fire come out from before the Lord and consume the burnt offering on the altar” is interesting. In the Hebrew this word “shouted” indicates not a scream of terror, but a cry of joy and jubilee. Additionally, the posture of the congregation “falling on their faces” was customary of worship and respect.
While you and I would have undoubtedly been freaked out by such a scene, not so with this particular group of people. As you can imagine from the events in Egypt and those in the wilderness they’d become accustom to seeing the supernatural by this point in time.
Instead, the scene being described here is the congregation of Israel surrounding this tent overcome with a real joy and a raw emotion. God’s presence had appeared, in-dwelt this tabernacle, and the divine “fire” coming out of the Holy of Holies to “consume the burnt offering on the altar” was evidence He had accepted their sacrifice as atonement for sin.
Aside from the practical implications, you need to realize what we’re reading in Leviticus 9 is one of the most radicle days in all of human history! God has now re-established an important connection with His people. Though shielded to a large extent, God is in their midst. While He had to be approached through an acceptable sacrifice, He’s now accessible.
And yet, in fascinating a twist of sorts, the only thing that’s really been accomplished in Leviticus 9 at this “tabernacle of meeting” is a return to Genesis 4! For the sake of time I’m going to leave this thought here with the plan to unpack it in greater detail next Sunday.
As everyone in the camp is face down worshipping the Lord overwhelmed with joy that God has accepted their sacrifice, the story instantly shifts back to the activities of the priests in the tabernacle — don’t forget there were no chapter breaks… Leviticus 10:1-2, “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.”
If you’re reading this for the first time (and many of you are) you can’t help but have your jaw hit the floor! What in the world just happened!? Since the middle portion of Exodus with God’s instructions about the priests and the creation of the Tabernacle, we’ve been literally building to this moment. 20+ chapters of Exodus and 8 chapters of Leviticus have set the stage for “Aaron and his sons” to finally get to work. The launch has been flawless thus far.
The first sacrifices were made. The glory of the Lord descended and filled the Holy of Holies. Fire came out and consumed the sacrifice. The people are overcome with joy. Their shouts turn to reverence as the entire congregation bows down before Him. It’s awesome! God is in the midst of His people and the people are in worship of their God. Everything is perfect!
And then… It’s not! Imagine being there in this phenomenal moment only to see another blast of fire come forth from the Holy of Holies and “devour” half of the priests on duty! To say the congregation was stunned would have been an understatement. Those who knew Nadab and Abihu started screaming in dismay. Everyone else likely froze not sure what would happen next! How long it took Moses and Aaron to process the scene we’re not sure, but it became clear from Aaron’s initial reaction Moses knew he had to act fast…
Leviticus 10:3, “And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.’ So Aaron held his peace.”
Because this statement of the Lord isn’t specifically recorded anywhere in Scripture, most scholars believe this may have been what God had just articulated to Moses and Aaron when they entered the tabernacle at the end of chapter 9. Either way, judging by Aaron’s reaction (“he held his peace”) you get the sense the core point Moses’ is making sheds some light as to what Nadab and Abihu had just done to cause such a swift judgment.
Leviticus 10:4-5, “Then Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron (this would make these two men Aaron and Moses’ cousins), and said to them, ‘Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.’ So they went near and carried them by their tunics out of the camp, as Moses had said.” (Imagine being a bystander watching this — the smell of burnt, human flesh and hair!)
Leviticus 10:6-7, “And Moses said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons (the remaining two), ‘Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes (common in mourning), lest you die, and wrath come upon all the people. But let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD has kindled. You shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you.’ And they did according to the word of Moses.”
Because these men were on duty (“the anointing oil of the LORD was upon them”) Moses instructs “Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar” to carry on as if nothing had happened. The reason for this was that these men were under the watchful eye of the people. While others could “bewail the burning which the LORD had kindled” and mourn accordingly, if they were to do the same it might give the false impression God had not been just in his actions.
Leviticus 10:8-11, “Then the LORD spoke to Aaron (it is interesting this is the only time in the Book of Leviticus we find God speaking directly to Aaron), saying: ‘Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. (The context for this particular prohibition being included in this specific moment likely provides another insight into the sin of Nadab and Abihu.) It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.’”
Leviticus 10:12-15, “And Moses spoke to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons who were left: ‘Take the grain offering that remains of the offerings made by fire to the LORD, and eat it without leaven beside the altar; for it is most holy. You shall eat it in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons' due, of the sacrifices made by fire to the LORD; for so I have been commanded.
Moses continues… The breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering you shall eat in a clean place, you, your sons, and your daughters with you; for they are your due and your sons' due, which are given from the sacrifices of peace offerings of the children of Israel. The thigh of the heave offering and the breast of the wave offering they shall bring with the offerings of fat made by fire, to offer as a wave offering before the LORD. And it shall be yours and your sons' with you, by a statute forever, as the LORD has commanded.’”
In light of what’s just occurred Moses does something very important… There is no doubt “Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar” are dealing with some serious emotions right now. A father has just seen his two eldest sons burned alive, and two younger brothers have witnessed their best friends die a horrific and sudden death. Not only are these men in shock and disbelief, but God has just said if they mourn at all they will also die!
Seeing the glaze in their eyes and likely fear, Moses jumps into the fray and calmly reminds them what they were supposed to be doing. In the fog of raw emotions and the natural confusion they’d be experiencing, Moses gently repeats the instructions for how to make the offerings. “Aaron, Eleazar, Ithamar… Guys, I know this is rough, but we have to keep going!”
After some time transpires and things calm… Leviticus 10:16-18, “Then Moses made careful inquiry about the goat of the sin offering (he’s inspecting their work), and there it was — burned up. And he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron who were left, saying, ‘Why have you not eaten the sin offering in a holy place, since it is most holy, and God has given it to you to bear the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD? See! Its blood was not brought inside the holy place; indeed you should have eaten it in a holy place, as I commanded.’”
According to the Law, when a Sin Offering was made on behalf of the “congregation,” the protocols stipulated the priests (in this situation “Eleazar and Ithamar”) were to bring the “blood inside the tabernacle,” as well as eat “the goat.” Sadly, they hadn’t completely obeyed these instructions. They “burned up” the goat and left the blood outside the holy place. In light of all that’s just happened Moses blows a gasket and calls everyone to account.
Leviticus 10:19-20, “And Aaron said to Moses, ‘Look, this day they have offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD, and such things have befallen me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been accepted in the sight of the LORD?’ So when Moses heard that, he was content (literally satisfied).”
Moses is ticked off and I love the way Aaron handles the situation… “Look bro! We’ve never been priests before and let’s be real… It’s been a difficult day. You need to chill out! Two of my sons are dead, Eleazar and Ithamar lost their brothers, and you now want to hammer us because we didn’t do the sin offering properly? Moses, you should back off!” To his credit “when Moses heard that, he was content.” “Aaron, you make a good point.”
The question Aaron poses to Moses — “If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been accepted in the sight of the LORD?” — is interesting and can be read in two equally powerful ways. One, Aaron is saying he would have been going through the motions if he’d eaten the offering — which wouldn’t have pleased the Lord. Two, Aaron was baring guilt on behalf of his two sons — meaning it would have been wrong to eat the offering as well.
Before we place this story into a much larger context, let’s address what particular sin “Nadab and Abihu” committed worthy of a public execution. Let’s start with what we know… Whatever they did was so egregious God immediately sent out “fire to devour them!”
The word we have in verse 2 translated “devoured” is the same word we read at the end of Leviticus 9 when “fire consumed the burnt offering.” In the first instance we saw a fire that demonstrated God’s approval. In the second we see the fire of His judgment. Whatever it was these two men did God was so upset He immediately said, “You’re fired!”
In verse 1 we’re told Nadab and Abihu “each took their censer (this was a metal pan the priest would use to transfer coals from one place to another), put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord.” In the Hebrew the word we have translated as “profane” is better read as strange, unauthorized, unacceptable, or foreign. Though we can’t say for sure where the “fire” originated, there was something off about its origins.
In a separate but related point, according to the protocols in Exodus 30, every morning it was the singular job of the High Priest (in this case Aaron) to take coals from the Bronze Altar using the censer in order to burn incense upon the Altar of Incense before the Holy of Holies.
With this in mind, it seems the procedural errors Nadab and Abihu committed were twofold: First, it wasn’t their job to tend to the Altar of Incense in the first place — we can say they were doing something they weren’t instructed to do. And secondly, the fire they used in “their censer” did not originate from the appropriate source — the Bronze Altar. Nadab and Abihu took fire from an improper source in an attempt to fill a task “the Lord had not commanded.”
As mentioned early the rest of the story provides for us two additional clues that paint a more complete picture. Immediately following Nadab and Abihu’s death (in fact as their bodies are still smoldering), in verse 3 Moses reminds a distraught Aaron of what the Lord had said to them, “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.” In response to this we read how “Aaron held his peace.”
Whatever it was that Nadab and Abihu did it would seem in light of what Moses reminds Aaron these men were trying to bring attention to themselves. In a place centered on God and a moment in which the people were in worship of God, they acted to bring glory to themselves. Billy Graham once said, “We’re never more like Satan than when we touch the glory.” For anyone engaged in Christian service the lesson couldn’t be clearer!
The other detail that rounds out our understanding of what happened was this moment where God speaks to Aaron in the midst of the fall out by adding a prohibition to the priests drinking “wine or intoxicating drink” while on duty. This would obviously be a bizarre moment to bring this up to a distraught father unless part of what contributed to Nadab and Abihu’s poor decision making was alcohol consumption. It should be pointed out intoxication didn’t give them an excuse for disobeying God or a pass from the necessary consequences.
Regardless of what their specific crime was there is no questioning the serious message God was communicating to everyone. The precedent established with Nadab and Abihu was crystal clear… Failing to do things the way God had ordered them to be done was not something He’d tolerate. Because these things ultimately find their fulfillment in the work of Jesus, God is so series because they were literally a matter of life and death!
When you keep the purpose for Leviticus in mind it really isn’t a surprise God would act the way He does in this situation. God had intentionally placed His reputation in the world into the hands of the Hebrew people. It’s why one of His central commands was “not to take the His name in vain.” The idea was to carry the name of God well and not act in such a way that you’d misrepresent Him. Whatever it was Nadab and Abihu did God had not commanded it be done and therefore He took offense to it. It didn’t represent Him well.
In way of application you should note there are two different kinds of fire! There is a divine fire that originates in God alone and there is a strange alternative God detests. What’s interesting is the only acceptable fire that was to be used in the tabernacle came directly from the LORD consuming the burnt offering upon the Bronze Altar. Again, the symbolism carries into the New Testament when we see fire associated with the Day of Pentecost.
Christian, please know the only fire that truly motivates our spiritual lives and service to the Lord is one that comes from the cross of Calvary. It’s the love of Christ demonstrated in His sacrifice that constrains us! Always know when your service to Him is fueled by any other source but Him it’s strange and unacceptable. In fact, when your service is motivated by anything other than His grace or you engage in a Christian work desiring a glory unto yourself, one thing is guaranteed to happen… You’ll get burned out!
In closing and I know this will sound strange, but God’s grace pulses just beneath the surface of this story. Consider how much of a failure this really was! All of this work to set up this tabernacle, establish the priesthood, and order things accordingly — and they mess it up immediately! I mean it’s literally day one and the train has completely run off the rails!
If you were Aaron what would you have expected? You’re the High Priest. The tabernacle is your responsibility. Half of your sons have made a mockery of the holy and been destroyed by God as a result. Best case scenario… God relieves you of your duties and calls out another man and his sons to be priests. I have no doubt Aaron fully expected to get fired!
But that doesn’t happen… In fact, while Aaron would have considered himself disqualified from continuing as High Priest, God comes to him with a simple message, “Yeah that wasn’t good, but let’s keep going.” Seriously, I want you to consider how Leviticus 10 is in many ways a microcosm of God’s entire history of dealing with mankind.
Adam was given a perfect creation, quickly makes a mess of things, but God comes to him and says… “Yeah that wasn’t good, but let’s keep going.” Then it doesn’t take long for all of humanity to completely rebel, God has to destroy everyone but Noah only to say to him, “Yeah that wasn’t good, but let’s keep going.” Noah’s descendants rebel again, God scatters them in disgust, choses Abraham, and says, “Yeah that wasn’t good, but let’s keep going.”
God delivers Israel from Egypt, brings them to Sinai to be His people, then as Moses is receiving the Law they make a golden calf and start worshipping it, God quickly puts an end to that, judges them, then says, “Yeah that wasn’t good, but let’s keep going.” In the end, the Nation fails to obey all of these laws, will be judged by being exiled from the promised land, only for God to facilitate their return and say, “Yeah that wasn’t good, but let’s keep going.”
Do you notice a pattern in this relationship God has with man? God has a plan, includes you and I, we screw it up, make a mess of things, only for God to say, “Yeah that wasn’t good, but let’s keep going.” The most incredible part of this particular pattern is the three constants: God continues to include us in His plan for this world, we inevitably fail and make a mess of things, but in an act of grace God lovingly speaks to us saying, “Zach, that wasn’t good, but let’s keep going!”
Friend, this morning should we all take from this passage a stark warning concerning the seriousness of sin and the fact God doesn’t like His priests misrepresenting Him — absolutely! This is an important lesson. And yet, you should also be encouraged that just under the surface of your failures resides a mighty reservoir of God’s grace.
If you’re here this morning and you feel like a total failure because you are… If you’ve made a complete mess of things… Sure, there are natural consequence to sin (when you play around with strange fire you’re bound to get burnt), but I want you to listen clearly to what God is saying through this ancient story, “Yeah, that wasn’t good, but let’s keep going!”
Christian, always remember the only way you can ever sing of the “sweet sound of God’s amazing grace” is when you directly follow it with the humbling stanza that in His grace “He’s saved a wretch like me!”
No Additional Links.