Leviticus 10


We left the Israelites full of joy in the previous chapter, they were one with God and each other, God will be their God and they will be His people. The priesthood is now up and running and everything to remain in fellowship with God and each other is in place. However, this chapter reveals that their time of joy didn’t last very long.

‘Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So, fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honoured.’ Aaron remained silent. Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, ‘Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.’ So, they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered. Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the LORD will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the LORD has destroyed by fire. Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the LORD’s anointing oil is on you.’ So, they did as Moses said.’ Leviticus 10:1-7

The event surrounding the death of Nadab and Abihu is well known by many, but sadly the lessons we learn from this event is ignored by many more. The offering had been consumed by the supernatural fire of God, Leviticus 9:24, but the sons of Aaron took it upon themselves to use a ‘unauthorised fire’, upon the altar, that is, a fire which was different from the flame which the Lord had sent.

Unauthorised Fire

We don’t know exactly what this ‘unauthorised fire’ was but there are a few possibilities. Firstly, it’s possible they didn’t make the incense according to how God wanted it to be made, Exodus 30:34-38. Secondly, it’s possible they used fire which wasn’t from the altar, Leviticus 16:12.

Thirdly, it’s possible that the offering was offered at the wrong time, Exodus 30:7-8. Fourthly, it’s possible they used the wrong censers and finally it’s possible that Nadab and Abihu assumed the role of their father Aaron as the high priest.

We don’t know exactly what is was they done but we do know, it wasn’t authorised by the Lord and therefore sinful and the result was that fire came out from the presence of the Lord in the tabernacle and killed them both.

This isn’t the only time where God has judged His people like this, we see God judging the first two sons of Judah because they didn’t fulfil their roles to Tamar, Genesis 38:7-10. Later we read about Uzzah being struck down by God for touching the ark of the covenant, 2 Samuel 6:7-8. In the New Testament we see Ananias and Sapphira being struck down by God for lying to God, Acts 5:1-11.

Lessons From Nadab and Abihu

We learn that God must be worshipped as He ordains, we must worship Him as He requires, this is called the regulative principle. We learn that obedience is better than sacrifice, 1 Samuel 15:22, this obedience extends to the rituals which God has ordained.

The presence of God can be either a curse or a blessing. The same fire which warmed the Israelites by night could also be used for judgment against those who sinned. While Jesus will be Judge when He sits ‘as a refiner and purifier of gold and silver’, Malachi 3:3 / Malachi 4:1, He will also be the ‘Sun of Righteousness, with healing in His wings’, Malachi 4:2.

It is possible to do the right thing in the wrong way. It is not that these sons of Aaron were trying to do evil, they appear to have been acting on good motives, they were seeking to worship the Lord. Like Uzzah, 2 Samuel 6:7, they try to do a service for the Lord, but they do it improperly.

Imagine if Nadab and Abihu were your sons, imagine finding out they are now both dead. This must have been heart breaking for Aaron and his other two sons. The heartache would be even greater as Israel was permitted to mourn their loss, but Aaron and his two other sons weren’t permitted to mourn their loss. The reason they weren’t permitted to mourn was because this could be interpreted by others that they excused the actions of Nadab and Abihu.

Moses was heavily involved in this whole incident because He knew that obedience was important to God and the Israelites would now know that God demands obedience. This would be an event that the Israelites wouldn’t forget in a hurry, 1 Samuel 15:22.

‘Then the LORD said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses.’ Leviticus 10:8-11

God tells Aaron that he and his sons must be different from all the other Israelites, they need to be able to distinguish between what is right and wrong, what is holy and unholy, what is clean and unclean. The only way to ensure this happens is to refrain from drinking alcohol.

Anyone who has ever been involved in alcohol knows that it severely impacts our decision making and our behaviour, Proverbs 20:1 / Proverbs 26:9. Being drunk in the tabernacle whilst serving the Lord is not a good idea, God wants them to have clear minds and clear heads because service to Him was important and there is no room for errors, Romans 12:1-2.

‘Moses said to Aaron and his remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Take the grain offering left over from the food offerings prepared without yeast and presented to the LORD and eat it beside the altar, for it is most holy. Eat it in the sanctuary area, because it is your share and your sons’ share of the food offerings presented to the LORD; for so I have been commanded. But you and your sons and your daughters may eat the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. Eat them in a ceremonially clean place; they have been given to you and your children as your share of the Israelites’ fellowship offerings. The thigh that was presented and the breast that was waved must be brought with the fat portions of the food offerings, to be waved before the LORD as a wave offering. This will be the perpetual share for you and your children, as the LORD has commanded.’ When Moses inquired about the goat of the sin offering and found that it had been burned up, he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s remaining sons, and asked, ‘Why didn’t you eat the sin offering in the sanctuary area? It is most holy; it was given to you to take away the guilt of the community by making atonement for them before the LORD. Since its blood was not taken into the Holy Place, you should have eaten the goat in the sanctuary area, as I commanded.’ Aaron replied to Moses, ‘Today they sacrificed their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD, but such things as this have happened to me. Would the LORD have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?’ When Moses heard this, he was satisfied.’ Leviticus 10:12-20

Moses instructs Aaron and his to take the left-over grain from the fellowship offering, and he instructs them that they and their families can eat the shoulder and breast in a clean place. Notice that Aaron didn’t eat what was for him, this again was to show that he didn’t approve of Nadab and Abihu’s actions.

Moses goes on to question Aaron and so Aaron explains his actions and Moses is more than happy to accept his answer. Aaron took upon himself the sins of the sinful sons which is a perfect picture of the Christ, who took upon Himself the sin of the world, 1 Peter 2:24.

Go To Leviticus 11


"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

1 Peter 3:15