In Leviticus 10:16-20, God gives instructions regarding the sin offering that Aaron and his sons were required to make. However, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu disobeyed and burned the offering rather than eating it as prescribed. This was a serious offense before God for several reasons:
1. It was a violation of God’s direct command
God had given explicit instructions that the sin offering was to be eaten by the priests in a holy place (Leviticus 6:24-30). By burning the offering instead, Aaron’s sons directly disobeyed the Lord’s command. Sinning against direct commands always brings judgment.
2. It profaned what was holy
The sin offerings were holy gifts to the Lord (Leviticus 6:25). By mishandling the offering, Nadab and Abihu profaned what was set apart and treated as common what God had made holy. This showed great irreverence toward the Lord.
3. It displayed a lack of obedience and respect
Priests were to model strict adherence to God’s laws and commands. By rebelling in this way, Aaron’s sons demonstrated a grievous lack of obedience and respect for the holiness of God. Their example would lead others astray.
4. It revealed a heart of pride and self-will
Rather than submitting to God’s instructions with humility and reverence, Nadab and Abihu took matters into their own hands and did what they wanted. This flowed from hearts filled with pride and self-will rather than the fear of the Lord.
5. It distorted the purpose of the offerings
The purpose of the sin offering was atonement and forgiveness as the priests internalized the sacrifice (Leviticus 10:17). Burning the offering circumvented this purpose and failed to acknowledge the seriousness of sin.
6. It disrupted the consecration rituals
The sin offerings were part of the consecration process for the priests (Leviticus 8-9). By profaning these offerings, Nadab and Abihu brought judgment during the consecration and disrupted this holy process.
7. It demonstrated disregard for the tabernacle
The tabernacle was the dwelling place of God’s glory and holiness. By profaning the sin offering there, Nadab and Abihu showed blatant disregard for the tabernacle as God’s sacred space.
8. It failed to mediate between God and the people
As priests, their role was to represent the people before God, especially through the proper offering of sacrifices. By mishandling this sacrifice, they failed in this mediatory role.
9. It showed lack of spiritual discernment
The priests were to teach God’s commands and model spiritual discernment (Leviticus 10:10-11). This rebellious act demonstrated complete lack of spiritual perception and teaching ability.
10. It brought judgment on the priests
Because of this defiant sin, God judged Nadab and Abihu with immediate death (Leviticus 10:1-2). This showed the seriousness of violating God’s holy space, commands, and offerings.
In summary, Nadab and Abihu’s willful disobedience in burning the sin offering, rather than eating it as God required, demonstrated flagrant disregard for the Lord’s holiness and commands. It profaned holy things, compromised the priestly role, and revealed hearts in dire need of sanctification. Their lack of reverence and obedience brought swift judgment.
The remainder of this article will provide more background and details on this account to further explain the wrongness and consequences of their actions.
The Context of Leviticus
Leviticus was written by Moses as part of Israel’s covenant regulations after they had been redeemed from Egypt. Leviticus comes after Exodus, where God redeems and claims Israel as His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5-6). Leviticus reveals how the holy God can dwell in the midst of an unholy people.
The key theme is found in Leviticus 19:2 – “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Israel must be set apart from the nations and reflect God’s holy character. The sacrificial system was part of maintaining Israel’s holiness and purity before the Lord.
Leviticus provides laws regulating the Levitical priests (Leviticus 1-7), purity laws (Leviticus 11-15), the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), and Israel’s holiness code (Leviticus 17-26). Against this backdrop, Leviticus 10 highlights God’s response to those who violate His sacred space and commands.
The Context of Leviticus 10
Leviticus 8-10 describes the process for consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests before the Lord. In Leviticus 8, Moses consecrated them according to God’s instructions. In Leviticus 9, Aaron offers sacrifices as the newly minted high priest.
Leviticus 10 begins tragically as “Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1 ESV).
In response, “fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:2). They were immediately judged for profaning the holy sacrifices.
After this, Moses speaks to Aaron, saying, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified'” (Leviticus 10:3). Even in the midst of tragedy, God’s holiness and glory will prevail.
The Sin Offering
Within this context, God specifically highlights that Aaron and his remaining sons failed to properly handle the sin offering (Leviticus 10:16-20). The regulations regarding the sin offering are outlined in Leviticus 6:24-30.
This offering atoned for sins done unintentionally or through negligence. The specific instructions were:
– The priests were to eat the flesh of the offering in a holy place (Leviticus 6:26).
– Those who touched the offering became holy and had to wash their clothes (Leviticus 6:27).
– The priests were to eat the offering to “bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:17).
However, Aaron and his sons burned up the goat of the sin offering (Leviticus 10:16). In response, Moses confronts Aaron for failing to properly eat the offering “to take away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:17).
Aaron excuses himself by saying they were in too much grief after the death of Nadab and Abihu to properly eat the offering (Leviticus 10:19). But Moses makes it clear that was unacceptable, saying:
“Such is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.” (Leviticus 10:3).
God’s holiness and glorification take priority, even amid grief and tragedy. His commands are not optional.
Why This Sin Was So Serious
As we have seen, Nadab and Abihu’s careless violation of God’s instructions regarding the sin offering was extremely serious for many reasons:
1) God had given direct, clear commands that were violated
When God clearly speaks, we must obey. Disobedience to His direct words brings swift judgment.
2) It treated holy things as common, instead of sacred
All of God’s instructions reveal His holy nature. To disobey in even a small matter is to treat lightly something God calls sacred.
3) It displayed an outward rebellion that flowed from inward pride
Nadab and Abihu’s outward acts revealed a deeper heart issue. They placed their own agenda above God’s words.
4) It failed to acknowledge the gravity of sin before a holy God
Sin always requires atonement on God’s terms. By burning the offering, the priests failed to properly acknowledge the reality of sin requiring blood atonement.
5) It disrupted a sacred consecration process
The sacrifices were part of setting apart Aaron and his sons to minister before the Lord. By profaning these offerings, they brought defilement into this holy process.
6) It showed disregard for God’s dwelling place
God’s glory and holiness dwelled in the tabernacle. Failing to honor the sacrifices displayed carelessness toward God’s sacred space.
7) It demonstrated complete lack of spiritual discernment
The priests were to model wholehearted devotion to God’s commands and holiness. This act revealed instead hearts in desperate need of consecration.
8) It profaned their entire priestly ministry
The priests represented the people before God, especially through offerings. By profaning these sacrifices, they disqualified themselves from effective priestly ministry.
9) It opened the way for God’s judgment
God is patient, but He will not tolerate open rebellion forever. Violating His explicit commands resulted in swift judgment.
The example of Nadab and Abihu serves as a sobering warning for all generations regarding the importance of honoring God’s word and revering that which He calls sacred. Although we are under grace in Christ, God still hates and judges irreverence, pride, and open defiance of His commands. If Israel’s priests were judged harshly for careless disobedience, how much more the unrepentant sinner who persists in spurning God’s word? As Hebrews 12:28-29 (ESV) warns:
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
The Aftermath and Aaron’s Response
Leviticus 10 reveals the aftermath of this tragic episode of profaning the sacrifices and God’s ensuing judgment.
First, Moses tells Aaron and his remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, that they must not mourn the loss of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:6-7). Why does Moses prohibit their mourning?
1) Their deaths were direct judgment by God for sin. Mourning could express disagreement with God’s righteous judgment.
2) They still had priestly duties to fulfill before the Lord, which took precedence.
3) This prohibited mourning rituals specifically, but not grief itself. Aaron had already lost two of his sons tragically.
Next, God gives further instructions regarding the priesthood (Leviticus 10:8-15). They must discern between the holy and unholy, and teach God’s commands. They are not to drink wine or strong drink when entering the tabernacle. Again, holiness and spiritual discernment are emphasized.
In light of these warnings, Aaron proceeds to explain what happened with the sin offering in Leviticus 10:16-20. Despite Moses’ confrontation, Aaron offers excuses rather than repentance. He claims they burned the offering because they were in too much grief after the loss of Nadab and Abihu.
But Moses makes it clear Aaron’s excuse was unacceptable. Aaron should have obeyed God’s clear commands, even amidst deep personal grief.
Why doesn’t Aaron offer repentance for his sin? A few possibilities:
1) He was still covering for his previous negligence and disobedience.
2) He was embittered at the loss of his sons for their foolishness.
3) He failed to grasp the seriousness of profaning the sacrifices.
4) He was unwilling to admit failure so early in his ministry as high priest.
Regardless, Aaron’s response shows a lack of spiritual maturity and grasp of God’s holiness. It should warn us against making excuses for our own disobedience.
Principles and Applications
The account of Nadab and Abihu’s profaning the sacrifices offers several principles and applications for us today:
1) God’s commands are always to be obeyed
When God gives direct instructions in His Word, our only proper response is obedience, no matter how small or trivial it may seem. Disobedience displays a lack of reverence.
2) Holiness means separation from the profane
God calls His people to walk in holiness by separating from worldly practices and treating as sacred that which He calls holy.
4) Serving God requires complete spiritual discernment
As ministers before the Lord, we must display wisdom, discernment, and careful adherence to God’s Word. Foolishness and negligence have no place.
5) Pride and self-will lead only to destruction
When we place our agenda above God’s Word, acting out of arrogance and independence, it will only end in harm. We must humble ourselves and submit to God.
6) Do not grow accustomed to God’s sacrificial system
The priests became too casual in their approach to the sacrifices. We also can easily take for granted Christ’s sacrificial death. Such an attitude evidences a heart growing cold.
7) God judges those who profane holy things
While we live in an age of grace, God still hates irreverence and treating as common that which He calls holy, especially His Son’s sacrifice. Judgment will fall on the unrepentant sinner.
8) Offer prompt repentance when confronted with sin
Unlike Aaron, we must own our failures, express humility, and turn from our sins. Make no excuses when the Word corrects you.
9) Obey God regardless of grief or circumstances
We cannot allow adverse circumstances, pain, or grief to become an excuse for disobeying what God commands. His Word stands no matter our state.
10) Approach God with awe, joy, and deep reverence
Our God is a consuming fire who must be worshiped with utmost reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29). But we also serve a gracious Redeemer, so we approach with reverent joy.
In conclusion, the sobering example of Nadab and Abihu’s profaning the priestly sacrifices reminds us to prize and obey God’s Word, pursue holiness, reject pride, and worship the Lord with profound reverence. God is holy, glorious, and deserving of our utmost devotion. May we walk humbly and carefully before Him all our days.