Richard Agee

Leviticus 10: Two priests die in the line of Temple duty

Richard AgeeWe explore the “strange fire” or “foreign fire” offered by two priests in Leviticus 10 that got God so angry He incinerated both immediately. Was this capricious, or was the Author of Life teaching something fundamental through these deaths?

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.” (Lev 10:1)

In Leviticus 9, Aaron and his sons had just been sanctified as priests, including Nadab and Abihu. All the items of the sanctuary had also been sanctified. These items were not unholy. What did Nadab and Abihu do that upset the Lord so much? They did something God did not command them. They had the correct incense, the correct censor or firepan. But what was the problem? It was a “strange,” “foreign,” “profane” or unauthorized fire not because the incense, censer or the fire itself was unholy but because they were making the incense offering out of order. They were not supposed to offer the incense, only the High Priest was to offer the incense. 

“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the LORD spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.’ So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.” (Lev. 10:3)

They did something He did not command them to do this. They took it on themselves. They were taking Him for granted. This gives you an idea of the great responsibility the priests carried and how seriously God wanted them to carry out their duty. 

Leviticus 16 elaborates as to what upset the Lord and why Nadab and Abihu die. God did not want the priests to come into the most holy priest anytime they want. He only want the High Priest to come in on the Day of Atonement, not just any time of the high priest’s choosing. 

The bodies were taken away and removed by Aaron’s extended family. Aaron and the surviving sons were not allow to mourn publicly for Nadab and Abihu or God’s wrath would come upon the congregation. God said the congregation would mourn for them. 

One of the main duties of the priests was to teach the people the difference between holy and profane, clean and unclean. 

“’and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them through Moses.’” (Lev. 10:10–11)

We read just a few verses later of a situation where Aaron corrects Moses, which doesn’t happen often so when it does happen, we should make note of it. 

“But Moses searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it had been burned up! So he was angry with Aaron’s surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar, saying, “Why did you not eat the sin offering at the holy place? For it is most holy, and He gave it to you to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD. “Behold, since its blood had not been brought inside, into the sanctuary, you should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, just as I commanded.” But Aaron spoke to Moses, “Behold, this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD. When things like these happened to me, if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight of the LORD?” When Moses heard that, it seemed good in his sight.” (Lev. 10:16–20)

Strictly speaking, Moses’ rebuke was correct, but yet God accepted Aaron’s response. Aaron understood that the sin was not taken away from the congregation when the High Priest ate of the sacrifice. God desires a contrite heart more than sacrifices. 

Speaker: Richard Agee. Summary: Tammy. Note: Because of a technical error, no recording of this study is available.


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