Friday, January 18, 2008

Nadab & Abihu

by Kristi Vrooman

Levit. 10:1-2 I thought it might be good to consider this event before Walter's sermon on Sunday, so I know what he's talking about. And my oh my, is it ever interesting.
Aaron and his sons (of whom Nadab and Abihu are presumably the oldest) had just been instructed on what part they play in the offerings (6:8-7:38). Excommunication and bearing one's own iniquity were repeatedly threatened for any departure from any part of the plan. Then they were consecrated as priests. In front of the ENTIRE congregation. This was an elaborate affair, complete with washing with water, the garments, anointing oil, bull of the sin offering, 2 rams and a basket of unleavened bread (8:2). I'm trying to imagine the atmosphere at such a time. Probably pretty exciting. The Israelites had spent lots and lots and lots of money and time preparing and constructing the tabernacle, the priests' garments, etc, just as God commanded them in great detail (Exodus). He gave them the 10 commandments, and now God is going to dwell among them - FOR THE FIRST TIME.
This is big.
As part of the ordination process, Aaron and sons were commanded to remain day and night for 7 days at the doorway of the tabernacle, so that they may not die. (8:35) In the next verse, "Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses." So, they obeyed. Good.
In chapter 9 Aaron offers sacrificies, as he's been commanded, again, "for today the LORD shall appear to you." (9:4) The sons present the blood of the offerings to Aaron (sounds like a big deal to me), and they watch as Aaron offers all of this before the LORD, and then THE GLORY OF THE LORD APPEARED TO ALL THE PEOPLE. Hooray!!! 9:24 - "Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shoulted and fell on their faces."
What an excellent picture. God means business. Aaron and his sons have a solemn job to do, as they are the ones who (through God) make atonement for the people possible.

So then, WHY???!!! HOW??!!! In chapter 10, directly after this, would Nadab and Abihu "offer strange fire before the LORD"? They've been inculcated with God's commands, and yet they offer something that hadn't been commanded. In fact, in Exodus 30, when Moses informs them about the purpose of the altar, and the manner in which it is to be treated, in verse 9 we see "You shall not offer any strange incense on this altar". Strange - I suppose this is the same word as in "Strange fire", and I think Daniel mentioned earlier in the month, Strange = unauthorized.

So the summary of the situation is:
1) They came before the LORD alone (maybe they were tending the lamp?) (Exodus 27:20) But in Levit. 10:7 it seems that Aaron and Moses are also present in the Tabernacle?
2) probably clad in their "holy garb" (tunic, sash, cap, etc) all which had been consecrated before the LORD and was holy (Exodus 28)
3) using the same firepans that were used for sin/burnt, etc. offerings, and which had also been consecrated and were considered holy

They knew the rules, and unless they were suicidal, they obviously didn't think God would punish them with death for such an act. But He did, just as He said He would. (10:2 "And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.")
Now, there are other times in the Old Testament when God threatened things, but didn't follow through, as in Exodus 32:10 with the whole golden calf mess:
"Now let me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them;" Thankfully Moses was there to interecede on their behalf, and God relented.

Perhaps they were banking on that. "Oh, I'm sure He wasn't totally serious... I mean, we're special, He wouldn't..."
So Aaron's oldest sons, men who would succeed him as priest, disobeyed God and were killed.

This is tragic.

In the Bible a person is very, very closely identified with their offspring (generations), and vice versa, so much so that God visits the iniquity of one person on the generations after them. I see the same irreverent spirit in Aaron's sons as Aaron himself displayed when he didn't exactly put up a fight as the Israelites asked him to make that golden calf. So why would Aaron get off without a death sentence, and not his sons?
Was this a matter of the "slippery slope" principle?
Is the difference that Aaron wasn't actually in the presence of the LORD, but Nadab and Abihu were?

I guess it makes sense that considering the obstinate nature of the Israelites, God wanted to make a VERY STRONG POINT, that He wasn't playing around. And had He let Nadab and Abihu off, that might have initiated even more disobedience on the part of the people.

"So Aaron, therefore, kept silent." And he and his 2 remaining sons were forbade by Moses even to mourn in 10:6-7, saying that "your kinsman, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which the LORD has brought about. You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent of meeting, lest you die; for the LORD's anointing oil is upon you."
Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar did according to the word of Moses. Even under such tragic circumstances, they obeyed. This is certainly a different Aaron than I encounter earlier in the Bible.

And to me, to us, in 21st century North America, I hear Jesus saying: "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26)

I enrolled in this Leviticus experiment in part because I observed a lack of reverence for God in my life. I have often acted like Nadab and Abihu, choosing to ignore God's commands, "trampl[ing] under foot the Son of God" (Heb. 10:29).
When it comes to such matters, I'm a slow learner. But as I see from their example, I think I'd better figure this out soon.

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