Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown. (Leviticus 9:22-24 NIV)
Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised 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 show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honoured.’” Aaron remained silent. (Leviticus 10:1-3 NIV)
While Leviticus 10:1-3 immediately follows 9:22-24, it is unclear whether the death of Aaron’s sons happened right after, or if some time had elapsed. Aaron’s two eldest sons were killed instantaneously by God’s fire because they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord.
Many commentators have attempted to explain how their fire was unauthorised. But what we do know for sure is that their actions were contrary to God’s command. They approached God in a manner not commanded by Him, and God had said, “Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honoured.”
As parents, how would we like our children to see us? God wants to show His people that His Holiness cannot be compromised, so that He will be honoured. Aaron was silent as he saw the horrific sight of his sons burnt before all the people. The atmosphere was a total contrast with the appearance of the glory of God they had earlier seen. When Judgement Day comes, there will be joy and there will be horror.
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under His feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise His hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9-11 NIV)
“Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests.” (Exodus 28:1 NIV)
Nadab and Abihu were amongst the privileged few who saw God and didn’t die. God chose them by name to serve Him as priests. Did they become overconfident in their relationship with God and thought they could do whatever they like? Did the title of priesthood lead them to fall in their pride? A moment of madness and insolence got them killed. The people shouted in joy when they saw the glory of God but the same fire from God silenced them. What were the moments when God silenced us? Do we have those times of silence when God tried to get our attention? The time will come when some of us will be in joy but some of us in silence. It doesn’t matter if we have ever seen God like Nadab and Abihu did, or what titles we carry in church.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV)
Paul told the Corinthian church that the accounts from the Old Testament were examples written as warnings for us. Be careful we don’t fall because we think we are standing firm. Jesus paid a heavy prize to save our lives and we ought to live our life in honour of God.
Our body is the temple of God; we cannot bring God ‘authorised’ fire in our offerings. We may do things that look perfectly alright to our Church leaders on the outside. But whether they are authorised by God, only God knows and we know. Commentators have had difficulties understanding what wrong Nadab and Abihu committed, and that’s precisely the point, only God and Aaron's sons knew. We know ourselves better, whether our offerings to God are authorised.
Let’s honour God with all our hearts.
Andy is the head of compliance for an international bank and is happily married, with three daughters. He became a disciple of Christ three decades ago, and studies God's Word passionately. He desires to be constantly led by the Spirit.