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Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 10

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


3. The sanctification of the priesthood ch. 10

One of the remarkable features of chapters 8 and 9 is the obedience of Moses and Aaron to God’s commands (cf. Leviticus 8:4; Leviticus 8:9; Leviticus 8:13; Leviticus 8:17; Leviticus 8:21; Leviticus 8:29; Leviticus 8:36; Leviticus 9:5; Leviticus 9:7; Leviticus 9:10; Leviticus 9:21). In chapter 10 there is a notable absence of these references. The careful reader notices at once that something is wrong.

"The Lord had only just confirmed and sanctified the sacrificial service of Aaron and his sons by a miracle, when He was obliged to sanctify Himself by a judgment upon Nadab and Abihu, the eldest sons of Aaron (Exodus 6:23), on account of their abusing the office they had received, and to vindicate Himself before the congregation, as one who would not suffer His commandments to be broken with impunity." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:350.]

"Holiness is dangerous unless approached by the proper persons and according to the proper rules." [Note: Norman H. Snaith, Leviticus and Numbers, p. 58.]

"Tragedy and triumph go hand in hand in the Bible and in life. On the very first day of Aaron’s high-priestly ministry his two eldest sons died for infringing God’s law. In the life of our Lord his baptism by the Spirit was followed by temptation in the wilderness, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem by his crucifixion six days later. In the early Church the healing of the lame man was succeeded by the death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 3-5)." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 153.]

Verses 1-7

Fire from the Lord again 10:1-7

Moses did not identify Nadab and Abihu’s exact offense in the text. However the "strange fire" seems most likely to have been an incense offering that somehow violated God’s will. It may have involved assuming the role of the high priest (cf. Hebrews 5:4) or offering incense at a time or in a way contrary to God’s prescription. [Note: See Rooker, p. 157, for other theories.] The incident took place on the eighth day of the priests’ inauguration (ch. 9; cf. Leviticus 10:12; Leviticus 10:16). Perhaps Nadab and Abihu wanted to add to the festivities by offering an additional incense offering. Nevertheless their action constituted disobedience to God’s word regardless of how good its ends might have seemed to them. They acted in the things of God without first seeking the will of God.

This incident should warn modern readers against worshipping God in ways that we prefer because they make us feel "good." We must be careful about worship that is designed to produce effects in the worshipers rather than honoring God. Some forms of contemporary and traditional worship may reflect the selfish spirits of Nadab and Abihu. Such "self-made worship" often has "the appearance of wisdom" (Colossians 2:23).

The same fire that had sanctified Aaron’s service brought destruction on Nadab and Abihu because they had not sanctified God (Leviticus 10:2; cf. Exodus 24:17; Numbers 11:1; Numbers 16:35; Deuteronomy 5:22; 1 Samuel 15:22; 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12; Hebrews 12:29). Previously it had fallen only after all the sacrifices had been offered, but now it fell instantly. Then it signified God’s blessing, but now it manifested His judgment. Then the people rejoiced, but now they were silent.

"Just as ’the fire that came from before the LORD’ had been a sign of God’s approval of the dedication of the tabernacle and the priests in the previous chapter (Leviticus 9:24), so also ’the fire that came from before the LORD’ in this chapter (Leviticus 10:2) was a sign of God’s disapproval. The writer’s clear purpose in putting these two narratives together is to show the importance that God attached to obeying his commands." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 330.]

Moses explained God’s judgment to Aaron (Leviticus 10:3). Aaron did not reply apparently because he accepted the rightness of God’s action in judging his sons’ sin.

"If we reflect how holy a thing God’s worship is, the enormity of the punishment will by no means offend us. Besides, it was necessary that their religion should be sanctioned at its very commencement; for if God had suffered the sons of Aaron to transgress with impunity, they would have afterwards carelessly neglected the whole law. This, therefore, was the reason for such great severity, that the priests should anxiously watch against all profanation." [Note: John Calvin, cited by Wenham, The Book . . ., pp. 156-57.]

The fire had not consumed Nadab and Abihu but simply killed them. Aaron was not to demonstrate any dissatisfaction with God’s judgment (Leviticus 10:4-7). God permitted the people to mourn because of the loss the nation experienced in the death of these priests and so they would remember His punishment a long time. The anointing oil symbolized the Spirit of God who gives life. For this oil to have any contact with death was inappropriate.

Eleazar and Ithamar replaced their older brothers, Nadab and Abihu, in a way similar to the way Judah and Levi replaced their older brothers, Reuben and Simeon (Genesis 49:2-7). In both families, Jacob’s and Aaron’s, the sins of the firstborn and secondborn resulted in God passing over them for blessing. They disqualified themselves from some of the inheritance that could have been theirs had they remained faithful.

Verses 8-11

The Lord’s commands to Aaron 10:8-11

This is the only time that Leviticus records God speaking directly to Aaron by himself. This shows the importance of what follows and that God still approved of Aaron as the high priest.

The "strong drink" referred to (Leviticus 10:8) was an intoxicating drink. The commentators differ in their understanding of its composition. It was inappropriate for the priests to drink this concoction on duty. The inclusion of this prohibition in this context has led some commentators to assume that Nadab and Abihu must have been under the influence of this drink. [Note: E.g., Harrison, p. 114; and George Bush, Notes . . . on . . . Leviticus, p. 88.] This is a possibility. Other students of the passage see the tie as being rash behavior. [Note: E.g., Keil and Delitzsch, 2:354.]

"The essence of the priestly ministry is articulated in Leviticus 10:10-11 . . . . Israel, then, was a people separated to Yahweh from among all the nations of the earth. Her lifestyle and, indeed, her very character must advertise to all peoples the meaning of that identity and mission." [Note: Merrill, pp. 57-58.]

Leaders of the Christian church should also be temperate in their use of drink (1 Timothy 3:3; 1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 2:2-3).

"The conclusion one could draw from these passages is that the common or regular use of intoxicants is incompatible with spiritual service or spiritual growth. Their use was permissible in ordinary life, especially for great celebrations; but it may not have been wise or advisable. Moses’ warning to the priests of his day should be carefully considered today, in an age when alcoholism is rampant." [Note: Ross, pp. 236-37.]

"Those set aside for service to the holy God must sanctify the LORD before the people by how they conduct themselves in ministry." [Note: Ibid., p. 238.]

Verses 12-20

Moses’ commands to Aaron and Aaron’s response 10:12-20

Following the judgment on Nadab and Abihu, Moses instructed Aaron and his other sons to finish eating the rest of their portion of the sacrifices that they had offered for the nation.

"When the P [Priestly] code prescribed that every hatta’t [sin offering] except that brought for severe sins should be eaten by the priests . . . it took a giant step towards eviscerating the magical and demonic elements from Israelite ritual. For it must be assumed, in keeping with the evidence from the ancient Near East, that ritual detergents were always destroyed after they were used lest their potent remains be exploited for purposes of black magic. By requiring that the hatta’t be eaten, Israel gave birth to a new and radical idea: the sanctuary is purged not by any inherent power of the ritual but only by the will of God." [Note: Jacob Milgrom, "Two Kinds of Hatta’t," Vetus Testamentum 26 (1976):337.]

Aaron did not finish eating his portion of the sin offering, however, because of God’s judgment of his eldest sons. Perhaps the holiness of God so impressed Aaron that he felt unworthy to eat what he had offered as a sin offering. He probably concluded that mourners should not take part in sacrificial meals (cf. Deuteronomy 26:14). [Note: Sailhamer, p. 332.] This explanation is preferable to one that suggests Aaron refused to eat simply because he was grief-stricken by the death of his sons. This motivation probably would not have been as acceptable to Moses as the former. Moses gave Aaron permission to leave the rest of the sin offering uneaten. God is more gracious with those who fear Him and make mistakes than He is with those who do not fear Him as they should.

"In the case of purification [sin] offerings priests did not have an automatic right to the meat. It depended on what was done with the blood of the sacrifice. If the blood was smeared inside the tent of meeting, the animal’s carcass was burned outside the camp (Leviticus 4:1-21). If, however, the blood was smeared on the altar of burnt offering outside the tent of meeting, the priests were entitled to eat the meat (Leviticus 6:11 ff. [Eng. 25ff.]). Ch. 9 mentions two purification offerings, one for Aaron (Leviticus 9:8 ff.) and one for the people, namely, a goat (Leviticus 9:15). Moses’ anger is aroused because they have not followed the rules with the second offering. They have burned the meat instead of eating it themselves as they were entitled to (Leviticus 10:16-18). Since the blood was not brought into the holy place, i.e., the outer part of the tent of meeting, you ought to have eaten it." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., pp. 159-60.]

This concludes the narrative of the induction of Aaron and his sons into the priestly office (chs. 8-10). The events of these eight days in Israel’s history made an indelible impression on the people and pointed out the necessity of worshipping their holy God as He specified.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Leviticus 10". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/leviticus-10.html. 2012.
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