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

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-20

Reckless Ministry Sternly Rebuked


Leviticus 10:1.—Nahab and Abihu offered strange fire. Whether they were prompted by impetuous religious feeling, or were confused with wine, the act was reckless; they offered before the Lord incense on fire which was unsanctified. Probably, instead of holy fire taken from the altar, they lit their censers from the fire burning “at the door of the tabernacle,” used for “boiling the flesh.” [See Leviticus 8:31.] To act in God’s service from heated impulse is as blameworthy as to act under intoxication. Strong feeling makes a man as confused in thought and rash in conduct as does strong drink. When God commands what should be done, that and that only should be done: and done in the manner He prescribes Self-will, heedlessness, impetuosity, must be absolutely arrested on the very threshold of sacred service. God asks obedience: literal and absolute: and “behold to obey is better than sacrifice; and to hearken than the fat of rams.”

Leviticus 10:2—Went out fire from the Lord. That fire had only just before fallen upon the altar victim instead of falling on the sinner: God thus expressed His pleasure in sparing man and accepting the substituted atonement offering And “He is not willing that any should perish.” But if man will act disobediently, notwithstanding God’s desire to spare him, man must bear his penalty. And now the fire falls direct on the sinner and devours him. “For our God is a consuming fire.” The cross of Jesus shelters all who will hide beneath its grace, but on the presumptuous the wrath of God must surely fall. “They died before the Lord.”

Leviticus 10:3.—This is it that the Lord spake. Moses appeals to a well-known divine utterance, which, however, is not to be found in the written Scriptures. Just so, the apostle Paul quotes a saying of the Lord Jesus, which nowhere appears in the Gospels (Acts 20:35). There were sayings of Jehovah living in the people’s memory which the pen had not transcribed to the sacred page. There is an unwritten Bible: for God’s messages, in which He “spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets,” were so numerous that all could not be gathered into the written Bible.

In this sense must be understood John’s statement that much of our Lord’s life—His words and deeds—is left unrecorded in the pages of the evangelists (John 20:30; John 21:25). Yet, lest any should use this fact as a warrant for adding aught “to the words of the book of this prophecy” (Revelation 22:18) John declares that the written Gospels are sufficient for our faith, “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing ye might have life through His name” (John 20:31).

I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me. Aaron and His sons had been most solemnly consecrated for their ministries: and, because of their perfected sanctification (ceremonially), were to be allowed near access to Jehovah’s awful presence. Should they presume upon their privilege and act heedlessly, violating their sanctity by thoughtless and irreverent conduct? God would not have it so. The presumptuous soul is offensive to Jehovah. [See Numbers 20:29.] If we do not honour Him by our reverence, He will get honour to Himself in our punishment.

Aaron held his peace—bowing to the appalling judgment of God with acquiesence: recognising that his sons had summoned upon themselves the doom which befel them. It was the silence of a soul overwhelmed with grief, but grief regulated by the sense that “the Judge of all the earth doeth right.”

Leviticus 10:5.—Carried them in their coats out of the camp. Their priestly tunics were not burned by the fire which had struck the wearers with death. The garments were symbols of the sanctity God approved: they remained unharmed. What a hush of awe must have gone through “the camp,” as the crowds of Israel watched the carrying of the blanched corpses through their midst. It told the warning truth that God was so jealous for His holiness that He would not spare even the young priests so newly consecrated if they failed to sanctify Him. “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.”

Leviticus 10:6.—Uncover not your heads. To let the hair fall dishevelled was the custom of mourners, the sign of bereavement. For them to express open and violent grief would appear like casting blame upon God, like strife against His providence. They must submit. “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.” Hard indeed it is not to complain and rebel when the hand of God lays bitter strokes upon us: but piety will manifest itself best in meek submission and quiet endurance.

Much grace will be needed, however, in mourners if they are to yield up their treasures of affection thus uncomplainingly to the Lord. Yet let it be remembered that Jesus had no rebuke for the tears shed over Lazarus’ death; yea, more, that as He stood by the grave and beheld the scene of weepers, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). The case was exceptional with these young priests, and God’s prohibition of mourning for them must not be regarded as a divine interdict of the tears of love.

Leviticus 10:7.—For the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you. They who are dedicated to God’s service must let that be supreme; its claims subordinate all private duties; even the burial of their dead was insufficient as a warrant for them however briefly to desert their sacred offices. “Let the dead bury their dead,” said Jesus; “and come, follow me” (Matthew 8:21-22). For religious claims are superlative, and our human affections (in themselves becoming) may prove a snare if permitted to assert themselves against divine claims.

Leviticus 10:8-11.—Do not drink wine, etc. Certainly such a possible cause for excited action, confused thought, or ungoverned feeling must be scrupulously shunned by all when occupied in sanctuary ministrations and sacred employ. Jesus “would not drink” (Matthew 27:34) when the narcotic drug was offered Him at Calvary; for He was at that moment engaged in divinest employ—offering Himself unto God as man’s atonement. Paul’s admonitions to bishops and deacons (1 Timothy 3:2-3) not to be “given to wine,” is in the same direction; any cause of false excitement or possible rashness must be sedulously avoided by those occupied in God’s service The prohibition is, however, not all-inclusive; it only applies to specified persons, and to specified occasions—“when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation.”

Leviticus 10:12-15.—Take the meat offering, etc. Moses pressed upon the priests to turn to their spiritual functions and ministries without delay. For the best solace in grief is activity. Sit not in repining because of God’s stroke, turn to Him in holy service. Possibly the dread of God, “lest He be angry,” urged all to quick attention to duty. Sad it is that we need often the startling visitation of God to awaken us to vigilance in religion. “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).

Leviticus 10:16-20.—Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering. The flesh of this sacrificial offering should have been eaten by the priests; and Moses grew “angry” with the surviving sons of Aaron that they had neglected this part of the prescribed ritual. But Aaron produced an explanation of the omission: that all the sacred regulations for the sin offering had been observed by them, except the festive part which was an obligation upon the priest and his family; and that the calamity which had befallen them unfitted them for this social repast or rendered the festivity inappropriate. This was an error; express commands should not be evaded even by plea of untimeliness or impropriety; duty must be first: but Moses was touched by his brother’s great grief, and “was content.” For is it not written, “I desired mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6)? Where the “spirit” is right the “letter” is less important.


Topic: REPULSIVE INCENSE (Leviticus 10:1-2)

Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord.”

Nadab and Abihu were priests, ministers of the tabernacle; therefore lessons from their example possess a special fitness to ministers of Christ. To preach to others, forgetting admonitions to ourselves, were deplorable, fulfilling the lament, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept” (Song of Solomon 1:6). Yet, though the lesson of this incident is special to ministers of the sanctuary, it is not exclusive; for “ye are a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5). Every redeemed soul is consecrated by grace to be God’s priest in His great universe. Christ “hath made us kings and priests unto God”

From every priest God looks for incense; of affection, influence, service, possessions, praises, prayers. God called us into the temple of His grace that we might “offer living sacrifices; holy and acceptable, our reasonable service.” This is our mission on earth, the design of our conversion; for this the Spirit works in us; we must be priests.

And each of us, as a priest, does take his censer, and the fire ascends to the Lord. Each is doing something in work, or worship, or ministry, to fill the temple of earth with offerings to the Lord. But it is for us solemnly to ask in presence of this incident—

WHAT INCENSE ARE WE OFFERING? Even priests may err here: burn “strange fire,” offer what God will abhor, and imperil their souls in the action. Consider therefore—

I. THEIR OFFENSIVE OFFERING. “Offered strange fire.”

1. What rendered their incense odious to God? “The fire was strange.” It lacked two essential and acceptable qualities—

(a) It had not been kindled by God. The fire on the altar was kindled from heaven. The divine origin of that fire changed human offerings laid on that altar into atoning sacrifices. They became thereby sanctified. Without this divine element the human offerings were not acceptable (Leviticus 9:24). But these priests “took their censers and put fire therein”; and thus the fire had nothing of divinity in it; the offering was altogether earthly and human; “strange fire.”

(b) It had not been mingled with blood. Sacrificial victims were being continuously offered on that altar; that fire never went out; the fire was never free, therefore, from the blood. This rendered the tire sacred. Consecrated by blood. Nothing came to God pleasing Him except mingled with blood. But their fire had nothing of the savour of blood in it: it was, therefore, “strange,” offensive to God.

2. What corresponding offensiveness may mar our offerings?

In the Christian church to-day, not a little “strange fire” is burned before the Lord. The motive that prompts what we do is not divine; the fire is earthly, human. The incense is not sanctified by blood; for much we do is done without associating it with the atonement of Christ, and resting on the merits of His blood for acceptableness and worth. Thus, the fire is “strange” when our religion or work is the outcome of—

(a) Mere emotional fervour. The “wild fire” of hot sensationalism, the religion of boisterous emotion and animal tumult, the raging vulgarity of noise, these are no acceptable substitute to offer before the Lord, in place of calm devoutness and holy earnestness. There may be the noisiness of the “crackling of thorns,” without fervid glow or quiet heat. Emotional people are not the most devotional. Sensation is no test or measure of sincerity.

(b) Mere intellectual excitement. Public prayers which are voluble and boisterous, lacking thoughtful reverence, how are they rebuked by the homage of the veiled cherubim, repudiated by the emphatic command: “Be not rash with thy mouth, for God is in heaven and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). Preaching which abandons itself to the mere “fire of oratory,” though rousing an audience, may be more human than divine; souls are never converted by “excellency of speech” (1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

(c) Mere feverish activity. There is an evil under the sun into which very young converts are betrayed. Before becoming themselves enriched in the Christian life, before they have nourished and fortified their minds in divine truth, without giving any one opportunity of “instructing them in the way of the Lord more perfectly,” as Paul did Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:26), they seize their censer, and with restless eagerness rush out to wave their incense forth. “Not a novice,” says Paul, “lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).

(d) Mere self-glorifying religious effort. He who rejects Christ’s righteousness, but labours, by diligent efforts, “to establish his own righteousness,” offers strange fire. The Christian who is active for love of eminence or observation, zealous or liberal for the sake of praise or distinction, offers “strange fire.”

(e) Mere spiritual rhapsody. Spiritual moods and “frames of feeling” which are elevated, ardent, rapturous, are not the divinest in which a child of God may be found. God does not intend that we live in the cloud-land of ecstasy, for elation of feeling may be but self-elevation. God brought even Paul down from “the third heaven” by a “thorn in his flesh,” that he might “rather glory in his infirmities”; for much of that lofty sentiment of piety is “strange fire.” [See Addenda, p. 151, Sensationalism.]

II. THEIR RASH IMPIETY. “Offered strange fire before the Lord.”

To ordinary observers that fire looked like altar fire, as prayers which are sensational, and services which are self-seeking, look like ardent piety; but “God seeth not as man seeth, he looketh at the heart.” Their act was one of—

1. Fearless presumption. Even amid the solemnities of the sanctuary they were reckless, frivolous. They “took fire” and swung their censers, as if it mattered not how they ministered; as if God deserved no special reverence. To enter God’s awful presence without awe, to engage in His worship without adoration, seems a repetition of this careless swinging of censers. It is as though God still addressed the trifler: “When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hands that ye should tread my courts” (Isaiah 1:12).

“Lo God is here; let us adore,
And own how dreadful is this place.”

Their conduct seems to have resulted from festive indulgence. The command of Leviticus 10:9 indicates that in a state of intoxicated excitement they rushed into the holy place. But indulgence of any sort, if it unfits us for God’s presence or service, should be shunned. Human nature is likely to be overbalanced when the senses are gratified; therefore Paul “kept his body in subjection,” and “crucified the flesh.” We may come “before the Lord” “drunk, but not with wine” (Isaiah 29:9); intoxicated with worldly thoughts, with foolish vanity; the mind excited with delirious readings; and whatever takes solemnity from us must be shunned as we come before the Holy One of Israel. [See Addenda, p. 151, Intemperance].

2. Wilful disobedience. By lighting their own fire, and by assuming an office strictly assigned to the high priest, they violated God’s commands.

Analogy of their conduct:—Refusing divine provisions made for us in the sacrifice of Christ, and making a religion of our own. When God has “given a name under heaven whereby we must be saved,” and said: “Neither is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12), what is it but wilful disobedience to set up other trusts? Pitiful the wrongly directed efforts of mistaken souls, whether of those who, not animated with the love of Christ, are yet doing Christian work in their own strength; or those who, seeking salvation, are relying on other merits than those of the blood poured out on the altar.


They offered offensive fire; God sent out devouring fire. “Before the Lord” they burned their fire; “before the Lord” they were burned with fire. “With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.” Let this admonish us to remember—

1. The God with whom we have to do. Hitherto, in the tabernacle service, God had not asserted indignation against the sinful, so much as provided for pardon and redemption. But He who is gracious can also show Himself just, as he who presumes upon His mercy will prove. [See Addenda, p. 150, Presumption.]

2. The rebuke which presumption will receive.

(a) The complete overthrow of their rash efforts. For what is not of God shall not stand. He will put every human thing to confusion. “The fire shall try every man’s work.” Much “work” which is thought the outcome of seal for God, will prove but “wood, hay, stubble,” merely human; and, therefore, “if the work be burned he shall suffer loss.”

(b) More terrible rebuke may be given than the frustration of our work: the fire may fall upon ourselves. “For the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:7). And “if judgment begin at the house of God, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of Gods?” (1 Peter 4:17). [See Addenda, p. 151, Punishment.]


Special grace is indeed needed by those occupying highest offices in the Church of God.
Nadab and Abihu were the first young men called into the ancient priesthood; and in their career a warning is offered to the young who think it easy to bear, and covet precipitately to secure, the dignity and gravity of a sacred office.

Paul gives warning against calling out the young to prominent positions in the Church; and commanded “not a novice: lest,” etc. (1 Timothy 3:6).

If only the foe of the Church can secure that a young and incautious spirit be placed in the forefront of God’s people then he will bring all his artifices for his overthrow; and in the fall of a leader there will be great cause for “the enemy to blaspheme.”

God grant that many young men may be led out into usefulness in the Church, and, if He will, into high stations in the Church of Christ; into the ministry of the gospel, into influential scenes of witness for truth; but God also grant to such the measure of special grace they will need, lest they stumble on the high places, and enable them to bear the standard of the Lord with steady hand to victory!


Nadab and Abihu “saw the God of Israel” (Exodus 24:1; Exodus 24:9-10). This was Jehovah’s method of preparing a man for a sacred career, e.g, Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:3; Exodus 3:6); Isaiah and Ezekiel for prophetic work (Isaiah 6:1; Isaiah 6:6; Isaiah 6:8; Ezekiel 1:1); Saul of Tarsus for apostleship (Acts 9:27).

That sight gave them qualification. It taught them who God was; how glorious and holy (Exodus 24:10). As also saith Isaiah, “I have seen the King the Lord of Hosts.” They would surely be reverent and solemn hereafter in all their service within the tabernacle in presence of resplendent Deity.

Have you seen God for yourselves? It is your qualification for serving Him. You cannot minister before the Lord unless. Hold back from all sacred work until you have “seen the King.” But if God has revealed Himself to you it is both a qualification and call to His service. For He wants those who have seen Him to “tell the vision,” to go from that secresy of blessed experience, saying, “That which our eyes have seen, which we have looked upon, declare we unto you, that ye may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:1-3).


1. Their designation to this office was to be accompanied by most solemn rites of consecration (Exodus 29:0). Washing (Exodus 29:4); clothing with priestly robes (Exodus 29:5; Exodus 29:8-9); reconciliation offerings (Exodus 29:10-18); sanctifying unction (Exodus 29:20-21).

Note: that a year intervened between the directions given for their dedication and the event. An interval of serious thought, meditation on their high calling, forming of resolves and prayerful preparation for their future.

2. Obeying these minute directions, Moses did then consecrate them (Leviticus 8:4; Leviticus 8:30) in the sight of all Israel. They were thus publicly set apart to the holy office.

From all this it appears how careful God is that they who are to engage in His service should be spiritually prepared. It was God s idea, God’s work, wrought through Moses. And ye are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that ye should walk in them.”

God wants you, who are called to sacred service and high trust in His Church, not less hallowed and consecrated than Nadab and Abihu. “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” God must have holiness in those who serve Him.


O how great a fall is here! (Leviticus 10:1-2).

1. For awhile they maintained a reverent demeanour. They gave good promise (Leviticus 8:36); were observant and obedient to God’s word; and attended to the duties of their office (Leviticus 9:8-9; Leviticus 9:12-13). Not instantaneously did they fall from their eminence. The castle must first be undermined before it crumbles into ruins.

“Ye did run well.” Young Christians began their spiritual life with every promise of “adorning the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things,” conversion seemed thorough; and Christian service was entered on with seriousness and earnestness, consecration seemed real. But a vast difference exists between a hopeful beginning and “continuing therein with all perseverance”: “holding fast the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.”

Many a ship made a good start—wrecked! Many a well formed bud—blighted! Many a promising youth—destroyed!

2. What explains and accounts for their fall?

Was it a mere mistake, an act of ignorance? No; “the Lord commanded them not.” Emphatic prohibition: “Ye shall burn no strange incense thereon,” etc. (Exodus 30:9). It arose from recklessness. They may have thought their own fire as good as that on the altar; but they had no right to think on such a matter; God had commanded.

When God has made the way of obedience, the way of salvation, the way of holiness plain, to substitute anything is an act of daring presumption and a horrible offence to God.

What could have led them to this act of presumption? With God’s express command, how dared they disobey? In a festive moment they seemed to have lost sobriety; and their act was done under the confusion of drink. How fearful the act! What bitter woes and wrongs has not the baneful indulgence wrought! O what homes desolated, what characters destroyed, what souls ruined! True, indeed of intemperance—

When once the demon enters,
Stands within the door,
Peace and hope and gladness
Dwell there nevermore.

Alas for the young who have fallen thereby!

Put away from you all indulgence which imperils your character and piety. Have a just fear of yourselves. Do not think you stand, lest you fall. [See Addenda p. 151, Intemperance.]

IV. PUNISHMENT OF YOUTHFUL PROFANITY. “They died before the Lord.”

1. Though exalted in religious privileges: how terrible their doom. “Thou Capernaum, exalted unto heaven, shalt be cast down to hell.”

Yes: the divine grace with which men trifle will invoke most fearful retribution. “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath trampled under foot the Son of God.” “Therefore, kiss the Son lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way when his wrath is kindled but a little.”

That high All-Seer which I dallied with

Hath turned my feigned prayer upon my head,

And given in earnest what I begged in jest.
Thus doth He force the swords of wicked men
To turn their own points on their master’s bosom.

2. In the beauty and fulness of youth, how instant their destruction! Dread the possibility of being thus arrested: life arrested in an act of sin! Leave the way of godliness but for a moment; you may never return! Adventure upon one rash step of impiety: it may be your last. There is but one step between you and death!

“God is angry with the wicked every day”: but He holds back judgment; yet it may leap forth any day. “Wherefore, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.” [See Addenda p. 151, Rashness]

Topic: THE SIN OF AARON’S SONS (Leviticus 10:1-2)

Not many hours had elapsed since Nadab and Abihu were consecrated to the sacred office of the priesthood. They knew that only the high priest was to officiate with the holy incense, and that the fire to be employed must be taken from the brazen, and put upon the golden altar. Yet they usurped the functions of the high priest, kindled common fire, and offered it on the golden altar, “which the Lord had not commanded.” Such an act was a flagrant exhibition of insubordination, and a direct insult to Jehovah. In their heinous sin we see—


Consecrated to the priestly office, they were henceforth expected to be examples to the people of purity, and piety. They would be amid scenes, and engage in services, calculated to restrain them from wrong-doing, and to stimulate them to good works. It was reasonable to expect that, while the solemn ceremony of consecration and inauguration was fresh in their memories, they would be conscientious, circumspect, and magnify their office; but a day did not elapse without a strong temptation to desecrate their office; a day did not elapse before they yielded to the temptation. They were proud and presumptuous; intoxicated with the elevation they had received to the priestly office (if not with drink), and snatching up common fire, went unbidden into the holy place before the Lord, and insulted Him to His face. The temptation was peculiar to their position; flatterered their vanity; promised them equality with Moses and Aaron in authority and power; they yielded to it and fell. By unholy ambition fell the angels and our first parents—no position, however exalted, seems to be exempt from temptation to pride and presumption. We learn that (i.) having pious parents; (ii.) being in holy places; (iii.) holding sacred offices; (iv.) seeing divine manifestations, will not place us beyond the reach of temptation to commit sin, or screen us from punishment if we commit it. Even Jesus Christ was assailed by the shafts and insinuations of the wicked one. Being a servant, and even a son of God, does not exempt from temptation, but temptation is not in itself sin, yielding is sin.


Their punishment may seem severe, but it must be remembered that the sin was committed (a) by persons in high position, (b) enjoying great privilege, (c) possessing great light and knowledge, (d) deliberately, and (e) daringly, on the floor of the holy place, and before the face of the holy God. It was a sin, which, if not signally and immediately punished, would have been a precedent for presumption of the highest kind. Had they sinned ignorantly, they would have been allowed the privilege of the sin offering. We may not always be able to trace resemblance between sin and its punishment, in kind or degree, but the Judge of all the earth is equitable, and allots His punishments according to the deeds done, and in the end will render unto every man according to his works. Position, circumstances, knowledge, intention, ability—all will be taken into account in adjusting penalty and awarding bliss.


We may note that the punishment they received

(1) condemned them here in the eyes of all Israel;

(2) showed the exceeding sinfulness of sin; and

(3) the exacting demands and exalted dignity of the law. The Lord had said to Moses that He would be sanctified in them who drew near Him, and glorified by all the people; and He would make even the wrath, or wickedness of man, to praise Him. Nadab and Abihu treated the law and the Lawgiver with contempt, and the Lord showed, by visiting them with immediate retribution, that such sins deserve death, and that He is able to vindicate His own glory. God thus manifesting Himself as a consuming fire, showed

(1) His jealousy, that He could not be openly and grossly insulted;

(2) His power, that the fire which glowed in the cloud, which had kindly led them out of Egypt, protected them from their foes, and which consumed the burnt offering on the day of consecration, had power to destroy, and, unless held in check, would consume all sinners;

(3) His mercy, that while sin deserved punishment, and God had the right and power to destroy, He made judgment His strange work, and such retribution—as that which visited Aaron’s sons—an exceptional thing. Let us learn that, though worship must be voluntary, yet it must be according to God’s own appointed way. Liberty is not to be perverted into lawlessness. Knowledge of God will be good or ill to us according as we use or abuse it. The law set before men life and death, and left them to choose. The gospel is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death, according as men accept or reject it. Sacred fire renders divine worship acceptable, strange fire renders divine worship abominable; the former God longs for, the latter God loathes. Strange fire is offered upon God’s altar when worship is presented with

(1) unsolicited materials, or from

(2) unsanctified motives. Enthusiasm is holy ardour—literally, God in us—His own fire ascending to Himself.—F. W. B.

Topic: MAN’S DEGRADATION OF WHAT IS HOLY (Leviticus 10:1-3)

The page of human history has ever been a sadly blotted one. It is a record of failure from first to last. Amid all the delights of Eden man hearkened to the tempter’s lie (Genesis 3:0). When preserved from judgment by the hand of electing Love and introduced into a restored earth, he was guilty of the sin of intemperance (Genesis 9:0). When conducted by Jehovah’s outstretched arm into the land of Canaan, he “forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:13). When placed at the very summit of earthly power and glory, with untold wealth at his feet, and all the resources of the world at his command, he gave his heart to the uncircumcised stranger (1 Kings 11:0). No sooner had the blessings of the gospel been promulgated, than it became needful for the Holy Ghost to prophecy concerning “grievous wolves,” “apostasy,” and all manner of failure (Acts 20:29; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:0 Peter , 2; Jude). And, to crown all, we have the prophetic record of human apostasy from amid all the splendours of millenial glory (Revelation 20:7-10). Thus:

I. MAN SPOILS EVERYTHING. Place him in position of highest dignity, and he will degrade himself. Endow him with most ample privileges, and he will abuse them. Scatter blessings around him in richest profusion, and he will corrupt them. Such is man! Such is nature in its fairest forms, and under the most favourable circumstances. Here, with Nadab and Abihu—

1. Hardly had the divine position been assumed ere it was deliberately abandoned, through neglect of the divine commandment. Hardly had the echo of the shout of victory died away ere the elements of a spurious worship are prepared.

2. Man has always proved himself ill-disposed to walk in the narrow path of strict adherence to the plain word of God. The by-path has ever seemed to present resistless charms to the poor human heart. “Stolen waters are sweet” (Proverbs 9:17); such is the enemy’s language.

3. Nadab and Abihu took their own way: they should have acted according to the word of the Lord.


“There went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them.” How deeply solemn.

1. By the outgoing of fire Jehovah had signified His acceptance of a true sacrifice (chap. 9).

2. By the outgoing of fire He sends His judgment upon erring priests (chap. 10). The “strange fire” was rejected as an abomination. The Lord was glorified in the former; but it would have been a dishonour to accept the latter.

Men’s corrupt will is never more hideous and abominable than when active in the things of God. But—

III. MAN CANNOT BE PERMITTED TO DESECRATE THE SANCTUARY OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE. “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me,” etc.

1. The dignity and glory of the entire economy depended on Jehovah’s maintenance of His righteous claims. If these were to be trifled with all was forfeited. If men were allowed to defile the sanctuary by “strange fire” there was an end to everything.

2. Nothing could be permitted to ascend from the priestly censer but the pure fire, kindled from off the altar of God, and fed by the “pure incense beaten small.”

3. Man must not be allowed to introduce his devices into the worship of God. All his efforts can only issue in the presentation of “strange fire,” unhallowed incense, false worship. His very best attempts are an absolute abomination in the sight of God.—C. H. M.

Topic: THE LAW OF WORSHIP (Leviticus 10:1-11)

Religious history is a continuous series of revelations of God: every incident freighted with significance and suggestiveness. The gleam of the seraph’s sword at the gates of Eden declares the sinner’s banishment from God: the roar of the deluge is the voice of many waters attesting the terrible might of Divine judgments: the lightnings of Sinai write out in letters of fire the sovereignty of the decalogue. And so in the doom of Nadab and Abihu we have announced in tongues of flame the law of worship. What answer does the incident give us to the vital question, How can men worship God acceptably?

I. THE CHARACTER OF THE WORSHIPPER is a factor of importance.

While the people were yet trembling at the judgments sent upon the offending priests, God ordained certain restrictions to be observed by those who ministered at His altars, as a “statute for ever throughout your generations, that ye may put differences between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.”

1. The numerous directions in the Jewish ritual relating to personal purity, were all significant of the value of character in the office of worship.

2. Yet the soundness of the inward life as pre-requisite to a real approach to God is seldom considered. This material age exalts the form above the spirit. If a man observe the formalities of public worship his spiritual condition is assumed to be correct.

3. But character, the style and stamp of the man, is the one thing needful. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

II. THE PURPOSE OF THE WORSHIPPER is the element of which God makes account.

Nadab and Abihu offered “strange fire “in obedience to some selfish end. Their proper offices in the ministry were subordinate; the adoption of a new method would secure them reputation. Egotism, vanity, prompted them.

1. When a minister at God’s altar now cultivates eccentricities and extravagances of manner to attract a crowd and become famous, he is offering “strange fire.” A singleness of purpose to honour God should be the sovereign motive in every minister’s heart.

2. Attendance in God’s house is not proof of true worship. Why are they there? Coming to be charmed with eloquence is not worship. Attendance from force of habit is not worship. Ceremony is easier than consecration; so men satisfy themselves with the outward observance, while the essential need of the inward aspiration is overlooked.

It is averred that the offices of public worship are waning in interest and influence. The reason is not far. It is not from lack of facilities and appliances. There are wheels enough, but not enough of “the living spirit within the wheels.” Abolish the intellectual and æsthetic theory of worship, and restore the spiritual, and the evil is corrected. Let every man feel that only the outgo of His heart to God is worship, and our places of prayer will become true temples where the glory of the Shekinah burns, and where hushed assemblies gather to sun themselves in the light of the Divine Presence.

III. THE PREPARATION FOR WORSHIP is a matter to which God attaches great importance.

1. Men should be at their best when they approach the place and hour of worship. In the house of God things suffered elsewhere were forbidden (Leviticus 10:8-9). Every faculty should be in highest exercise; every barrier to God’s freest access to the soul should be broken down.

2. Now, as then, true worship requires preparation. It cannot be extemporised. We cannot turn to it at a moment’s notice, and realise it while our ears are full of the babble of the market and our hands are clenched in the grip of gain. As Moses in sight of the flaming bush must put off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground, so those who would meet God in their worship must prepare themselves. A hushed season of reverence is a pre-requisite; a ready soul, and no other, finds a waiting God.

IV. THE MODE OF WORSHIP has its limits of importance.

Nadab and Abihu were punished for departing from the divinely established order of service. Under the Christian dispensation larger liberty is allowed. Men are free to adopt such methods of worship as are most affluent in ministries to their spiritual life. But the old underlying principle is still in force.

1. Forms of worship are only to help men to get to God. All claims to antiquity, or beauty of diction, or appeal to the sensuous in men, are barred out; the one question is, Do they help us to push open the doors of the invisible world, and make our way to the presence of our Lord?

2. In the nature of the case there is no one set method for reaching this end. The ritual which gives wings to the soul in Christian lands may prove a drag weight to the Zulu.

3. The soul owes no loyalty to ceremonials of human contriving. Along which way it can quickest find God it is bound to travel There is no best way for the whole world.

Right character, earnest purpose, due preparation, helpful method, these are the essentials to acceptable worship. These will open a door through which the divine Spirit shall come in, until the soul of the worshipper is “filled with all the fulness of God.”—Rev. Edward S. Atwood, in Sermons on the International S. S. Lessons.



1. Earnest spirits, honest in their struggles in searching after peace with God, may make mistakes in coming nigh Him. They may bring what He cannot receive; self-reliant efforts. “If I wash myself in snow-water, and make my hands never so clean” (Job 9:30); repentant tears, hoping to appease by contrition; generous acts, endeavouring to win by deeds of mercy. Such efforts, though erronious, may be sincere endeavours of upright, but unenlightened consciences to attain a knowledge of sins forgiven. Hence eager souls are seeking God by works of the law, or the ordinances of systematic religion.

2. All such will doubtless issue through the exceeding goodness of God, in the clear light of a known and enjoyed salvation. There never yet was one who followed the faintest glimmerings of light which fell upon his understanding, who did not, in due time, receive more. “To him that hath shall be given.” “The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” All this is as plain as it is encouraging.

3. Yet they who bring their own impious wills into the worship and service of God can expect no graciousness from God; on them, sooner or later, the solemn judgments of a righteous God, who cannot allow His claims to be trifled with, must fall. “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me.”


1. If men come near Him, honestly seeking Him, He will meet them as seekers, and they shall surely find Him.

2. But when men approach as priests, He will demand from them such worship and incense as priests should offer.

3. They who come before God as worshippers are regarded by Him as no longer seekers, enquirers, asking the right way to Him, but as those who believe they know and profess to have found. From such He requires the true worship, the acceptable offering. If their censer smokes with unhallowed fire, if they offer unto God the elements of a spurious worship, if they essay to tread His courts unwashed, unsanctified, unsubdued, if they place on His altar the workings of their own corrupt will, judgment must be the result. There will be (a) the immediate rejection of all worship which has not the Father for its goal, Christ for its substance and hope, the Holy Spirit for its sanctity and acceptableness; and there will be (b) the fearful judgment at the last, when all folly and wrong will be accursed.

4. God’s holiness is as quick to reject all “strange fire,” as His grace is quick to accept the faintest, feeblest breathings of a true heart. He must pour out His righteous judgment upon all false worship, though He will never “quench the smoking flax, or break the bruised reed.”


1. Very much of that which passes among men for worship of God is but “strange fire “after all. There is neither the pure fire nor the pure incense, and therefore heaven accepts it not.

2. Attainment to the true qualities of hallowed worship is a result of divine grace in the soul. He who knows through grace the pardon which the blood of Christ brings, he who has received the illumination of the Holy Ghost, can worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

3. It is consolatory to turn our thoughts from the vain worship which within so many shrines is burned before the Lord, to consider the true worship which from so many honest and Christian hearts is ascending to God’s sanctuary.


1. It tarries now, because of the interposing grace of Christ, staying the plague, arresting the doom. During this age of grace, “God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Therefore the judgment falls not direct, as on Nadab and Abihu it did, on spurious worshippers.

2. Yet the throne of God cannot ever continue to be insulted by clouds of impure incense ascending from unpurged worshippers. “Strange fire” will ultimately be quenched for ever, and all that is spurious be abolished, and the whole universe become as one hallowed temple wherein the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, shall be adored in acceptable and reverent worship throughout the everlasting ages.

Topic: A WARNING TO WORSHIPPERS (Leviticus 10:1-2)

There are three circumstances in which the Old Testament dispensation deserves our notice.

(1) As it prefigured the times of the gospel and the sacrifice of Christ—“the law a shadow.”

(2) As it showed the true requisites of acceptable worship.

(3) As it plainly marks the solemnity which God attaches to all the institutions of His own appointment. Everything was marked by severity. The Sabbath breaker was punished with death, disobedience to parents with death, the slightest infraction of a solemn ordinance was punished with death. Instance before us, Nadab and Abihu. Say not we have no concern. The dispensation differs, but the Lawgiver is still the same (Hebrews 12:28-29). Tabernacle typified Christ (Hebrews 9:8).

Consider the circumstances, warnings, inferences. Necessary to mark these.


1. The setting up of the tabernacle. This had been erected at a great expense, and was truly a national work, and the completion of it was a subject of universal congratulation. No labour was withheld, no cost spared, no difficulty considered; all ages, all classes, all ranks, almost all hands were employed in forwarding it (Exodus 35:20). It had been framed after the pattern in the mount, by God’s express appointment, “as the Lord commanded.” The most consummate skill had been employed in its erection; and as they saw its hallowed curtains finished, they rejoiced with an elevated and a reasonable joy. They felt that they were no longer aliens; they had the visible symbol of God’s presence; they were raised to the dignity of moral life; they had a sanctuary to which they might repair, and, amidst the toils of the wilderness, there was one object on which the eye might rest, one sacred enclosure which formed the link between earth and heaven. It was their refuge in danger, their guide in perplexity, their solace in weariness, and their hope when every other hope failed them.

2. The acceptance of their sacrifices. At length the expected day arrived when the tabernacle should be publicly consecrated and the first services performed. Ten thousand hearts beat with warm devotion when the solemnities began. Moses and Aaron, the elders of Israel, the Levitical priesthood, the great congregation—all were assembled. And now the sin offering for Aaron was to be presented. The beasts were slain, the ceremonies performed, the blood was sprinkled, the wave offering was offered; Aaron, in the ardour of devotion and with a heart overflowing with love, blessed the people (23, 24). The sacrifice was accepted.

3. The death of Nadab and Abihu. “And Nadab and Abihu took each a censer and put fire.” This had been distinctly prohibited—went beyond God’s ordinance. It was a virtual contempt of the authority of God, a dishonour to the spiritual nature of that institution. They were, probably, over-elated with the honour of their new function, and perhaps, with the headstrong vanity of irreligious youth, anxious to overstep the ordinary forms and show their independence of the example and authority of Aaron. The Jewish doctors suppose that these young men were intoxicated with wine, and had also neglected to make the proper distinctions in the sacrifices (from 8 and 9).

Their sin was compounded of impiety, presumption, and sacrilege. “And there went out fire from the Lord.” Fire was their sin, fire their punishment. God saw that fire was the fittest vengeance for a sin of fire—his own fire for their strange fire; the same fire which consumed the sacrifice now consumed the sacrificers. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” They had to do with one who was wise to prescribe His own worship, just to require what He hath prescribed, and powerful to avenge what was in opposition to His command.

There is something inexpressibly awful in the thought that the service of the sanctuary began with death and judgment “before the mercy-seat” (4–6).


Lay it to heart, and remember that it is as effectual to all the purposes of solemn caution as though it had occurred but yesterday and had taken place within the precincts of a Christian temple. Is is recorded for your instruction. God is the same, religion is the same, worship is the same, and the sanctions of Gospel ordinances are the same; the only difference is that the punishment is deferred till death, and that instead of earthly and material fire, those who mock God in His ordinances will be exposed to a fire never quenched, “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”

1. The awful solemnity which God attaches to the ordinances of religion. “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me.” This law has never been repealed, but it has been renewed and perpetuated by Christ Himself “God is a spirit.” Exodus 10:22. Sanctified God will be, either in the spirituality of men’s worship, or the severity of their condemnation. Let us beware of falling into their sin. When we come with prayerless and unsanctified hearts, with worldly affections, with profane imaginations, when we worship without spirituality of mind, without imploring the grace of the Holy Spirit, and without a lively faith in the sacrifice and intercession of Christ, we bring common fire, “strange fire,” to the altar. These flames were never of His kindling. He hates both altar and fire, priest and sacrifice. Who can calculate our guilt?

Remember this, ye who only come to trifle, who never pray before you come, who make no conscience of spiritual worship—remember, you never leave His house as you enter it. You leave it with a heavier weight of guilt. “Keep thy foot,” etc. (Ecclesiastes 5:1).

2. No outward profession, no forms of religion, however specious, will avail without internal piety. Nadab and Abihu had been anointed with holy oil, set apart by God Himself, clad with beautiful garments, had taken part in a sacrifice which had been accepted (Leviticus 9:9). But all this was as nothing. What a lesson to ministers! Well may we tremble, answerable for the spirit we diffuse in prayer, etc.

3. The piety of parents will form no shield for the iniquity of children Aaron’s sacrifice had been accepted, his sons were smitten instantly. We might have pleaded their youth and inexperience, a first offence, their relation to Aaron. Even Aaron had not a word.


1. Bless God for the more gracious age in which you live, that “mercy now rejoices against judgment”

2. Mourn the iniquity of your holy things. Even our very approaches to God, our prayers, hymns, services, are all marred by our sad defects, in spirit, manner, and aim.

3. Implore the divine Spirit to “help your infirmities, for we know not what to pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered, and maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).—Rev. Samuel Thodey, A.D. 1822.

Topic: THE SILENCE OF AARON’S SORROW (Leviticus 10:3)

The sudden and awful destruction of Nadab and Abihu filled the heart of their father with unutterable grief. It must have been a most appalling sight to see two young men clad in priestly vestments smitten dead before the Lord in the midst of an iniquitous act of innovation. But “Aaron held his peace.” Let us notice—

1. THE POIGNANT CHARACTER OF AARON’S SORROW. The blow came and smote (i.) his patriotism—he would feel that Israel as a nation was disgraced; (ii.) his piety—religion was dishonoured and God insulted; (iii.) his paternity. As a man, he would have felt deeply had any two men of Israel met with such a doom; but for the victims to be HIS SONS, the flower and promise of his family, this would make his grief exceedingly great. He may have looked upon them with pardonable pride the day before, when they stood by his side and received the commendation of the Lord; now he stands beside them with unutterable shame, as well as sorrow, as he sees them lying lifeless under the condemnation of the Lord.

(1) It is a great grief for parents to watch their children die when they have seen the end approaching, and have prepared their hearts to meet the bereavement by its slow approach; but in Aaron’s case the bereavement was sudden, there were no premonitions to prepare the father’s heart to meet it.

(2) It is a great grief for parents to surrender their children even when they feel sure they die in the Lord, and that God gently takes their life away; but, in Aaron’s case, his sons died under the frown of the Lord, and concerning their future he could have no sure and certain hope. To lose two sons under such circumstances was sorrow of the most poignant kind.


The catastrophe struck him dumb. He restrained himself, and refrained from uttering any comment on the event, any complaint against God. It was not the silence of stoicism, or sullenness, or obstinacy; but of devout and reticent submission. He heard what Moses had to say upon the event; he felt his sons had grossly insulted the Lord; that God’s glory must be vindicated; that the punishment was merited; so, he “held his peace.” He offered no objection, asked for no explanation; knew he could not reverse the verdict, could not restore the victims; it was an irreparable loss! He “held his peace”; no language of his could have described his grief, or conveyed a fair idea of his sorrow. He “held his peace” with men, but by thought, which is inarticulate speech, he could tell his grief to God. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth sometimes cannot speak; at such a time as this, in the hidden depths of the spirit, the heart only knows its own bitterness. This incident of Aaron silently and meekly bearing his great grief teaches us that one of the most consistent and expressive ways to show our sincere sorrow in the hour of any great calamity, is by holding our peace. Silence at such a time is (a) safe, (b) devout, (c) consistent. The silence must be holy and resigned; for there may be rebellion and anger in the heart when the lips are dumb.—F. W. B.


Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar were to remain unmoved in their elevated place, their holy dignity, their position of priestly sanctity. Neither the failure, nor the judgment consequent thereon, was to be allowed to interfere with those who wore the priestly robes and were anointed with “the oil of the Lord.” Those outside might “bewail the burning,” but as for Aaron and his sons, they were to go on in the discharge of their hallowed ministries.


Priests in the sanctuary were not to bewail but to adore; not to weep as in the presence of death, but to bow their anointed heads as in the presence of the divine visitation. The fire of the Lord might act and do its solemn work of judgment, but to a true priest it mattered not what that “fire” came to do—to express divine approval by consuming the sacrifice, or divine displeasure by smiting sin; that “fire” was the known manifestation of God, and whether it acted in mercy or judgment the business of all true priests was to worship. “I will sing of mercy and of judgment; unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.”

II. They who have the anointing of the Holy Ghost must MAINTAIN AN ELEVATION OF SOUL ABOVE NATURE’S WEAKNESSES.

1. Priestly nearness to God gives the soul an insight into all God’s ways, and such a sense of the rightness of all His dispensations that one is enabled to worship in His presence, even though the stroke of His hand has removed from us the object of tender affection.

2. Though godly souls feel as men, they worship as priests. They are not stoics; but an elevated spiritual life opens up a region to the soul brought “nigh to God “of thought, feeling, experience, in which nature can never move; a region in which, with all its boasted refinement and self-sufficiency, nature (unhallowed by God’s grace and unsustained by the Lord’s sufficiency) knows nothing. We must tread the sanctuary of God with true priestly energy, in order to enter into the depth, the meaning, and power of such holy mysteries.

The prophet Ezekiel was called, in his day, to sit down to this difficult lesson (Ezekiel 24:16-18); and it proves that in prophetic testimony, as well as in priestly worship, we must rise superior to all the claims and influences of nature and of earth.


Too often sanctified and hallowed souls fall below their divine elevation.

1. Nothing save realised priestly nearness to God can preserve the heart from the power of evil or maintain its spiritual tone.

2. All believers are priests unto God, and nothing can deprive them of their position as such. But though they cannot lose their position they may grievously fail in the discharge of their functions. While looking at the precious truth of the believer’s security we may forget the possibility of our failing to discharge our sacred duties.

3. There is continual need of watchfulness and prayer, that the hallowed elevation of priests unto God be preserved. His heavenly grace alone will preserve us from every species of failure, whether it be personal defilement, or the presentation of any of the varied forms of “strange fire,” which abound so in the professing Church, or in the yielding to personal weakness of grief and complaint of our frail human nature.—Developed from Notes on Leviticus, by C. H. M.


The effect of wine is to excite nature; and all natural excitement hinders that calm, well-balanced condition of soul which is essential to the proper discharge of the priestly office.

I. Each should discover for himself WHAT ACTS UPON HIM AS A DELETERIOUS EXCITEMENT.

1. The causes which excite are manifold indeed; wealth, ambition, politics, the varied objects of emulation around us in the world, as well as “wine and strong drink.”

2. Acting upon us with exciting power, they entirely unfit us from every department of priestly service. If the heart be swollen with (a) feelings of pride, covetousness or emulation, it is utterly imopssible that the pure air of the sanctuary can be enjoyed, or the sacred functions of priestly ministry discharged. Men speak of the versatility of genius, or a capacity of turning quickly from one thing to another; but the most versatile genius ever possessed could not enable a man to pass from (b) an unhallowed arena of literary, commercial or political competition, into the holy retirement of the sanctuary of the divine presence; nor could it so adjust the eye that has become dimmed by the influence of such scenes as to enable it to discern, with priestly accuracy, the difference “between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.”


1. Theirs is a path of holy separation and abstraction. They are called aside from and raised far above the influence of merely earthly joy as well as earthly sorrow. In other words, the joy of God’s priests is not the joy of earth, but the joy of heaven, the joy of the sanctuary. “The joy of the Lord is their strength.”

2. Hence, everything that incapacitates us for our priestly function, that tends to derange our priestly relation or dim our priestly vision, must unfit us for the service we are called to render. The heart must be kept right, the conscience pure, the eye single, the spiritual vision undimmed.

3. The soul’s business in the holy place must be faithfully and diligently attended to, else all will go wrong. Private communion with God must be kept up, else we shall be fruitless as servants, and defeated as men of war. It is vain for us to bustle about, and run hither and thither in what we call service, or indulge in vapid words about Christian valour and warfare. If we are not keeping our priestly garments unspotted, if we are not keeping ourselves free from all that would excite nature, we shall assuredly fail and be defeated. Our success in every department depends on our cultivating a spirit of worship.

(a) Let us then exercise a spirit of self-judgment over our habits, our ways, our associations. It is the business of each one to be fully aware of what is to him as “wine and strong drink,” what blunts his spiritual perceptions. It may be the auction mart, a cattle show, a newspaper—the merest trifle. But if it tends to excite, it will disqualify us for future ministry.

(b) When by grace we discern aught that in the slightest degree unfits us for the elevated exercises of the sanctuary, let us put it away, cost what it may. Let us not suffer ourselves to become slaves of a habit.

(c) Communion with God should be dearer to our hearts than all besides; and just in proportion as we prize that communion shall we watch and pray against everything that would rob us of it, against everything that would excite, ruffle or unhinge.

(d) The more we live in the presence of God, the less we can bear to be out of it; and no one who knows the deep joy of being there could lightly indulge in aught that would take or keep him thence. There is not that object within the compass of earth which would, in the judgment of a spiritual mind, be an equivalent for one hour’s fellowship with God.

By abiding in the secret retirement of His holy presence, and keeping implicitly to His truth, we shall be kept from false worship of every kind, and fleshly excitement in all its forms; so shall we be enabled to carry ourselves aright in every department of priestly ministration, and to enjoy all the privileges of our priestly position. The communion of a Christian is easily hurt by the rude influences of an evil world; within the sacred precincts of the divine presence all is pure, safe, and happy.

Far from a world of grief and sin,
With God eternally shut in.

[See Addenda, p. 151, Sensationalism.]—Vide, C. H. M.


The Lord having spoken unto Aaron (Leviticus 10:8), showing that he was not dismissed from service on account of the sins of his sons—Moses now addresses him and his two surviving sons upon the law of eating the holy things; showing they were still as priests to draw near to the Lord, and mediate for the people.

Workers may sin and die, but God’s work must go on. The reiteration of the law of the meat offering was useful and timely, as Aaron and his sons may have forgotten it in alarm and confusion at the calamity just occurred. They were to partake of their portion according to the law of the Lord, as their due, according to the commandment of the Lord.

Then having given these directions concerning the offerings, Moses betrays some misgivings respecting the full observance of the sin-offering ritual: and “Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and, behold it was burnt”; this made him angry, he questioned the sons of Aaron upon their delinquency, and assured them that they might and ought to have eaten what was appointed them as their share of the sacrifice in the holy place [See Leviticus 6:26-29.] Aaron offered an apology for the omission, and Moses accepted it. Let us look—


Moses reminded them that he had enjoined it upon them; that what he enjoined he received from the Lord; the portion allotted them was the gift of God, and given in connection with the privilege of acting as typical sin bearers of the congregation. How jealous Moses was for the honour and strict observance of the ritual: he would not have any part of it neglected under any circumstances or pretext. They were to be performed in the right time, place, and manner, as well as in the right spirit. Neither priests nor people were at liberty to innovate upon the details of the offerings.

II. AT THE CAUSES OF THE FAILURE, (a) An overwhelming feeling of sorrow. Aaron said: “Such things have befallen me,” and they were “such things” of sorrow as no language could describe; he had held his peace under the stroke of a double simultaneous bereavement, but “such things” had not been known by him before, nor had he heard of any “such things” occurring in connection with any other family. He had been overwhelmed, and that had contributed to the failure to comply with what was required of him and his sons. (b) An overawing fear of sin. He feared that if he had eaten of the sin-offering it might not have been accepted of the Lord, that too much sin clung to him and his sons, and he would rather leave the rite uncompleted than perform it in a wrong spirit. Aaron apprehended the great truth that “God is a Spirit, and that those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Aaron felt that with such feelings as pervaded his breast, to have eaten his portion of the sin-offering would have been a mere empty and meaningless form. Such a full and frank acknowledgment of deviation and unworthiness satisfied Moses, and he said no more.

III. AT THE FORGIVENESS OF THE FAILURE. It is not directly stated that Aaron and his sons were forgiven, but doubtless they were. The Lord allowed the omission to pass unnoticed; and evidently, Moses—although he was angry at first—saw that, in the exceptional circumstances under which the failure occurred, no dishonour was intended, and no offence was offered to the Lord. The sin of Aaron’s sons in offering strange fire was a positive outrage. The sin of Aaron and his two surviving sons was a simple failure. Forgiveness was granted on the ground (a) of human infirmity. Aaron and his sons must have been physically, as well as mentally and morally, exhausted by the sorrow into which they were so suddenly plunged; they felt constrained to fast as well as to weep. The flesh was weak, though the spirit may have been willing. (b) Of spiritual sincerity. Aaron declared he was afraid that if he ate he might do so unworthily and unacceptably; that he shrank from a forced and false compliance with the letter of the law. (c) Of Divine clemency. Moses knew that God was a jealous God, that the ritual was very rigid and exacting; and yet he knew that the Lord was merciful and ready to forgive. He pointed out the error and failing to his brother, then held his peace, content with what Aaron had to say in his defence. In all our service and worship we have to do with a God who pities those who fear Him, even as a father pities his children; who knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust. All errors and failings, yea, all sin, may now be forgiven through Christ’s one great atonement, if only the penitent ask in faith and sincerity.—F. W. B.

Topic: NO JOY BEFORE GOD’S ALTAR (Leviticus 10:18-19)

Origen (A. D. 185–254) in his Commentary on Leviticus (In Levit., Hom. viii.) supplies suggestions based on Aaron’s grief amid his priestly ministrations which may be headed—


And reflects thus: “My Saviour even now is mourning for my sin. How can He, who is the Advocate for my sins, drink the wine of gladness when I am grieving Him with my transgressions? He is therefore in sorrow as long as we remain in error … For we cannot think that while Paul mourned for sinners and wept for the guilty, my Lord Jesus abstains from weeping when He approaches the Father, when He stands near the Altar and offers the propitiation for us. And this is the meaning of the prohibition against drinking the wine of gladness when coming near the altar, for Christ suffers still the bitterness for our sins.”

In the Benedictine Breviary this passage from Origen formed one of the “lectures” or readings, and its teaching became thus diffused over the whole Catholic Church.

St. Bernard (A.D. 1091–1153) recognising the erroneousness of doctrinal teaching in this comment of Origen, wrote a special discourse [S. Bernardi Serm. xxxiv. de verbis Origenis, see Canon Jenkin’s Devotion to the Sacred Heart] pointing out the error and danger of extending the sufferings of Christ, either in body or mind, into the reign of His glory. “On earth” he exclaims, “Jesus truly wept, was truly sorrowful, truly suffered, truly died, was truly buried. But now that He is risen again, old things are passed away. Seek not then thy Beloved on His bed; He is risen, He is not here … Now He is no longer among the dead, but is taken from the midst of them, changed in body, changed in heart, He hath entered into the majesty of the Lord … Though our Lord wept over Jerusalem, now He weeps no more for ever (even as raised from the dead He dieth no more); and as rising from His bed He is no more found therein. Yet He hath now an unspeakably larger and more effectual feeling than they have who mourn for sinners, or lay down their lives for their brethren; although He who hath finished His work can no longer do either of these acts of mercy.”


Leviticus 10:1.—Theme: SELF-EXALTING ZEAL.

Sounds of high joy had first been swelling through the holy court: sure tokens of approving love had rested on the altar.
But a vile foe is always near. Satan sees the sacred hour, and flies to mar. He sees the gospel of that heaven-sent fire, and will strive to quench.


The foe has keys for every gate. Though the place is sacred and the office holy, no consecrated functions scare him back. He seeks the side of Aaron’s first-born sons. Their calling to be priests is no protecting shield. He can ascend the altar steps. He knows the fit temptation for the holiest place. So now he fosters self-exalting zeal. He leads to worship, but the worship must be “strange.” Such was his bait: mark its success.


1. Their first step strays. Each takes his censer. God did not require this act: it was not His will.

2. The next act errs more. They add fire. Whence was it brought? God has provided what alone He would receive. An outstretched hand might instantly obtain the divinely sanctioned fire.

3. Was there defiant reasoning on their part? What, will no other flame avail? Will His altar fire alone cause incense to ascend? Impious self-will thus reasons unto ruin.

4. A “strange” service is acted Their hands feign holy work, but rebel feet tread down God’s ordinance.


1. His frown is withering blight: it arms each creature with destructive sting. Behold a proof. The pledge of favour, “fire,” inflicts sudden death! The symbol of accepted service now hurls the disobedient into ruin’s gulf.

2. The fire thus scorned, puts forth its mighty strength; acts out God’s indignation. It vindicates its sacred import. They who rejected the fire of God cannot now cast it off. It wraps them in its burning arms, and lays their blackened corpses in the dust. Thus Nadab and Abihu perish from the earth.


This story stands as a dark beacon on a rocky coast. It cries, beware! to all despisers of the gospel scheme. It shows that—

1. They who stray from God’s appointed path, fall into quicksands of tremendous wrath. It declares that—

2. If men despise, reject, neglect the atonement God has provided, death without a remedy is near.—The Very Rev. Henry Law, D.D.

Leviticus 10:2Theme: DESPISING GOD’S ALTAR.


“Fire” given by Him, as—

1. A seal of His acceptance of human offerings.

2. A sanctifying element rendering sacrifice efficacious.


They despise the grace, they reject the provisions of God. There are Nadabs and Abihus still. Who are they?

1. They hear of Christ and refuse His sufferings and merits for their own salvation.

2. They see the cross and reject it as the symbol of faith. They rather choose a self-created fire: merits of their own. They develop an obedience of their own contriving.


The sin of Nadab and Abihu, therefore, re-appears to-day in the—

1. Self-righteous. A round of duties towards God, of charity towards men: and they ask, what lack we more? But what is man’s best? Rags and pollution. Yet for these, God’s well-beloved Son is scorned, His righteousness put aside.

2. Self-reformation. Flagrant faults are shunned. Foul transgressions have soiled their lives. These they own and flee. But they bring self-reformation fruits, Cain-like, and lay them on fire for offerings. Self-amendments are their incense. But outward changes are not inward grace; a painted surface will not purify a tomb.

3. Contrition is offered. Feelings are stirred, tears flow. The tempter whispers—there is merit in tears. The mourning spirit fondly hopes that mourning can bring peace. Sorrow when brought as the price of pardon is “strange.”

4. Formalists crowd God’s courts in studied reverence. Their lips drop holiest words, their hands touch holiest symbols. If rites and outward decorum were devotion, they worship indeed. But such worshippers reject the substance and rest on signs. They stay no wrath, purge no sins.

(a) What does your censer contain?

(b) Christ’s merits alone are delightful incense to God.

Leviticus 10:3.—Theme: VIOLATION OF SANCTITY. “I will be sanctified,” etc.

I. THE ESSENCE OF THEIR SIN in their conduct before the Lord.

1. The emphasis is to be placed on the word “I.” “I will be sanctified.” God must be served with sanctity: and He must be alone considered in our worship, and not ourselves or others.

2. This implies that when deviations from divine and clearly defined instructions occur, the Lord charges that such deviations do not enhance His glory: neither is He sanctified in those who are guilty of such deviations.

II. THE REQUISITES IN WORSHIP which are hereby enforced.

1. The only acceptable manner of administering the ordinances of God’s house—strict observance of the prescribed order. Not with the “strange fire” of will worship.

2. The unfitness of those who minister in holy things who neglect the proper observance of the ordinances, and teach men so to do.

3. Avoid everything which would disqualify us for acceptable worship.—D. C. Hughes, A.M.

Leviticus 10:3.—Theme: THE SILENCE OF AARON.

Of the silence of grief there is no example more renowned than that of Aaron. This was truly the silence of grief, and no reproach of insensibility can be attached to him.


1. The slaying of his sons was a necessity. in order to arrest further presumption and profanity spreading throughout all Israel.

2. God’s holy ordinances had been outraged, whose penalty was death.

II. It is the case of GODLY HUMILITY to be thus silent in the bosom of an irreparable loss, of a profound affliction.

III. In this mute sorrow, there is also more than wise humility; as we must see there also ACQUIESCENCE.

Aaron cannot bide from himself that his sons merited their fate.

IV. It is just to recognise in this conduct LOWLY AND FIRM RESIGNATION.

1. Rebellion speaks.

2. Resignation holds its peace. A. Coquerel.

Leviticus 10:3Theme: MUTE SUFFERING.


II. How exemplary THE USE OF NEEDED GRACE in such a trial as this.

Let us learn to submit to God’s judgments however severe.—D. C. Hughes, A.M. [See Addenda p. 151, Submission.]

Leviticus 10:3.—Theme: SUBMISSION TO GOD IN AFFLICTION. “And Aaron held his peace”

The becoming behaviour of a servant of God under very great and sore affliction: who, through divine assistance, stilled the murmurings of nature and replied nothing against God. Observe—

I. That the CHILDREN OF GOD ARE SOMETIMES LIABLE TO SEVERE AFFLICTION, both personal and relative. David complains (Psalms 38:2). Job also (Job 9:27). Paul’s testimony (2 Corinthians 5:4). And it is in heaven only where all tears shall be wiped from their eyes (Revelation 7:17). The blessed God intends by their afflictions their advantage in time and eternity.

1. He never afflicts till there is a real necessity (1 Peter 4:16).

2. He afflicts in wisdom (Hebrews 12:9-10).

3. In measure (1 Corinthians 10:13).

4. In love and tenderness (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:5-6; Revelation 3:19).

5. To sanctify our hearts and affection (Hebrews 12:10).

6. To save us from condemnation (2 Corinthians 4:17).

7. They are but light and momentary (Psalms 30:5; Isaiah 54:7-8; 2 Corinthians 4:17).

II. What is implied in being SILENT IN TRIALS AND AFFLICTIONS?

Not a careless indifference (Hebrews 12:5).

Not a sullen, daring obstinacy (Jeremiah 5:3).

Not a restraint of prayer before God, nor a restraint of communication before a real friend (Job 19:22). But—

1. A deep sense of God’s hand in what we suffer (Psalms 39:9; Isaiah 38:15; 1 Samuel 2:6)

2. An humble acquiesence in the justice of His proceedings.

3. A resigning ourselves to His pleasure (Matthew 26:39).

4. Acknowledging His right in us, to do as He thinks best Job 1:21).


1. God has an unquestionable right to dispose of us and ours as He pleases (Romans 9:21-22).

2. He grants many daily mercies which we do not deserve.

3. We have sinned against Him (Micah 7:9).

4. The sufferings of Christ for us were infinitely greater than are ours (Isaiah 53:4-5; Hebrews 2:10).

5. We shall be adjudged unworthy to reign with Him if we do not suffer with Him (Matthew 10:39)

6. In afflicting His people God has a view to His own glory (Leviticus 10:3).


1. To be impatient under affliction is unbecoming in a child of God, considered as a new creature.

2. To oppose our wills to the will of God is high presumption (Isaiah 6:9).

3. It is inconsistent with our prayers.

4. It would subject us to the charge of ingratitude to our best Friend and Benefactor, who has drawn us to Christ, pardoned our sins, given us the spirit of adoption, and made us heirs of a glorious immortality, and who is, by these very afflictions, preparing us for our heavenly state (2 Corinthians 4:17)—Hannum.

Leviticus 10:6.—Theme: PUBLIC LAMENTATION.

Aaron and his sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, were to refrain from exhibiting outward signs of grief; were not to uncover their heads so that their hair might not become dishevelled; nor rend their clothes, as was the custom at such times of sorrow. They were to suppress their grief, lest they seemed to rebel against the retributive providence of God and unfit themselves for their duties; lost they die. and wrath come upon all the people. They were to show in the presence of the people supreme love to the Lord, and unmoved, exalted devotion to His service. Although Aaron and his two sons were not to disengage themselves from their duties nor exhibit outward signs of grief there was to be a general lamentation, evincing:

I. PUBLIC RECOGNITION OF A SIGNAL JUDGMENT. The sin was too great to be passed unnoticed by the people, and the judgment was too solemn to be hushed up and treated as of transient moment; the whole house of Israel was to bewail the burning which the Lord had kindled. They were to lament the sin that had caused the judgment, and the sudden transformation of a joyful ceremony into a scene of lamentation and woe. Such a public and sorrowful recognition of the divine judgment would impress the people with the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and be calculated to deter them from repeating a similar offence; would teach them the dignity of the Law, and jealousy of the Lawgiver for His own glory. The people were to show, by an act of national humiliation and sorrow, that they deplored the sin, and deprecated the divine anger. The general lamentation also evinced—

II. PUBLIC SYMPATHY WITH A SIGNAL SORROW. “Slight sorrows are loquacious, deep anguish has no voice.” The sight of the whole congregation mourning, weeping, and wailing, would help Aaron and his sons to bear their griefs; especially when they knew that the Lord had commanded the public lamentation. The expressed grief of the sympathising people would be the counterpart of the suppressed grief of the sorrowing priests. Similar judgments following flagrant sins are recorded in 2 Samuel 6:7; 1 Chronicles 13:10; Numbers 15:32-36. We further learn—

(a) That when the leaders of a people sin, the whole community shares in the blame.

(b) That when the leaders of a people are signally punished, the whole community shares in the sorrow.

(c) That bereavement, even of the most painful kind, must not prevent us discharging sacred duties.

(d) That sympathy with the bereaved is in keeping with the instincts of our nature, and in harmony with the will of God.

(e) That when God’s righteous wrath is made manifest against sin, penitential grief should be prompt and general.—F. W. B.

Leviticus 10:9Theme: HELP TO TEMPERANCE.

Combine with this verse, Jeremiah 35:6; Ephesians 5:18; Ephesians

1. Thess. Leviticus 5:7.

Intemperance, one of the giant evils of the land, is self imposed. This is its saddest feature All the evils connected with it might be swept away if men so willed.

I. THE NATURAL. Use no intoxicants: and thus never acquire a passion for them.

II. THE MEDICAL. Some treat drunkenness as a disease: and by medicine seek to destroy the appetite for alcohol

III. THE SANITARY. Asylums for inebriates have been opened, which combine physical and moral means to effect a cure: and with success.

IV. THE LEGAL. Its object is to control or arrest the evil; and by prohibition of its manufacture and sale, to remove it from the land.

V. THE VOLUNTARY. This involves the pledge and membership in societies banded together for mutual help and safety. Earnest work for others is a good preventative, so long as it is actively continued.

VI. THE SPIRITUAL. Grace, wherever received, casts out the demon of drink.

VII. THE PHILANTHROPIC. Here is a reform in which to engage. Intemperance is the fruitful source of crime, misery and ruin. The resources it wastes are enormous. Its results on the individual, the family, friends, and country, are appalling.

Dark as is the picture of its ravages, yet the progress made towards sobriety within this century has been considerable. Sidney Smith said that at the beginning of his life, “even in the best society, one third of the gentlemen, at least, were always drunk.” To-day the use of liquors at public tables is the exception, not the rule.
This beneficent change in public sentiment demands devout thankfulness, and is prophetic of what shall be achieved.—Rev. Lewis O. Thompson. [See Addenda p. 151, Intemperance]

Leviticus 10:9.—Theme: A DIVINE PROHIBITION.

The prohibition, occurring here, seems to indicate the secret of the rashness and rebellion of Nadab and Abihu; that they offered the strange fire before the Lord when under the unhallowed excitement of intoxicating drink. Let us regard the prohibition—

I. AS A PRECAUTION AGAINST IMPIOUS PRESUMPTION. The position the priests occupied and the duties they performed would be calculated to excite them. They would require no artificial stimulants to inflame their passions. Participation of wine and strong drink may lead to indulgence and excess, which are the sources of many evils; such as (a) Offensive carelessness; persons become careless about the promises they have made and the duties they have to discharge, heedless of the smiles or frowns of those they profess to please and obey. (b) Offensive independence; persons get puffed up with a vain notion of their dignity and importance, assume absurd airs, and forget their position in, and relation to society around them. (c) Offensive arrogance; persons become overbearing and disrespectful, employ words and perform actions most insulting, and of which they would feel ashamed in their sober hours. (d) Offensive indolence; persons become paralyzed for useful and holy employment; although, frequently they become infuriated and enthusiastic in useless and unholy engagements. None of these things could be tolerated in the service of Jehovah in the tabernacle, for the priests were to be devout, careful, vigilant, were to exercise self-restraint and control; with concentration of strength, and consecration of spirit give themselves up wholly to the Lord. Such a prohibition was therefore necessary and merciful. We may also regard it—

II AS A SAFEGUARD AGAINST SINFUL INDULGENCE. Tarrying in wine and strong drink is directly opposed to reasonable and acceptable religious service; it perverts the powers of body, mind, and soul. It leads to the perversion (a) of personal endowments. Bodily strength becomes abused, health deteriorated and undermined; mental faculties weakened and frequently deranged; natural geniality and amiability soured. (b) Of Providential bestowments. Princes have been brought to pauperism, fortunes have been wasted at the shrine of Bacchus; homes and friends have been brought to a common ruin by its degraded devotees. (c) Of reasonable enjoyment. The priests were not commanded to abstain from wine and strong drink, except when they were in the tabernacle officiating at the services. They might partake at other seasons, but were to use and not abuse what they were allowed, (d) Of religious ordinances. The various directions of the ritual were so minute and numerous, that except the head was kept clear, the nerves calm, there was a great risk of mistakes being made, of some parts of the ceremonies being omitted. The memories of the priests were to be kept unclouded, their imaginations unexcited, their animal passions uninflamed. Ancient historians speak with great ardour and decision upon the fact, that in connection with heathen worship, the priests were prohibited taking wine during their attendance upon the gods and the performance of their worship. The reasons given are, that indulgence in wine and strong drink induces hesitation, forgetfulness, sleep, folly, and insanity. The prohibiton under consideration subserved divine purposes during the Levitical economy, conduced to the safety and well-being of the priests and the glory of Jehovah. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty;” we may under the gospel abstain from meat as well as wine, if thereby we can be the means of saving a soul from death, and hiding a multitude of sins.—F. W. B.



“In general pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.”—RUSKIN, True and Beautiful.

“But man, proud man!

Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d,
His glassy essence—like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep.”

Measure for Measure, II. 2.

“Pride in their port, defiance in their eye.”

—GOLDSMITH, The Traveller.

“It thrust proud Nebuchadnezzar out of men’s society; proud Saul out of his kingdom; proud Adam out of paradise; proud Haman cut of court; proud Lucifer out of heaven.”—Henry Smith.

“What is pride? A whizzing rocket
That would emulate a star.”



“Presumption is a firework made up of pride and foolhardiness. It is indeed like a heavy house built upon slender crutches. Like dust, which men throw against the wind, it flies back in their faces and makes them blind. Wise men presume nothing but hope the best; presumption is hope out of her wits.”—T. Adams.

Sequitur superbos ultor a tergo Deus.”


[An avenging God closely follows the haughty.]
Omne animi vitium tanto conspectius in se

Crimen habet, quarto major, qui peccat habetur.”—JUVENAL.

[Every vice makes its guilt the more conspicuous in proportion to the rank of the offender.]
“It is a dangerous thing in the service of God to decline from His own institutions. We have to do with a Being who is wise to prescribe His own worship, just to require what He hath prescribed, and powerful to revenge that which He hath not required.”—Bishop Hall.


Audax omnia perpeti

Gens humana ruit per vetitum nefas


[The human race, afraid of nothing, rushes on through every crime.]
Faucis temeritas est bono, multis malo.”


[Rashness brings advantage to few, misfortune to many.]
Juvenile vitium regere non posse impetum.”


[It is the fault of youth that it cannot control its own impetuosity.]


“Calamity is man’s true touch-stone.”


“All are not taken! there are left behind

Living beloveds, tender looks to bring
And make the daylight still a happy thing,

And tender voices to make soft the wind.
But if it were not so—if I could find

No love in all the world for comforting,
Nor any path but hollowly did ring:

Where ‘Dust to dust’ the love from life disjoined—
And if before these sepulchres unmoving

I stood alone (as some forsaken lamb
Goes bleating up the moors in weary dearth)

Crying, ‘Where are ye, O, my loved and loving?’

I know a voice would sound, ‘Daughter, I AM:
Can I suffice for heaven and not for earth?’ ”—Mrs. Browning.

During the siege of Barcelona by the Spaniards and English, in 1705, an affecting incident occurred, which is thus related by Captain Carleton in his Memoirs: “I remember I saw an old officer, having his only son with him, a fine young man, about twenty years of age, going into the tent to dine. While they were at dinner a shot from the bastion of St. Antonio took off the head of his son. The father immediately rose up, first looking down upon his headless child, and then lifting up his eyes to heaven, while the tears ran down his cheeks, only said, ‘Thy will be done!’ ”


“Violent fires soon burn out themselves:
Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short:
He tires betimes that spurs too fast betimes:
With eager feeding, food doth choke the feeder:
Light vanity, insatiate cormorant,
Consuming means, soon preys upon itself.”



Bonarum rerum consuetudo pessima est.”

[The too constant use even of good things is hurtful.]
“Touch the goblet no more!
It will make thy heart sore
To its very core!”—LONGFELLOW, Cristus.

“Drunkenness is an immoderate affection and use of drink That I call immoderate that is besides or beyond that order of good things for which God, hath given us the use of drink.—JEREMY TAYLOR, Holy Living II. 2.


“Punishment is the recoil of crime, and the strength of the back-stroke is in proprotion to the original blow.”—Trench.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Leviticus 10". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/leviticus-10.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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