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DEATH OF NADAB AND ABIHU
Leviticus 10:1-3. And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them; and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
IN all that we behold around us there is a great degree of obscurity, so that we can judge but very imperfectly either of the actions of men, or of the dispensations of God. For want of an insight into the motives of men’s conduct, we cannot form a correct estimate of their character; nor can we, without a revelation from heaven, distinguish those events which come directly from God, and those which, though ultimately referable to him, proceed rather from secondary causes. But in the Bible we find certainty. We learn the principles by which men are actuated; and see the hand of God accomplishing his own unerring purpose. We behold sin in all its diversified forms; virtue in all its various degree; mercies in all their rich extent; and judgments in all their tremendous consequences. Had the event, of which we read in our text, happened in our day, we should probably have admired the zeal of Nadab and Abihu, and have represented their death as a translation from the service of God in an earthly tabernacle to the enjoyment of him in the tabernacle above. It is possible too that we might have ascribed the silence of Aaron to a want of parental affection. But, through the light which the Scripture casts upon these things, we behold in the death of the former, a judgment inflicted; and, in the silence of the latter, a virtue exercised.—Under these two heads we shall consider the history before us.
The judgment inflicted—
Nadab and Abihu were the two eldest sons of Aaron. They had been just consecrated, together with their father, to the priestly office: but,
They committed a grievous sin—
[It should seem that they were elated with the distinction conferred upon them, and impatient to display the high privileges they enjoyed. Hence, without waiting for the proper season of burning incense, or considering in what manner God had commanded it to be done, they both together took their censers (though only one was ever so to officiate at a time) and put common fire upon them, and went in to burn incense before the Lord.
Now this was a great and heinous sin: for God had just before sent fire from heaven, which he commanded to be kept always burning on the altar for the express purpose of being exclusively used in the service of the tabernacle. Their conduct therefore shewed, that they had made no just improvement of all the wonders they had seen; and that they were unconscious of the obligations which their newly-acquired honours entailed upon them. It even argued u most criminal contempt of the Divine Majesty, in opposition to whose express commands they now acted.]
For this, they were visited with a most awful judgment—
[God, jealous of his own honour, punished their transgression, and marked their sin in their punishment. They had slighted the fire which God had given them from heaven; and he sent fresh fire to avenge his quarrel. They neglected to honour God; and He got himself honour in their destruction. They, by their example, encouraged the people to disregard the laws that had been promulged; and He, by executing judgment on the offenders, shewed the whole nation, yea and the whole world also, that “he will by no means clear the guilty.” Thus did God maintain the honour of his law, as he afterwards did the authority of his Gospel [Note: Acts 5:1-11.].]
Whilst in them we behold with grief the enormity and desert of sin, in their afflicted father we are constrained to admire,
The submission exercised—
Doubtless the affliction of Aaron was exceeding great—
[These were his own sons, just consecrated to the high office they sustained. In them he had promised himself much comfort; and had hoped, that the whole nation would receive permanent advantage from their ministrations. But in a moment he beholds all his hopes and expectations blasted. He sees his sons struck dead by the immediate hand of God, and that too in the very act of sin, as a warning to all future generations. It they had died in any other way, his grief must have been pungent beyond expression: but to see them cut off in this way, and with all their guilt upon their heads, must have been a trial almost too great for human nature to sustain.]
But he submitted to it without a murmuring word or thought—
[The consideration suggested to him by Moses, composed his troubled breast. God had given repeated warning that he would punish with awful severity any wilful deviations from his law [Note: Exodus 19:22; Leviticus 8:35; Leviticus 22:9.]. Now, as a Sovereign, he had a right to enact what laws he pleased: and they, as his creatures, were bound to obey them. It became him to enforce the observance of his laws, and to vindicate the honour of his insulted majesty, if any should presume to violate them. What would have been the effect if such a flagrant violation of them, in those who were to be examples to the whole nation, were overlooked? Would not a general contempt of the divine ordinances be likely to ensue? For prevention then as well as punishment, this judgment was necessary. And the consequence of it would be, that God would henceforth be honoured as a great and terrible God, and that the whole assembly of the people would learn to tremble at his word, and to obey it without reserve. Thus, however painful the stroke was to him, he submitted humbly to it, because it was necessary for the public good, and conducive to the honour of his offended God.
It is not improbable too that he would recollect the forbearance exercised towards him in the matter of the golden calf; and that, while he deplored the fate of his children, he magnified the mercy that had spared him.]
From this subject we may learn,
To reverence God’s ordinances—
[Well may all, both ministers and people, learn to tremble when they approach God in the institutions of his worship. Were this example of divine vengeance duly considered, surely ministers would never dare to seek their own glory when they stand up to address their audience in the name of God. They would look well to their ministrations, and be sure that they presented before God no other fire than what they had previously taken from his own altar — — — The people too would never venture to come to the house of God in a thoughtless or irreverent manner, but would reflect on the holiness and majesty of the Supreme Being, and endeavour to approve themselves to him in all the services they offered [Note: Psalms 89:7.] — — — Beloved Brethren, it is no legal argument which we offer, when we remind you that God is jealous of his own honour, and exhort you from that consideration to take heed to yourselves whensoever you approach his house, his altar, or his throne of grace: it is the very argument urged by an inspired Apostle, and that too in reference to the history before us; “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire. [Note: Hebrews 12:28-29.] ”]
To submit to his dispensations—
[It pleases God sometimes to try in a peculiar manner his most favoured saints. But from whatever quarter our trials come, we should view the hand of God in them, and say, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good [Note: 1 Samuel 3:18. See also Psa 38:13 and Job 1:21.].” It becomes not us to “reply against God;” or “the clay to strive with the potter.” As a Sovereign, he has a right to do with us as he will: and, if only he be glorified, we should be content, whatever we may suffer for the attainment of that end. The recollection of our own deserts should always stop our mouths, or rather prevent even the rising disposition to murmur against him. He never did, nor can in this world, punish us more than our iniquities deserve: and therefore a living man can never have occasion to complain [Note: Lamentations 3:39.]. Let us then, whatever our afflictions be, submit with meekness to his chastising hand: “let us be still, and know that he is God:” yea, let us be thankful that “he is magnified in our body, whether it be by life or by death [Note: Philippians 1:20.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Leviticus 10". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24