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Nadab and Abihu . . . offered strange fire.
The fall of Nadab and Abihu
Nadab and Abihu were no inconsiderable personages. They were the sons of Israel’s priest, the nephews of Israel’s leader, the head of Israel’s princely elders. They had been with Moses and Aaron in the hallowed mount; they had looked upon the glorious vision of God as He appeared on Sinai; they had been chosen and consecrated to the priesthood; they had stood by and assisted Aaron in the first operations of the Hebrew ritual; and in all that camp of God’s ransomed ones, Moses and Aaron alone had higher dignity than theirs. But, from the mount of vision they fell into the pit of destruction. They were accepted priests yesterday; they are disgraced victims of God’s holy indignation to-day. An event so startling and melancholy, occurring at the very inception of the Mosaic ceremonies, challenges our special attention, and calls for serious thinking.
I. Let us inquire, then, into the nature of the offence which called out this startling visitation upon these unfortunate men. The context shows that it was not one isolated and specific act of disobedience. It was of a complex nature, and involved sundry particulars, each of which contributed to make up the general crime for which judgment came upon the guilty ones. The special statute recorded in the ninth verse, of which this occurrence seems to have been the occasion, furnishes ground for the inference, that Nadab and Abihu had indulged too freely in stimulating drinks, and thus incapacitated themselves for that circumspection and sacred reverence which belonged to the priestly functions. And if this inference be correct, we have here another among the many sad exhibitions of the mischiefs wrought by indulging in a too free use of intoxicating liquors. The history of strong drink is the history of ruin, of tears, of blood. It is, perhaps, the greatest curse that has ever scourged the earth. But, although drunkenness was most likely the root of Nadab and Abihu’s offending, it was not the body of their came. If these men had not been first “set on fire of hell” by excessive indulgence in drink, they would never perhaps have been driven to the daring impiety which cost them their lives. The head and front of the sin of these men, as I understand it, was the presumptuous substitution of a will-worship of their own, in defiance of what God had appointed. In three points did they offend--first, in the time; second, in the manner; and third, in the matter of the service which they undertook. It was the prerogative of Moses or Aaron to say when their services were needed; but they went precipitately to work, without waiting for instructions, or asking for directions. It was for the high priest alone to go in before the Lord and offer incense at the mercy-seat; but they wickedly encroached upon His functions, and went in themselves. Never more than one priest was to officiate in burning incense at the same time; but they both together entered upon a service which did not belong to either. These things in themselves evince a very high-handed disregard of Divine order. But the great burden of their sin rested in the matter of the service. They “offered strange fire”--common fire--fire wholly foreign to the fire which God had kindled for such purposes. They thus obtruded what was profane into what was holy, desecrated God’s ritual, cast contempt upon His institutions, put their own will-worship above His sacred regulations, and thus called down upon themselves a judgment which made all Israel tremble.
II. Let us now consider some of the implications, surroundings, and foreshadowings of this sad occurrence. The shadows of the future were linked in with the facts of the past. Scarcely had Christianity been constituted, until we find a foreign and fitful spirit insinuating itself into the operations of those into whose charge its earthly services had been given (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; 1 John 4:3). Along with pontifical power, came in great doctrinal and moral corruption. The one was a part of the other. Bishops retired from the pulpits to sit as spiritual lords, superior to all the kings of earth; the Virgin Mary was installed as the world’s mediator; earthly priests assumed the work of intercession, and undertook to forgive and license crime for a price; the Church was driven to the wilderness; another Abihu in his drunkenness had entered the Holy Place, and was offering strange fire before the Lord. And the thing that hath been is the thing that is. Philosophy still has its additions to make to the Word of God. Heathenish pomp still moves to lift itself up in our temples. Human reason is still at work to devise ways to worship and please God which He has not commanded. Men are still found who claim authority to perform offices for the souls of others, which belong only to our great High Priest in heaven. Thousands there are who flatter themselves that they are doing great things in their worship, though the spirit that is in them is not at all the Spirit of Christ. But it shall not always be so. There is a price annexed to all these usurpations and irregularities with regard to holy things. God has magnified His Word above all His name; and he that adds to or takes from it, has his reward specified, and his portion reserved for him. Nadab and Abihu were suddenly and miraculously cut off in the midst of their sin; and so shall it be at last with all the confederates in usurpation and wrong, whether secular or ecclesiastical. Fire from the Lord shall slay them. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
I. Their offensive offering.
1. What rendered their incense odious to God? “Strange fire.”
(1) Not kindled by God.
(2) Not mingled with blood.
2. What corresponding offensiveness may mar our offerings? The fire is “strange” when our religion or work is the outcome of
(1) Mere emotional fervour.
(2) Mere intellectual excitement.
(3) Mere feverish activity.
(4) Mere self-glorifying religious effort.
(5) Mere spiritual rhapsody.
II. Their rash impiety.
1. Fearless presumption.
2. Wilful disobedience.
III. THEIR ALARMING DESTRUCTION.
1. Remember the God with whom we have to do.
2. The rebuke which presumption will receive. (W. H. Jellie.)
The sin of Aaron’s sons
I. How elevation to high and holy positions does not place men beyond the temptation and liability to commit sin.
II. How the committal of sin merits, and may meet with sudden corresponding retribution.
III. How such retribution, while it condemns the sinner, vindicates the broken law and glorifies the lawgiver.
1. We may note that the punishment they received--
(1) Condemns 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.
2. 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 let 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.
3. 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. Brown.)
Nadab and Abihu
I. The position of these two men. Regularly ordained priests of the Lord (Exodus 40:12-16). They had a right, therefore, to burn incense before the Lord.
II. The charge against these men (Leviticus 10:1).
1. The letter of the law was violated (chap. 16:12, 13).
2. The essence of this sin (verse3).
(1) Emphasis to be placed on “I.” “I will be sanctified,” &c.
(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.
III. The punishment inflicted on these men (Leviticus 10:2). The punishment indicates the unspeakable importance with which God regards implicit and strict obedience to the letter of all His ordinances.
IV. The conduct of aaron, the father of these two men. “Held his peace.”
1. How great the grace needed for this.
2. How exemplary the use of needed grace in such a trial as this.
V. The accustomed mourning for the dead was prohibited in respect to these men (Leviticus 10:6). Does not the rebellious element oftentimes enter into our mourning, and thus the grace of God, in bereavement, becomes of no practical value?
VI. The new prohibition (Leviticus 10:8-11). The connection in which this prohibition stands suggests--
1. That Nadab and Abihu were probably under the influence of some intoxicating liquor when led to offer “strange fire” before the Lord.
2. That such liquors have a tendency to unfit any one for any true spiritual exercise, because of their exciting nature.
1. How profound a lesson is here taught in regard to the only acceptable manner of administering the ordinances of God’s house--not with the strange fire of willworship, nor by the slightest deviation from the prescribed order.
2. We learn the unfitness of those who minister in holy things, who neglect the proper observance of the ordinances, and teach men so to do.
3. Let us learn to submit to God’s judgments, however severe.
4. Let us avoid everything that would disqualify us for acceptable worship. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
1. No new or strange doctrine to be brought into the Church.
2. God’s election free, and of grace, not of any worthiness in man.
3. That God is no accepter of persons.
4. God is to be glorified even in His judgments.
5. Of a double power of the Word, to life or death.
6. The bodies of the dead to be reverently used, and after a seemly manner to be buried.
7. That it is lawful upon just occasion to be angry. (A. Willet, D. D.)
1. In prosperity we must think of adversity.
2. Not to present ourselves before God with carnal, vile, and strange affections.
3. Wherein a man sinneth, he shall be punished.
4. To submit ourselves to the will of God.
5. That men should not for the occasion of private grief neglect the public business, especially in God’s service.
6. Against the sin of drunkenness, especially in ministers.
7. That our sins are an offence unto Christ, and to all the celestial company.
8. Not to be too rigorous toward those who are in heaviness, and sin in weakness. (A. Willet, D. D.)
Their sin was that to burn incense withal, they took not the fire from the altar of that which came down from heaven, and was preserved by the diligence of the priests till the captivity of Babylon, but other fire, which therefore is called strange fire because it was not fire appointed and commanded. Which fault in man’s eyes may seem to have excuse, and not to deserve so fearful a punishment. For they were but yet green in their office and so of ignorance might offend, being not yet well acquainted with the nature of their office. Again, of forgetfulness they might offend, not remembering or thinking of the matter as they ought. Thirdly, there was no malice in them, or purpose to do evil, but wholly they aimed at God’s service with a true meaning, although in the manner they missed somewhat. But all these, and whatsoever like excuses, were as fig-leaves before God, vain and weak to defend them from guiltiness in the breach of His commandment.
1. First, with what severity the Lord challengeth and defendeth His authority in laying down the way and manner of His worship, not leaving it to any creature to meddle with, but according to prescription and appointment from Him. Content He is that men shall make laws for human matters, concerning their worldly estate in this earth as shall be fittest for the place where they live. Laws against murder, theft, oppression, &c., but for His Divine worship He only will prescribe it Himself, and what He appointeth that must be done and that only, or else Nadab and Abihu their punishment expected, that is, God’s wrath expected, in such manner as He shall please.
2. But doth not a good intent and meaning prevail with God, albeit the thing be not expressly warranted? Yourself judge by that which you see here, and in many other Scriptures. Had Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, here any ill-meaning towards God, or did they of malicious purpose offend Him and procure their own destruction? No; you must needs think their intent was good, but because they swervest from the Word, that good intent served not. The words out of Deuteronomy are not, you shall not do ill in your own eyes, “But you shall not do that which seemeth good”--good I say, and I pray you mark it, you shall not do that, but shall keep you to My commandment. Be it never so good, then, in my conceit, that is, be my meaning never so good, it profiteth not, neither shall excuse God’s destroying wrath more than it did here these sons of Aaron. “There is a way,” saith Solomon, “that seemeth good to a man and right, but the issues thereof are the ways of death.” Such assuredly are all will-worships not grounded upon the Word, but upon man’s will and good intent. “They shall excommunicate you,” saith our Saviour Christ, “yea, the time shall come that whosoever killeth you will think that he doth God good service.” What then? Shall his so thinking excuse his bloody murder? Joseph had no ill-meaning when he prayed his Father to change his hand and lay his right hand upon his elder son’s head. What ill meant Joshua when he wished Moses to forbid those that prophesied? Micah’s mother, when, according to her vow, she made her son two idols? Peter’s meaning had no hurt in it when he forbade Christ to wash his feet; with a number like places in Scripture. Yet you know no good intent was accepted in these cases. No more shall it ever be when it is not agreeing to the Word, which only is a Christian man and woman’s true and perfect guide. Let, therefore, these things take place within us, and never wrestle we against the Lord, for He is too strong for us, and His will must stand, not ours. Oh, why should it grieve me to be ruled by His word, seeing it is so sure a way for me to walk in? Or why should any teacher deliver to me that which he never received of God to be delivered to His people? If they crave obedience why should they be angry, that I pray to have it showed out of His Word whom only I must obey? Be hath prescribed a form of serving Him, that form He will accept and bless with eternal peace; all other forms He will abhor and punish. Nadab and Abihu preach so unto us and all flesh. They wish us to take heed by their harm. God is in other things full of patience, but in this He is full of wrath, and His authority to appoint His own worship, He will not endure it to be taken from Him by any man. (Bp. Babington.)
Nadab and Abihu
In this passage we have the law of worship announced, not in the measured statements of a statute, but in words of terror spoken with tongues of flame. 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. Those who, like the apostle, are “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day”--and every day may be a “Lord’s day”--are caught up into the realm of spiritual vision, and stand face to face with realities that on lower levels are at best the dreams and hopes of faith. Worship as an offering may be formal, though even for that to be acceptable there midst be some preparedness of heart; but worship, in order to prove a revelation, must be spiritual, and in securing that the attitude of soul is everything.
II. The purpose of the worshipper is an element of which god makes account. Whatever other reasons influenced Nadab and Abihu to offer “strange fire,” it is evident that they had some selfish end to serve. God looks down into every pulpit, and into every minister’s heart, and judges every prayer, and criticises every sermon, and estimates the worth or worthlessness of the service offered, according as He finds or furls to find a singleness of purpose to honour Him the sovereign motive that originates and regulates it all. As God looks down on our Sabbath assemblies, in how many pews He sees men and women offering “strange fire,” instead of bringing the appointed sacrifice. The spirit of devotion that animates real service is omitted.
III. The preparation for worship is a matter to which god attaches great importance. The numerous directions in the Jewish ritual looking to personal purity were all symbolic and significant of the value of character in the office of worship (Psalms 24:3-4; 1 Timothy 2:8; Hebrews 10:22). Both the old covenant and the new are imperative in insisting upon right character as essential to right worship.
IV. The mode of worship has its limits of importance. The Jewish ritual was complicated, but it was in all its parts significant. A distinguished writer has said that “whoever would write out the spiritual symbolism of the Book of Leviticus, would give the world a fifth Gospel.” Nadab and Abihu were punished for departing from the Divinely established order of service. The folly of men is never so apparent as when it sets itself up as being wiser than God. Under the Christian dispensation larger liberty of choice 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 which was sovereign in the Jewish ritual still remains in force. Any method of worship which is anything more than a means to an end, any ceremony which suffers the thought to go no further than itself, is radically defective. (E. S. Atwood.)
A sad incident
I. The grievous sin of nadab and abihu.
II. The severe punishment of their sin. The punishment in its severity seems out of proportion to the sin. But on this question two considerations of great importance should be duly weighed.
1. The time at which the sin was committed. They were now getting the sacred ritual into full operation; and it was of essential importance that a people such as the Israelites were at this time should be taught that all sacred things should be reverently regarded, and all religious services performed in a devout spirit and becoming manner, and with minute attention to Divine directions.
2. The persons by whom the sin was committed. They were the elder sons of the high priest, and were consecrated to the holy office of the priesthood, “the very persons whose official charge it was to maintain” the sacredness of religious institutions. A severe punishment was necessary for the welfare of the nation.
III. The exemplary submission of Aaron.
IV. The burial of the bodies of the offenders. What a sight that was passing through part of the camp--the dead bodies of two men recently so distinguished in relationship and office, now so distinguished as examples of the awful judgments of God, and in their priestly vestments too! How fitted to impress even the most frivolous with the sacredness of Divine institutions and the dread peril of violating Divine directions!
V. The mourning because of the judgment upon the offenders.
VI. The legislation to which these things gave rise (Leviticus 10:8-11).
1. The law. That the priests should abstain from every kind of intoxicating drink during their sacred ministrations (cf. Ezekiel 44:21)
2. The reasons by which the law was enforced.
(1) That their perceptions might be clear, and their judgment true in the duties of their holy office (Leviticus 10:10).
(2) That they might teach the people all God’s statutes (Leviticus 10:11).
(3) The law was further enforced by a stern penalty for its violation, “Lest ye die.”
VII. THE SUBJECT SUGGESTS LESSONS:
1. On worship. We should worship God in the way which He has appointed--with humility, with reverence, &c.
2. On sin and its punishment. Every sin, unless repented and forgiven, must be punished. But presumptuous sins, such as that of Nadab and Abihu seems to have been, are specially heinous and ruinous (cf. Numbers 15:30-31; Psalms 19:13)
3. On submission to the will of God. Imitate Aaron in this.
4. On fitness for the service of God. Aaron and his sons might not touch or even approach the dead, &c. The servants of God must keep themselves from everything that might defile them. “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.”
5. On temperance. The wise man wilt be temperate in all things and at all times. When about to enter upon sacred services it is specially advisable to abstain entirely from everything intoxicating. The inspiration for such services should not be spirituous, but spiritual. (William Jones.)
I. Who offered it. Nadab and Abihu. The last one would have expected to be guilty of such a sin. They were not ignorant, but over-zealous people, who only imperfectly knew the law. But they were the sons of Aurora Could hardly be ignorant of the sin they were committing. The best that can be said of them is that they were not sufficiently thoughtful. Ignorance and thoughtlessness are sinful in those with whom knowledge is possible, and who have many incentives to consideration. We should strive to know that we may more perfectly do the will of God. The great probability is that their sin was not merely sin of ignorance, but presumption. Preferred their choice to God’s.
II. What they offered. From chap. 16., Numbers 16:18; Numbers 16:46, it is clear that they should have taken a coal from off the altar. Every act of worship was strictly prescribed. Intention to beget in the minds of the people a profound reverence for the will of God. In everything to consider His will first. To find their happiness in obedience. Instead of acting in accordance with the will of God they obeyed the impulse of their own proud and selfish hearts. It is likely that the time of offering was also wrong.
III. How they were received. They draw near and swing their censers. And suddenly “there went out fire,” &c (verse 2). Their strange fire had been replied to with a fire more strange to them. They were struck dead as by a lightning-flash, h sudden and emphatic protest against their presumption. Learn--
1. To study earnestly that we may more perfectly obey the will of God.
2. To avoid trifling with holy things and ordinances.
3. The instruments of sin may become instruments of punishment. With fire they sinned, by fire they were overthrown.
4. The very gospel, if abused, may become an instrument of condemnation. (J. C. Gray.)
Ere that “eighth day” had closed (chap. 10:19), when Jehovah had sent fire from heaven to consume with delight the offerings laid upon His altar, in token of acceptance--yea, that very day Satan was again at work, this time with the sons of Aaron, leading them to offer--
I. “strange fire,” in direct violation of God’s command (Leviticus 10:1). His fire was to be ever burning upon His altar (Leviticus 6:12-13), continually fed by what ascended as “a sweet savour” to the Lord; and “strange fire,” like strange incense (Exodus 30:9), was an abomination to Him. But man is ever prone to think his way, his fire, his incense as good or better than God’s. And where God’s Fire--i.e., the Holy Spirit--has been manifestly working, there surely does Satan begin to work by his emissaries, as in the case of Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3:5-9; Exodus 7:11; Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:18); and again with the “vagabond Jews, exorcists” (Acts 19:6-17), in the days of St. Paul. Satan inspires “false teachers,” “seducing spirits” (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1), who, like Nadab and Abihu, shall “bring upon themselves swift destruction.”
II. The sons of aaron had been specially privileged. The sons of Aaron represent--as we know--the Church, whose members are also partakers of many privileges (Hebrews 6:4). But--as “they are not all Israel which are of Israel” (Romans 9:6), so all called Christians are not “Christ’s “; and it is just in the professing Church that we may expect to hear of “strange fire,” and false worship, inaugurated by “false teachers,” who shall bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1, R.V.); and “many shall follow their pernicious ways” (Leviticus 10:2, A.V.). Especially will this be the case as we approach the end of the age--“the last days”--when “perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1).
III. “fire from the lord,” sent forth in judgment, as in the case of Nadab and Abihu. That fire is used of the Lord for judgment we learn from many passages in Scripture. See, as to the past--
1. “The cities of the plain” (Genesis 19:24-29), “making them an ensample,” &c. (2 Peter 2:6; Jude 1:7).
2. At Taberah, because of the complaining of the children of Israel (Numbers 11:1; Psalms 78:21).
3. “The two hundred and fifty men that offered” “incense” (Numbers 16:2; Numbers 16:35; Psalms 106:18).
4. The captains and their fifties (2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12). Then as to the future, we read--“Our God shall come:. . . a fire shall devour before Him,” &c. (Psalms 50:3; see also 97:3). “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed . . . in flaming fire,” &c (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8); and “that wicked”--or lawless one referred to--shall be consumed (2 Thessalonians 2:8). “A fire . . . from God out of heaven” shall devour those gathered against the saints and the “beloved city” (Revelation 20:8-9). And “the devil, that deceiveth them,” shall be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone” (Leviticus 10:10). He who had energised many with “strange fire” will be consigned to the “everlasting fire prepared,” &c. (Matthew 25:41). Appalling indeed to think of these judgments to come; and while we speak of such things let us give good heed lest we should seem to have aught of the spirit of James and John, which called forth our Lord’s rebuke (Luke 9:51-56). Let us rather first test ourselves, and then in love warn others. He is ready to give the Holy Spirit--His purifying, guiding Fire to all who ask (Luke 11:13). Lastly, observe--
IV. Aaron’s attitude of silent submission to the swift and appalling judgment with which his sons were visited. “Aaron held his peace.” Think of the agony of the father’s grief, yet not a word l He knew his sons’ great sin, and Jehovah’s perfect justice. The silence of Aaron may also teach that our “Great High Priest” could not intercede for any guilty of the sin He declared should “not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30): “Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost,” to which the “strange fire” seems to point. (Lady Beaujolois Dent.)
Clerical apostasy and usurpation
Many a pious heart has been saddened, and sickened almost unto death, over the calamities that have befallen the camp of the Lord in the shape of apostasies, false doctrine, unholy living, and reckless usurpation. Who among us that could not tell the story of many a heart-rending fall in the Church of God! More than once have I seen the man in affluent prosperity a great patron of the Church, prompt in his place in all the services of the sanctuary, and esteemed as one of Israel’s elders; but when reverses and bankruptcy came I have seen him turn aside to walk in the ways of the ungodly, the forger, the counterfeiter, the robber, and even the ribald blasphemer. Many a time have I seen the poor man in his daily toil, seemingly walking humbly with his God, and attentive to the things that relate to heavenly treasures; but when the tide of fortune came and gave him riches, or advanced him to places of influence and distinction, he forgot his Church and pious associations, and drifted away into pride like Lucifer’s, or into covetousness as niggardly as Shylock’s. I have seen men of the loudest professions; yea, men ordained to stand as watchmen on Zion’s walls, secretly dallying with the demon of vicious appetite, until they became the reeling sport of boys upon the street, the shame of their denomination, and the tenants of ignoble graves. And history tells again and again of men whose heads reached unto the clouds, who in an unguarded hour came down, like some tall pine of the forest which makes the wilderness howl in its fall; of impious hands touching the holy vessels of God’s sanctuary; of false incense burned in the holy place, until the very lamps and stars were hid, and the very house of salvation made a den of robbery and death. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The sin of Nadab and Abihu
These men were not at liberty to take each his own censer; there was a utensil provided for that action, and for any man to bring his own ironmongery to serve in such a cause was to insult the Spirit of the universe. This is how we stand to-day: every man bringing his censer--his own censer--which means the prostitution of personality, the loss of the commonwealth-spirit and of the recognition of the unity and completeness of the Church. There are men who spend their time in amending Providence: Nadab and Abihu represent two such men to-day. There are men who are always trying to naturalise the supernatural: this is what Nadab and Abihu did. They said in effect, “This evil fire will do quite as well; build your life on reason; order all the ministry of your life by coherent and cumulative argument; drop the ancient words, and choose and set new words of your own; there is no supernatural: let us banish superstition and inaugurate the reign of reason.” Nadab and Abihu had a kind of church, but a church without the true God--an uninhabited shell, a mockery, a base irony--the baser because it was in a sense religious. There are men who substitute invention for commandment. This is what Nadab and Abihu did: they invented a new use of the common censer; they brought into new service common fire; they ventured to put incense thereon when only the pontiff of Israel was allowed to use such incense; they invented new Bibles, new laws, new churches, new methods; they were cursed with the spirit of extra independence and individuality, with the audacity of self-trust--not with its religious worship and adoration. This all occurs every day, and it occurs quite as rudely and violently in the current and flow of our own history. All this invention and all this deposition of God and of law comes just as swiftly after our conscious realisations of the Divine presence as this instance came swiftly upon the conscious benediction of God. “There is but a step between me and death.” It would seem as if a universe might intervene between true prayer and the spirit of distrust and cursing yet not a hair’s-breadth intervenes. A man on his knees is next to the worst self, namely, a man with clenched fists defying the heavens. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A solemn judgment
This judgment that fell upon the two sons of Aaron seems very severe. But notice that the high and dignified position they occupied made sin, in their case, far more grievous and calculated to do much more extensive mischief among Israel, than if it had been perpetrated by some one occupying a less conspicuous position in the state. Though sin is in itself always the same, yet, committed in the high places of the land by those who occupy in Church or in State lofty and responsible positions, it has an aggravation and an enormity that it has not when committed by those who occupy lowlier and obscurer spheres in the land. Not that the sin differs in its absolute and personal guilt, but that it differs in the influence it spreads around it. Evil in high places is very contagious--is seen by many, and imitated by more. And, in the next place, this was the commencement of a new economy. The commander of an army, or the commander of a flexor, must insist upon rigid discipline at the commencement of the military expedition, or of the sailing of the fleet; if he do not, the issue is disastrous to the soldiers and the sailors, as it will be injurious to great interests and painful to him. Therefore, at the commencement of a new economy, it was requisite that it should be seen that the least of God’s laws may not be transgressed with impunity; and that the authority of God alone, struck upon the least and the loftiest, must be the great reason why there should be instant, unqualified, and undiluted obedience. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
If God had struck them with some leprosy in their forehead, as he did their aunt Miriam soon after, or with some palsy, or lingering consumption, the punishment had been grievous. But He, whose judgments are ever just, sometimes secret, saw fire the fittest revenge for a sin of fire; His own fire fittest to punish strange fire; a sudden judgment fit for a present and exemplary sin: He saw that if He had winked at this, His service had been exposed to profanation. It is wisdom in governors to take sin at the first bound, and so to revenge it that their punishment may be preventious. Speed of death is not always a judgment: suddenness as it is ever justly suspicable, so then certainly argues anger, when it finds us in an act of sin. Leisure of repentance is an argument of favour. When God gives a man law, it implies that He would not have judgment surprise him. (Bp. Hall.)
God’s orders must be carried out
If the architect of a house had one plan, and the contractor had another, what conflicts would there be! How many walls would have to come down, how many doors and windows would need to be altered before the two could harmonise! Of the building of life God is the Architect, and man the contractor. It is for God to give the orders, and for us to carry them out. (H. W. Beecher.)
No strange fire permitted
There is only one way of obeying God, and that is by doing just as God tells us to do. Satan began the trial of improving on God’s commandments in the Garden of Eden. Cain followed up the idea, and substituted the fruit of his own toil for the designated lamb, as a sinner’s acceptable offering Each of these attempts proved a curse as well as a failure; and so it will be to the end of time. The sons of Aaron were consecrated priests when they offered other fire on God’s altar than that which God had commanded. Saul was the anointed king over the Lord’s people when he offered sheep and oxen contrary to the command of God. Both priest and king were punished of God for their disobedience in failing to worship God in God’s commanded way. God is the same God to-day as then, His commands concerning worship are as binding now as four thousand years ago-binding on theological professors, preachers, and Bible-class teachers. It is not enough to proffer an offering to God in worship, you must worship Him according to His commandments, or you must take the consequences of your disobedience. It is important, then, that you know what is God’s law concerning His day, His house, His Word, His worship. Your eternal interests hang on your fidelity in little things as well as in great. (H. C. Trumbull.)
Reverence in holy things
Contrast with the conduct of Nadab and Abihu the reverence displayed by the young King Edward of England. One of his companions, wishing to aid him in his efforts to grasp something just beyond his reach, placed a large Bible for him to step on. “No,” said Edward, stooping to lift the volume, “I shall never tread on God’s holy Word.” Possibly there was a touch of superstition here; but was not the spirit commendable? What is sacred is to be held as sacred. The meanest thief is the one who runs off with a church-collection; for he adds sacrilege to his other crime. Show how we may in a very real sense offer strange fire. Is there not something of irreverence in the chipped coins and torn bills that find their way into the contribution-box? Custom may make us treat sacred things with levity. Luther tells us that he knew priests whose sacred office had become a mere form, and who, instead of repeating the proper formula in the consecration of the bread and wine, mumbled irreverently, “Bread thou art, and bread thou wilt remain;-wine thou art, and wine thou wilt remain.” Has our church-going degenerated into a meaningless form? (American Sunday School Times.)
Aaron held his peace.
Aaron; or, the disturbing and tranquilising influences of life
I. The disturbing influences. Physical sufferings, secular anxieties, social grievances, moral remorse, heart bereavements. To the last of these Aaron was now the victim.
1. He has lost two sons. A double trial.
2. He had lost two sons after they had reached maturity.
3. After they had entered upon the most important and honourable office in life. What a disappointment!
4. In the most sudden way.
5. With no hope for their future blessedness. They were struck down by offended justice, without a moment for repentance.
II. The tranquilising influences of human life. “He held his peace.”
1. There are three kinds of calming influences that are resorted to by men under trial--the carnal, the stoical, and the Christian.
2. The last of these is the only true tranquilising force. It contains at least four doctrines that tend to pacify the human spirit under the most trying circumstances of life.
(1) That all who have implicit confidence in Christ as the Mediator are reconciled to God and delivered from condemnation.
(2) That every disturbing event takes place under the superintendence of God.
(3) That God has an absolute right to dispose of all things as He thinks fit.
(4) That the most painful events to the good are short, and may be rendered subservient to their highest interest. They deepen the sense of our individuality by detaching us from society and making us in our sufferings feel our loneliness; they impress us with the unsatisfactoriness of all things pertaining to this material life. Southey has, with great poetic beauty, described how the calamities of life afflict the pious soul: they are only as clouds passing over the moon, making the queen of night appear more majestic in her march. (Homilist.)
Silence in affliction
I. Even a child of God may be exercised with sore trials and afflictions, that may lie very heavy upon him. (Psalms 38:2; Job 9:17). And what wonder, if the children of God meet with trials upon earth, where they were never promised, nor could rationally expect their rest? What wonder, seeing they so often sin, and procure the evils under which they groan? All this is consistent with the love of a father, and our relation to him.
II. What is implied in being silent under the trials God sees fit at any time to exercise us with?
1. A deep sense of God’s hand in what we suffer. This was the ground of David’s silence: “I was dumb, and I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it” (Psalms 39:9). And Hezekiah, mourning, directs his eye to God and heaven. “What shall I say? He hath both spoken unto me, and Himself hath done it” (Isaiah 38:15).
2. It includes a subscribing to God’s justice in all His dealings with us, and that whatever He takes from us or lays upon us, we dare not to conclude the worse of Him in our thoughts or to open our mouths against Him. Thus being silent is opposed to self-justification, as being convinced that He hath punished us less than our iniquities deserve.
3. It includes a resigning ourselves to God, as having the most unquestionable dominion over us, and right to do with us and ours as seems good in His sight (Job 3:12).
4. It includes resting in His pleasure, as that which is wisest and best; in opposition to murmuring and impatience, inward frets and discomposure of soul.
III. What considerations may help to work the soul of a child of God into so desirable a frame, as to be mute when God’s afflicting hand may be most pressing upon him. The reasonableness of this frame may appear--
1. From God’s unquestionable right to dispose of us and ours as He pleases. When it is His will which is done upon us, His sovereignty should teach His creatures to be silent (Romans 9:21-22).
2. It should teach us to be silent in whatever instance God afflicts; as it is He that continues to us many other mercies, which have been all forfeited, and which might have been as justly removed as those He has taken away.
3. We ought to be silent under what God will have us suffer, as considering we have many ways sinned and offended against Him (Job 40:4-5).
4. We have reason to be silent, as considering that all God’s dispensations, how afflictive soever, are conducted by unerring wisdom to His own glory. And if God be glorified, why should we be dissatisfied?
5. The people of God have reason to be silent under every affliction He brings upon them, considering He hath made with them an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure, which is sufficient to be all their salvation and is all their desire (2 Samuel 23:5).
1. To be impatient under affliction is unbecoming a child of God, considered as a new creature.
2. To oppose our wills to the will of God is high presumption, and both provoking to God, and dangerous to ourselves (Isaiah 45:9).
3. It is contrary to our covenant engagements. When we yielded ourselves to God, did we not expressly agree that He should lead us to heaven, and that we would follow Him through what way He pleased to show us--through seas or wildernesses, or through any, even the roughest paths, so He brought us safe to the promised land.
4. Impatience under affliction is inconsistent with our own prayers. Submission to the will of God is, or ought to be, our daily request, and especially under such trials.
5. It would bring us under the charge of ingratitude to our best benefactor and friend. Has God heard my main prayer, and drawn me to Christ? Yet, if He lays His hand upon me in this or the other instance, shall I by my complaints drown all the remembrance of His former loving-kindness and grace? Moreover, what a slight should we put on the remaining everlasting rest, should we repine at present sufferings, which are so soon to issue in endless joy! (D. Wilcox)
Silence under affliction
I. What it is for the afflicted and bereaved to hold their peace under the correcting hand of God.
1. It certainly implies, in the first place, that the afflicted and bereaved should not complain of the Divine conduct towards them. They have no ground to complain, because God takes nothing from them but what He has given them, and inflicts no more upon them than they deserve and He has a right to inflict.
2. For the afflicted to hold their peace implies that they not only cease to complain, but that they cease to think hard of God. It is much easier to suppress their verbal complaints than to suppress all their inward repinings under the correcting hand of God.
3. The only way in which the afflicted and bereaved can get rid of their inward murmuring thoughts is cordially to approve of the conduct of God in causing them to suffer their present afflictions and bereavements. Nothing can remove hatred of God but love to God. Nothing can remove opposition to God but submission to God.
II. Why the afflicted and bereaved ought to hold their peace and silently submit to the correcting hand of God. This is their duty--
1. Because they always deserve the bereavements which they are called to suffer. They are under the same obligations to submit silently and unreservedly under the frowns of God as to rejoice under His smiles.
2. The afflicted and bereaved ought to hold their peace and silently submit to the correcting hand of God because He has a right to afflict and bereave them whenever He sees it necessary to do it
3. It becomes the afflicted and bereaved to bow in silence to the sovereign will of God because He always afflicts and bereaves them at the proper time. It is well that God does not allow men to choose when He shall afflict them. He always knows the best time, and when He does afflict them they must know that He sees good reasons to afflict them at that time rather than any other. And since He sees good reasons for afflicting them at such a particular time they have no ground to complain but ought silently to submit to His unerring wisdom, whether they are high or low, or whether they are young or old.
4. That men ought to hold their peace under the afflicting hand of God because He always afflicts them in the best way as well as at the best time.
1. It appears from the nature of silent submission under Divine corrections, that it must be highly pleasing to God. It is the very spirit which He requires them to feel and express while He lays His chastising hand upon them. He says to them, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
2. It appears from the nature of sincere submission under trials and afflictions that insubmission is extremely criminal. When either saints or sinners complain under Divine corrections they practically say that He who has made them shall not reign over them. Can there be anything more displeasing to God?
3. It appears from the nature of true submission under afflictions that it is something different from stupidity. Stupidity consists in despising the chastenings of the Lord. Mankind are far more apt to be stupid than to be faint under afflictions and bereavements. They try to overlook the hand of God in them, and to consider them as mere accidents, or necessary evils, which could not be avoided and must be borne. Such stupidity under Divine corrections in the sinners in Zion God severely condemned. If afflictions do not remove stupidity they increase it; if they do not soften the heart they harden it; and if they do not produce submission they create obstinacy. But the afflicted are extremely apt to misconstrue the effect of their afflictions and to mistake stupidity for submission, and imagine that they feel resigned when they only feel stupid and insensible.
4. True submission is diametrically opposite to stupidity and is perfectly consistent with the keenest sensibility under the correcting hand of God. It becomes the bereaved to view their bereavements, as far as possible, in all their painful effects and consequences, that they may exercise a deep and unlimited submission to the Divine corrections. Though Aaron held his peace and refrained from speaking, yet he did not refrain from thinking. His mind was undoubtedly awake, and all his powers and faculties in vigorous exercise. There is much more danger of feeling too little than of feeling too much under Divine chastisements.
5. If the afflicted and bereaved ought to hold their peace under the chastising hand of God, then they ought to submit to the heaviest as well as to the lightest chastisements.
6. It appears from the nature of submission that it is easy for the afflicted and bereaved to determine whether they do or do not sincerely submit to the correcting hand of God. There is no medium between approving or disapproving His conduct in afflicting them. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The silence of Aaron
An ancient philosopher has said, “Light sorrows speak; great sorrows are silent.” The experience of the human heart, and of this life, where affliction has so many degrees and arrays itself in so many different shades, justifies this observation. The sacred poets of Israel, in this thought, had anticipated pagan wisdom (see Isaiah 47:5; Lamentations 2:12-13).
1. The impressions and the conduct of Aaron cannot be usefully estimated without a knowledge of the event.
2. It is a test of humility to be silent in the bosom of an irreparable loss, of a profound affliction.
3. In the mute sorrow of Aaron, there is more than this wise humility; we must see there also acquiescence.
4. Lastly, it is just to recognise in the conduct of Aaron lowly and firm resignation. (A, Coquerel.)
Aaron’s silence in presence of God’s judgment
Doubtless Aaron looked somewhat heavily on this sad spectacle: it could not but appal him to see his two sons dead before him--dead in displeasure, dead suddenly, dead by the immediate hand of God. And now he could repent him of his new honour to see it succeed so ill with the sons of his loins; neither could he choose but see himself stricken in them. But his brother Moses, that had learned not to know either nephews or brother when they stood in his way to God, wisely turned his eyes from the dead carcases of his sons to his respect of the living God. My brother, this event is fearful, but just; these were thy sons, but they sinned; it was not for God, it is not for thee, to look so much who they were, as what they did. If they have profaned God and themselves, can thy natural affection so miscarry thee that thou couldst wish their impunity with the blemish of thy Maker? Show now whether thou more lovest God or thy sons. Showy whether thou be a better father or a son. Aaron, weighing these things, holds his peace, not out of an amazement or sullenness, but out of patient and humble submission; and seeing God’s pleasure, and their desert, is content to forget that he had sons. He might have had a silent tongue, and a clamorous heart. There is no voice louder in the ears of God, than a speechless repining of the soul. There is no greater proof of grace, than to smart patiently, and humbly and contentedly to rest the heart in the justice and wisdom of God’s proceeding. (Bp. Hall.)
Divine judgment and domestic ties
Serious people sometimes wonder how it shall be at the last day--how godly parents shall be able to bear the sight of their Christless children given over to everlasting death; whether the knowledge or sight of near and beloved relatives in perdition will not interrupt and destroy the peace Of heaven. But, if such persons would reason upon the subject from a standpoint higher than the mere sympathies of nature, they would have less trouble concerning it. Aaron looking upon his slain sons, is a picture of how it shall be. When God’s ultimate judgments shall go into effect, their justice shall be so conspicuous, and the goodness and glory of God in them shall be so luminous and manifest, that it will not be in the power of any ransomed soul to think of demurring, or indulging one tearful regret. When we come to see things in the light of heaven, every enemy of God will appear so essentially an enemy to ourselves and our peace, that, however otherwise related to us, we will be glad to see them shut up in the dreadful prison-house for ever and for ever. What are domestic ties and sympathies in comparison with the glorious will of our blessed Lord? Jesus says, “He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” Every saint is fully wrapped up in the righteousness, wisdom, and goodness of his Lord. Everything that God does carries the heart of the ransomed ones so completely with it, and so overwhelms and swallows up all other affections, that they are as utter nothing. Nadab and Abihu may die for ever under Aaron’s very eyes, and yet God’s honour and glory in it leave him not a tear to shed, and not a word of lamentation to utter. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The silence of Aaron’s sorrow
I. The poignant character of Aaron’s sorrow. The blow came and smote--
1. His patriotism--he would feel that Israel as a nation was disgraced.
2. His piety--religion was dishonoured and God insulted.
3. His paternity.
(1) It is a great grief for parents to watch their children die when they have seen the end approaching, but in Aaron’s case tile bereavement was sudden.
(2) It is a great grief for parents to surrender their children even when they feel sure they die in the Lord, 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.
II. The patient conduct of Aaron under such sorrow. (F. W. Brown.)
God glorified before the people
If I so hold a mirror that I cause it to reflect on your dazzled vision the brilliant rays of the sun, that mirror adds nothing to the lustre of the grand orb of day; it only directs the light towards you. If I write to you in most glowing and graphic terms concerning my bosom friend, I do not thereby increase his well-known talents and virtues. I simply beget in your mind, or foster, feelings of admiration, respect or love. So when you and I praise God, we do not, we cannot, augment His essential glory. It is impossible for us finite and dependent creatures to add anything to the infinite love, wisdom, and power of the Divine One. But we can elevate Him in our own estimation, increase our own comfort, stimulate our own spiritual life, and intensify the affection which others entertain for Him. (J. H. Hitehen, D. D.)
The stillness of intense emotion
As I have felt a tear drop from a cloudless sky, and wondered whence it could come, so have I seen a fair countenance full of openness, serenity, and majesty, and the large still tear standing in the eye. Yet no single muscle was distorted; it seemed to me like the stillness of intense emotion, like the sorrow of goodness, like a broken heart at peace with its own woe; as though one, whose hopes of earthly bliss had all vanished, were comforted from within by the presence and assurance of Holy Love, saying, “It is well, peace be unto thee.” (John Pulsford, D. D.)
The broken heart is like a broken harp
The broken heart is like a broken harp. The harp is either absolutely silent, or sends forth discordant sounds. Human grief is so deep that it is either speechless or gives expression to bitter complaints and hard thoughts. Whatever human ministries may accomplish by way of modifying it, they do not heal. Here is the superiority of Christ Jesus in His treatment. He “heals” the broken-hearted.
Service for God not to be interrupted by adversity
A certain heathen making an oration, as he was sacrificing to his god, in the midst of his devotion, word was brought him that his only son was dead: whereat being nothing at all moved, he made this answer, “I did not get him to live for ever;” and so went on with his business. Thus when we are entering into the sight of God’s favour, it may so please Him to try us by afflictions; there may news come of a ship wrecked at sea, of a chapman broke in the country, of the death of friends and allies, &c. Yet ought we not for all this to leave off our course in the service of Him, but rather whatsoever comes cross, make it as it were a parenthesis, an ornament, not a hindrance, in our progress to heaven. (J. Spencer.)
Valerius Maximus tells a story of a young nobleman, that attended upon Alexander, while he was sacrificing; this nobleman held his censer for incense, and in the holding of it, there fell a coal of fire upon his flesh, and burned it so as the very scent of it was in the nostrils of all that were about him; and because he would not disturb Alexander in his service, he resolutely did not stir to put off the fire from him, but held still the censer. If heathens made such ado, in sacrificing to their idol gods, that they would mind it so as no disturbance must be made, whatsoever they endured: what care should we then have of ourselves, when we come to worship the High God? Oh that we could mind the duties of God’s worship, as matters of high concernment, as things of greatest consequence, that so we might learn to sanctify the name of our God in the performance of duty more than ever we have done. (J. Spencer.)
Over-tenderness to the criminal
Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes. There is such a thing as sinning through over-tenderness of feeling; and unless we are on the “watch just here, we shall fail of being both just and merciful in our sympathies and in our conduct. When a great crime is committed, it is not a wise exhibit of tender feelings to dwell upon the peculiar temptations, and the peculiar weaknesses, and the unfortunate early disadvantages of the brutal criminal, to a forgetfulness of the sufferings of his innocent victims, and of the wretchedness which his crime has brought into one home and another. It is not that we are to take vengeance into our own hands; but that we are to refrain from mourning over the execution of justice. It is a sinful as well as a sickly sentimentalism which gives its tears to the criminal class in the community, instead of to those who are wronged through crime. The prevalence of this sentimentalism is one of the stimulating causes of crime. There is need of the re-echoing of the words of God to His people over the displays of His justice, “Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes” [in mourning over the evil-doers] “but let . . . the whole house of Israel bewail the burning which the Lord hath kindled.” Let the crime be mourned over, but not the criminal--as a criminal. (H. C. Trumbull.)
“For the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you”
That oil must separate between you and the appearance of unbelief; that oil is a restraint as well as an inspiration. Is it not so now, varying the terms and the relations of things? If we could enter into the spirit of that restriction, what different men we should be I The name of your country is upon you: dishonour it not. A venerable name, never associated with meanness, cowardice, corruption, or fear of man. Rise to the dignity of the signature which is upon you. When you flee, the enemy will say your country has fled; when you play the coward, the enemy will say the throne has tottered and the sovereign has succumbed. The holy vow is upon you. You said you would be better and do better. You punctuated the vow with hot tears; your emphasis was quite an unfamiliar tone, so much so that we wondered at the poignancy of your utterance, and felt in very deed that you were speaking the heart’s truth. Remember that vow. The vow of the Lord is upon you. If you stoop, it will not be condescension, it will be base prostration; if you palter with the reality of language, it will not be ability in the use of words, it will be the profanation of the medium which God has established for the conveyance and the interchange of truth. The exalted position is yours. You are the head of a family: if you go wrong, the whole family will suffer to the second and third and fourth generations. You are known and trusted in business: if you be found mean, untrustworthy, faithless, deceitful, the whole city will feel the anguish of a pang, for you were regarded as a trustee of its honour and its reputation. The anointing oil is upon you in some form or in some way. The name of Christ is upon us all. We cannot get rid of it. In this way or in that we have all to do with Christ, with His name, His honour, His cross, His crown. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Do not drink wine.
Help to temperance
Combine with this verse Jeremiah 35:6; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Thessalonians 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. The beneficent change in public sentiment demands devout thankfulness, and is prophetic of what shall be achieved. (Lewis O. Thompson.)
It is one of the attractions of a glass of wine to those who like it, that it gives a different colour to everything the drinker looks at, just as soon as it has any effect at all. If there were no effect from wine-drinking, there would be no temptation to drink wine. But so soon as the wine takes hold of the brain, the brain takes hold with a new grip of everything it thinks of. Memory is keener, anticipation is brighter, and the present is a great deal livelier. Everybody in sight or in thought looks brighter, too. This isn’t so bad a world as it seemed an hour ago! “When the wine is in, the wit is out.” What does a man under the influence of champagne know of sharp distinctions in morals, or in social life, or in logic? The inspired teacher was never more clearly inspired than when that teacher wrote, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes strong drink; lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.” And it was God Himself who insisted that priests should let wine and strong drink alone, lest they should fail to know the difference between holy and unholy, clean and unclean, and lest they should be unable to teach the truth aright. If you want to know what is right, and to do what is right, and to be able to teach others to know and do right, do you let wine and strong drink alone--before you go to church, and after you come back from church. What is good enough for a king, and safe enough for a priest, can wisely be your choice wherever you are. (H. C. Trumbull.)
Excitement to be avoided by ministers
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. The things which excite mere nature are manifold indeed--wealth, ambition, politics, the various objects of emulation around us in the world. All these things act, with exciting power, upon nature, and entirely unfit us for every department of priestly service. If the heart be swollen with feelings of pride, covetousness, or emulation, it is utterly impossible that the pure air of the sanctuary can be enjoyed, or the sacred functions of priestly ministry discharged. If we are not keeping our priestly garments unspotted, and if we are not keeping ourselves free from all that would excite nature, we shall, assuredly, break down. The priest must keep his heart with all diligence, else the Levite will fail, and the warrior will be defeated. It is, let me repeat it, the business of each one to be fully aware of what it is that to him proves to be “wine and strong drink”--what it is that produces excitement--that blunts his spiritual perception, or dims his priestly vision. It may be an auction-mart, a cattle-show, a newspaper. It may be the merest trifle. But no matter what it is, if it tends to excite, it will disqualify us for priestly ministry; and if we are disqualified as priests, we are unfit for everything, inasmuch as our success in every department and in every sphere must ever depend upon our cultivating a spirit of worship. (C. H. Mackintosh.)
Testimony of a clergyman as to the value of total abstinence
The Rev. S. Hooke, vicar of Clopton, Woodbridge, offers the following testimony:--“As there are so many of my clerical brethren who are doubtful if they could carry on their arduous labours if they abstained from alcoholic drinks, I write my experience of the last seven years, during which time I have been an abstainer. I believe I can do treble the amount of work without the use of these drinks than with them. At first I doubted if I could, and it was with trembling hand that I signed the pledge of the C.E.T.S. But I thank God from the depth of my heart that I took that step, for I am certain that I have been able to do more real good by my advocacy of total abstinence than I did before. On looking through my diary of last year I find I have preached a hundred and seventy-five times, given forty-four temperance lectures, ninety-five gospel addresses and cottage lectures, besides travelling nearly four thousand miles. Included in the above are the sermons and addresses I delivered at two Church Missions of ten days each. I am thankful to say I enjoy robust health, which I am confident is the result, in part, at least, of total abstinence. I am sure the happiness and joy of doing good to our fallen brothers and sisters more than compensates for the loss of a trifling gratification.”
The value of abstinence
It was Dr. Hook’s boast that for more than thirty years he had “laboured in the manufacturing districts, not for the working classes, but with them, in the measures desired by themselves for the improvement of their class, and having for their object the formation of habits of temperance and prudence; and especially that he had worked with them in the cause of rational recreation and education.” It was with a view to aid this wide and general step in the education of the masses that, late in life, he joined the temperance movement, and became a pledged teetotaler. He used to tell the story of his change in this direction in the following way:--“I had in my parish at Leeds a man who earned 18s. a week; out of this he used to give 7s. to his wife, and to spend the rest in drink; but for all that, he was a good sort of man. I went to him and said, ‘ Now, suppose you abstain altogether for six months.’ ‘Well, if I do, will you, sir?’ was his reply. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I will.’ ‘What,’ said he, ‘from beer, from spirits, and from wine?’ ‘Yes. And how shall I know if you keep your promise?’ ‘Why, sir, you ask my “missus,” and I’ll ask yourn.’ It was agreed between us for six months at first, and afterwards we renewed the promise. He never resumed the bad habit that he had left off; and he is now a prosperous and happy man in business at St. Petersburg, and I am Dean of Chichester.”
Total abstinence a safeguard in responsible positions
On almost all boilers connected with engines there can be found a safety-valve. Whenever the boiler gets too full of steam and is in danger of bursting, this little valve opens and lets the steam out. No one has to watch it, for it opens of itself. There was once a man who wanted to travel on a certain steamboat. He went to the boat and examined the machinery, but he found that there was not an efficient safety-valve on the boiler, so he said to the captain, “I won’t go on your boat, captain. You haven’t a proper safety-valve, and I am afraid the boat may be blown up without it.” “Come down with me to the engine-room,” said the captain, “and I will show you the best safety-valve in the world.” When they reached the engine-room the captain went up to the engineer, and laying his hand on his shoulder, said, “There, sir, is my safety-valve, the best to be found anywhere--a man who never drinks anything but cold water.” “You are right, captain; I want no better safety-valve than that. I will go on this boat.” He knew that the engineer would always watch the machinery, and if anything went wrong he would know it instantly. Only a sober man ought to be trusted in such a responsible position; and when boats have such engineers they have the best safety-valves in the world.
Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering?
Consideration for neglected duty
Part of this goat being a sin offering, should have been eaten--I mean the shoulder and breast allotted to the priest--but it was all burned contrary to the law, for which Moses was justly offended, having seen so lately God’s wrath upon the other fault. The answer of Aaron you have in Leviticus 10:19, in effect and sense as if he should have said, “I confess and acknowledge the ordinance of God is to be kept, and we are to eat with joy of the parts allotted unto us of the sacrifice for sin; the blood was not brought into the Tabernacle of the testimony. But how could I eat with joy in so heavy and woful a case of my children? Compelled, therefore, with the greatness of my grief, I did what I did,” &c. At which answer, saith our chapter, Moses was content, so bearing with his infirmity, considering his great sorrow, but not leaving an example to forgive them that maliciously transgress the commandment of God. And as Moses is said to have stayed his anger, so you see the Lord Himself did, not punishing again this fault. It layeth open unto us the great kindness of our gracious God, of whom the psalm saith, “He is full of compassion and mercy, long suffering and of great goodness. He will not always be chiding, neither keepeth He His anger for ever. He dealeth not with us after our sins, neither rewardeth us according to our wickedness,” &c. Secondly, you may see here how these ceremonial laws gave place to necessity, as David also in necessity did eat the shewbread, which was otherwise unlawful for him to do; and Hezekiah admitted to the Passover those that were not cleansed. But for moral laws there is no dispensation for corporal necessity, but a constant course must be held in obeying them. For it is not necessary that I should live; but it is ever necessary that I should live righteously. Lastly, in that Moses admitted a reasonable excuse, we may learn to abhor pride and to do the like; pride, I say, which scorneth to hear what may be said against the conceit we have once harboured. A modest man or woman doth not thus; but even for his servant or his maid holy Job had an ear, and did not despise their judgment, their complaint, or grief, when they thought themselves evil entreated by him. The example of God Himself is instead of a thousand, who both heard and accepted of Abimelech his excuse for taking away Abraham’s wife, “I know,” saith He, “that thou didst it even with an upright mind, and therefore I kept thee also that thou shouldest not sin against Me,” &c. Shall the Lord be thus sweet, and we so dogged, so churlish, so stern and sour, that no excuse may serve for a thing done amiss if once we have taken notice of it? Beware, beware, and remember your own frailty well. A stubborn frowardness hath hurt many, sweet gentleness and courtesy never any; but though wicked men were unthankful, yet our gracious God was pleased. (Bp. Babington.)
Such things have befallen me.
The afflictions which befall the servants of God
I. That sore afflictions sometimes befall the servants of God.
1. The death of two sons by one stroke.
2. The distressing character of their death.
3. The prohibition of any expression of grief.
II. That under the pressure of sore afflictions the servants of God are required to attend to religious duties.
1. The obligatoriness of such duties is not annulled by trial. Trust in God, and prayer and praise to him, are binding in sickness as in health, in sorrow as m joy. So are all religious duties.
2. The need of the help which attention to such duties affords is not diminished by trial, but rather increased.
III. That under the pressure of sore afflictions the mind and heart of the servants of God often seem unequal to a proper discharge of religious duties. On the day when this calamity befell them, Aaron and his surviving sons did not accurately discharge their sacred duties. It was expressly commanded that the flesh of those sin offerings, the blood of which was not carried into the Tabernacle of the congregation, should be eaten by the officiating priests (Leviticus 6:24-30). Instead of doing this, Aaron and his sons burnt the flesh of the sinoffering (Leviticus 10:16-18). The error may be viewed as--
1. An oversight caused by the things which had befallen them. In great griefs the heart seems dead to every feeling but the predominant one, and the mind seems incapable of sustained attention to anything except what is related to its griefs. Meditation upon the holy Scriptures, prayer, spiritual aspirations, communion with God--these seem impossible to the sorrow-stricken soul. Needing them so urgently, yet the soul seems unable properly to attend to them.
2. Intentional because of felt unfitness to eat of the “most holy” flesh. This seems to receive most support from the words following the text: “Such things have befallen me, and if I had eaten the sin-offering to-day, should it have been accepted in the sight of the Lord?” The bereaved father seems to have been not only sorrowful, but deeply awed and humbled by the things which had befallen him, and to have felt that if he had eaten the “most holy” flesh in such a frame of mind it would not have been acceptable to God. His case reminds us of some who absent themselves from the sacrament of the Lord’s supper because of a sincere feeling of unworthiness. But let such persons remember that Aaron’s sense of unworthiness did not disqualify him for eating the flesh of the sin-offering; he rather erred in not doing so.
IV. That when the mind and heart of the suffering servants of god seem thus unfitted for religious duties, God does not account such unfitness as sin. When Moses heard the apology of Aaron “he was content”; and we are warranted in regarding his “content” as an evidence that God also was satisfied with the reason assigned by the high priest for his deviation from the line of duty. Surely the Lord knew the intense anguish which His servant was suffering, and regarded him with deepest, tenderest pity. “The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” Here is consolation for the sorrow-stricken soul. If in the day of your sore afflictions you seem to have no heart for worship, your efforts to pray end in what seems to you to be utter failure, and religious thought and emotion seem to have entirely departed from you, remember the touching words of Aaron in his great calamity, “Such things have befallen me”; remember also those other words, “And when Moses heard that, he was content.” (W. Jones.)
The vicissitudes of life
Observe here again with yourself the strange and admirable change of these worldly matters in the turn, as we say, of a hand. For but yesterday, as it were, Aaron and these sons of his had a famous and glorious consecration into the greatest and highest dignity upon earth, nothing under the sun being more glorious than that priesthood in those days. And how may you think his heart rejoiced to see, not only himself, but his children (which parents often love more than themselves), so blessed and honoured? But, O change! how sudden and fearful! O fickle, fading comfort, that man taketh hold of in this world, whatsoever it be, if worldly! These sons so lately exalted and honoured to their old father’s sweet and great joy, now lie destroyed before his face, to his extreme and twitching torment. And how? Not by any ordinary and accustomed death, but by fire from heaven, a sore and dreadful judgment. For what also? Even for breach of commanded duty by the Lord, all which doubled and trebled the father’s sorrow. As it did in David when his son Absalom died not a usual death, and in rebellion and disobedience against his king and father. You remember his passion then uttered: “0 my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom; would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son my son.” He considered the cause wherein he died, and the manner how he died; to a father so kind as David was, both of them full of woe and sorrow. Let never, therefore, any prosperity in this world puff us; for we little know what to-morrow may bring with it. The glass that glittereth most is soonest broken; the rankest corn is soonest laid; and the fullest bough with pleasant fruit is soonest slit, having more eyes upon it, and more stones east at it, than all the other boughs of the tree. Pleasant wine maketh wise men fools, and fools often stark mad. Milo’s strong arm overthrew him, and Caesar his ambition. The one trusted too much to nature, and the other to fortune. As a spider’s web, so is a man’s greatness in this world soon wiped away with a little whisk. (Bp. Babington.)
When Moses heard that, he was content.--
A contented law
Some explanations carry their own conviction. We know the voice of honesty when we hear it; there is a frankness about it that can hardly be mistaken. But the meaning lies deeper; there can be no contentment in the presence of violated law. Where a law is violated wantonly, nature can have no rest; she says, “I cannot sleep to-night.” Thank God she cannot! When she can forget her Maker, the end will have come in darkness, and there will in very deed, in spirit and effect, be no more any God. Law must be satisfied in one of two ways. Law can rest upon the ashes of Sodom and Gomorrah, saying, “Judgment has been inflicted, righteousness has been vindicated, and the seal of condemnation has been attached to the testimony of evil”; and mighty, imperial, inexorable law sits on the desolated cities--“content.” That is not the way in which the Lord would bring about His own contentment; still, there is the law: fall upon this stone and be broken, or the stone will fall upon you and you will be ground to powder. The gospel is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. God would have law obeyed: all His ordinances carried out in simple obedience, every statute turned into conduct, every appointment represented in obedience and praise. Then the universe, faithful to her Creator, the stars never disloyal to their Creator-King--the whole creation will say--“Content.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Leviticus 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29