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This chapter details the sad effects of sin intruding as a marplot into the holiest scenes on earth, and casting down from the highest earthly station the anointed priests of Jehovah, and plucking a more than kingly diadem from their heads, (1-7.) It also contains a statute enforcing priestly abstinence from wine, apparently suggested by the drunken recklessness of Nadab and Abihu, (8-11,) the two eldest sons of Aaron and Elisheba, and a supplementary law respecting the eating of the most holy sacrifices, (12-15,) and records the blunder of the priests in burning the sin offering, which should have been eaten, and also Aaron’s apology for the mistake, (16-20.) Of the four sons of Aaron Nadab and Abihu only were selected to accompany Moses, Aaron, and the seventy elders up Mount Sinai, where they “saw the God of Israel.” Exodus 24:9-10. They had just been invested with their priestly robes, and they were passing through their first service as novitiates, when, by a rash act, they made a sad failure, signalized by the marked displeasure of Jehovah.
NADAB AND ABIHU SLAIN BY JEHOVAH, Leviticus 10:1-7.
1. Offered strange fire “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. They ventured to put incense thereon, when only the pontiff of Israel was allowed to use such incense.” Joseph Parker. The fire is called “strange” in distinction from that of celestial origin which “came out from before Jehovah and consumed the burnt offering.”
Leviticus 9:24. The great difficulty in this matter is found in the absence of any previously recorded regulation touching the proper use of sacrificial fire. This regulation is found in Leviticus 16:12. The presumption is very strong that it was instituted before the events narrated in chapters 9 and 10, since the statute respecting the preservation of the altar-fire was given in Leviticus 6:9; Leviticus 6:13. For various theories respecting this sin, see Numbers 3:4, note. Their sin consisted in the performance of the Lord’s service in a manner which he commanded them not. They departed in some way from the plain words of Jehovah, deeming their own reason a better guide in religious matters. Very much of that which passes among men for the worship of God is but strange fire.
2. Fire from the Lord The sacred fire which these priests had slighted had “come out from before the Lord.” Leviticus 9:24. “Fire had just consumed the burnt-offering and the fat upon the altar in token of divine complacency and sacred nearness, and the acceptance of human worship, and that same fire went out from the Lord and devoured the audacious priests the sacerdotal blasphemers ate them up as if they had been common bones! The Lord has never been negligent of his own altar.” Joseph Parker. By a species of poetical justice, fire from the same source is the instrument of their punishment. “Our God is a consuming fire.” This fearful exhibition of wrath and power indicates his real presence where his name is. “A saint, when asked, ‘What is the most dangerous doctrine?’ replied, ‘God’s own truth held carnally, and to exalt self.’ For his light may blind, his ark destroy, his sanctuary smite, his table be damnation. And a truth perverted may be the firmest chain to hold and bind and blind us for ever.” Jukes.
Devoured them Literally, ate them up. But this strong word is used metaphorically for slew, since neither their bodies nor even their garments were consumed. The stroke was like a deadly flash of lightning issuing from the most holy place, the abode of the invisible Jehovah. Here we find another parallel between the opening of the dispensation of shadows and the beginning of the official work of the Holy Ghost. Two persons are struck dead at the inauguration of each dispensation, amid the displays of omnipotent power, and the rejoicings of the people at the tokens of Jehovah’s presence and favor. See Acts 5:1-11. In both these passages we have the double action of the same fire, which consumes the burnt offering and baptizes the believer with fire in token of acceptance, and smites the sinning priest and the lying Ananias in token of judgment. “God is love.” “God is a consuming fire.” His anger against sin burns most intensely around his own altars. “Poetical justice might have closed the book of Leviticus with chap. 9. It would have been a glorious close Aaron moved to feeling; Moses giving way to emotion; the Lord’s fire consuming the offering upon the altar; the people singing, shouting, and falling down in adoration! Why did not the history close there? That would have been Canaan enough for any nation, paradise enough for any people. But there is another chapter.”
3. I will be sanctified I will be regarded as high and glorious. There must be a correspondence between my majesty and the obedience and veneration of those who minister at my altars and are conspicuous examples to the whole people.
In them that come nigh me There is no verb in the Hebrew. The literal is in those near to me; that is, in the pious. Disobedience in the holy place is almost equal to the Miltonic story of a rebellion in heaven.
Before all the people I will be glorified This is a key to the apparent severity of this judgment, which fell upon the priesthood like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky. Infidelity at the altar will inevitably beget irreligion in the tents. An impious priesthood cannot train up a pious people for the heritage of God. This awful outflashing of his wrath gives a perpetual emphasis to the admonition, “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.”
And Aaron held his peace The father stood dumb over the corpses of his sons. Through divine grace he was enabled to repress the grief of his heart, which sought its natural outlet in wailings and tears. He recognised the hand which had smitten him, and heard the voice of Jehovah within his heart, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The situation of the high priest was critical indeed. As the representative of Jehovah he should calmly approve his judgments; as a father, he loves his sons and is prompted by nature to yield to that perturbation of sorrow which would disqualify him for his official duties. Charles Wesley thus versifies Aaron’s mute sorrow:
“Why should a living man complain
That sinners are struck dead?
Reprieved myself, I still remain,
If punished in my seed.
Howe’er thou deal’st with mine or me,
O stop the murmuring groan,
Or let my only answer be,
Father, thy will be done!”
4. Moses called He who had amid the quakings of Horeb and the thunderings and lightnings drawn near and entered into the cloud where God was not the man to be disconcerted by this awful catastrophe.
Sons of Uzziel The third son, Zithri, (Exodus 6:22,) was not summoned to this painful task. Being Kohathites, soon to be charged with the transportation of the sacred furniture, it was fitting that they should be employed to remove the bodies of these sacred persons. Elizaphan was chief of the Kohathites. Numbers 3:30-31.
Carry your brethren They were kindred of the fifth degree, and loosely termed brethren.
Before the sanctuary As they fell between the great altar and the tabernacle with smoking censers in their hands, it is evident that they were going toward the holy place to burn incense at the golden altar unbidden, and possibly against a positive prohibition.
5. In their coats Their apparel, being defiled by contact with dead bodies, could not be retained for the use of their brothers or successors in office. Aaron was not permitted to die in his pontifical robes, in order that they might be worn by Eleazar. Numbers 20:26.
6. Uncover not your heads “It was the law that the priest should never leave the altar to go to burials, or interrupt his sacred ministry by shedding tears. He represented God as well as represented the people, and he must abide at his duty whoever died. It was military religion in its mechanical arrangement; it was spiritual obedience in the acceptation of its intention.” Joseph Parker. They were forbidden to remove their hats, to unbind their head-bands, and dishevel their hair in token of grief. This was an act derogatory to priestly dignity. This command was generalized in the case of the high priest, who was forever prohibited to attend a funeral or to give any indication of mourning for the dead. Neither Judaism nor Christianity ignores the ties of human kindred except when they stand in the way of duty. All affections must yield to the paramount claims of God. Luke 14:26. Those who are brought nigh to God by the anointing of the Holy Spirit must move in a sphere beyond the range of nature’s influences. Priestly nearness to God gives the soul such an insight into all his ways as right and good that one is enabled joyfully to worship in his presence, even though the stroke of his hand has removed from us the object of tender affection.
Neither rend… clothes This act was an oriental symbol of grief, despair, or indignation.
Lest wrath come upon all the people Personal gratification must be subordinate to the public weal. “For even Christ,” our high priest, “pleased not himself.” Thus vicarious suffering by the priest is early foreshadowed as a requisite of the coming great High Priest. Nevertheless the erring priests are not to die unwept. The whole house of Israel are commanded to bewail the stroke of vengeance, and to soothe the wounded family of Aaron.
7. Ye shall not go out Primarily this relates to going forth to funerals. See Leviticus 21:10-12, notes. This prohibition must not be considered as absolute. They were not to come in contact with secular affairs by abandoning the service of the tabernacle. Lest ye die By some supernatural interposition. Many a Christian minister has suffered spiritual death by voluntarily going forth from the tabernacle to enter upon secular matters with the anointing oil of the Lord upon him. See Leviticus 8:10; Leviticus 8:30, notes.
THE PRIESTS FORBIDDEN WINE AND STRONG DRINK, Leviticus 10:8-11.
9. Do not drink wine This wine is in Hebrew yayin, the most general term for this beverage, especially when it is intoxicating. “ Yayin is a mocker.” Proverbs 20:1. In seventy-five out of a hundred and thirty-six passages it is spoken of with condemnation by reason of its disastrous effects. Unfermented, or new wine, called must, is in the Hebrew expressed by tirosh. This is never prohibited or condemned. It occurs thirty-eight times, with no indication of any intoxicating quality. The solitary apparent exception in Hosea 9:11 is explained as the gluttonous use of sweet, nutritious wine as an article of food. The meaning of the passage is, that the three great appetites the sexual, the bibulous, and the gluttonous “take away the heart” or understanding. There are several other terms sparingly used, some of which always involve a bad sense, as sobe, signifying soak and soaker, while others are doubtful.
Nor strong drink The Hebrew shecar is a generic term applied to all fermented liquors except wine. It includes, 1.) Beer, which was largely consumed in Egypt under the name of zythus. It was made of barley and certain herbs, such as lupin and skirrett, as a substitute for hops. 2.) Cider, or apple-wine. 3.) Honey-wine, of which there were two sorts; the first consisting of a mixture of wine, honey, and pepper, the other a decoction of the juice of the grape, termed debash (honey) by the Jews, and dibs by the modern Syrians. 4.) Date-wine, which was the fermentation of dates mashed and mixed with water. 5.) The fermented juices of various other fruits and vegetables, as figs, millet, pomegranates, and carob fruit. According to the latest researches in philology, the English word cider is a modification of shecar, through the Grecized form σικερα , sikera. See Webster’s Dictionary.
When ye go into the tabernacle The service of God requires the clearest head and the purest heart. It is an intelligent exercise, and not a blind, mechanical opus operatum, or going through with the motions. If the priest even medicinally used fermented wine or strong drink in the smallest quantity, it disqualified him for his office during that day. What a rebuke is this to the usage still prevalent in some countries of drinking wine in the vestry before going into the pulpit and reasoning of righteousness, temperance, and a judgment to come! The enactment of this law immediately after the slaying of Nadab and Abihu affords strong grounds for the theory that they were drunken when they committed the act of sacrilege. The Targum of Palestine plainly sustains this view. “Drink no wine nor any thing that maketh drunk, as thy sons did, who have died by the burning of fire.” See Numbers 3:4, note.
11. That ye may teach The priest was the earliest religious teacher of the Levitical law, “for the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth.” Malachi 2:7. The two sides of the priestly vocation, teaching and offering, are embraced in Deuteronomy 33:10. The Pentateuch knows nothing of a scholastic inculcation of the divine laws; it knows no formal religious instruction at all except the reading of the law before the assembled people, at the feast of tabernacles, in the Sabbatic year. Deuteronomy 31:10-13. All religious teachers should be τελειοι , perfect, having their senses internal and external exercised to discern or discriminate both good and evil. Hebrews 5:14. Wine draws a film over the spiritual eye and confounds moral distinctions. If the priests have aught to do with wine in a lawful way, it is only that it may, in the holy place,” be poured unto the Lord for a drink offering.”
Numbers 28:7. Wine symbolizes joy. The joy of all believers is not the joy of earth but of heaven of the sanctuary. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
EATING THE MOST HOLY THINGS, Leviticus 10:12-20.
12. Take the meat offering The appalling stroke of Jehovah’s wrath had disconcerted Aaron so that he had forgotten the prescribed order of the sacrifices. Moses reminds him that the meat offering follows the burnt offering consumed by celestial fire. Leviticus 9:24. See Introduction, (5.)
And eat it The eating by the priest symbolizes the full acceptance of the oblation. See Leviticus 6:16, note, and Concluding Note (1) of the same chapter.
Beside the altar This was the altar of incense in the priests’ apartment, called the holy place, within the first veil. See chap.
13. Thy due, and thy sons’ due In addition to the meat offering there were other sources of revenue to the priests, enumerated in Numbers 5:9, note.
For so I am commanded “Moses was not the fountain of authority. God has no dead letters in his law book. The law is alive tingling, throbbing in every letter and at every point. The commandment is exceeding broad; it never slumbers, never passes into obsoleteness, but stands in perpetual claim of right and insistence of decree. It is convenient to forget laws; but God will not allow any one of his laws to be forgotten.” Joseph Parker.
15. The heave shoulder… wave breast See Leviticus 7:14; Leviticus 7:30, notes. “All the members of the priestly family, daughters, as well as sons all, whatever the measure of energy or capacity are to feed upon the breast and the shoulder, the affections and the strength of the true Peace Offering as raised from the dead and presented before God.” McIntosh.
16. The goat of the sin offering This was the people’s sin offering which had been slain and offered by Moses, (Leviticus 9:15,) or by the two younger sons of Aaron, to whom this part of the ritual had been intrusted by Moses.
And he was angry No softer word will import into English the strength of the Hebrew katzaph to snort, to storm. Anger is not a sin when it arises not from personal feeling, but purely in the interest of justice, truth, order, and humanity. The soul which cannot be angry at great wrongs Plato compares to an arm with the chief sinew cut asunder. We do not accept that weak defence of the imprecatory Psalms which explains them as simply declaratory of future judgments upon David’s enemies. They are the proper expression of a righteous indignation breathed out in behalf of God and his righteousness. Hence, the sinless Jesus on one occasion looked around with anger upon his foes lurking in ambush for his life. Mark 3:5. It remains for us to inquire whether Moses had sufficient provocation to just anger. We reply that stupidity and gross carelessness in handling interests of vast importance are such a provocation. The sins of the whole Hebrew nation were to be taken away by virtue of their incorporation into the priests by eating the people’s sin offering. Such was the sanctifying power of the priests’ office that by this act they were enabled to bear away the iniquity of the congregation. By the blunder of these young priests the people’s sins were still resting upon them. See chap. Leviticus 6:26, note. Heedlessness in respect to our own interests is culpable, but in respect to the well-being of others it is criminal.
17. To bear the iniquity The Hebrew נשׂא , nasah, he bore, with its derivatives, occurs in the Old Testament eight hundred and ninety-five times, or about once to every chapter. In relation to sin it occurs sixty-four times. It may be interpreted by portare peccatum, to bear or suffer the penalty of sin, or by auferre peccata, to remove sins. The predominant signification is that of removal; yet the other, of bearing, is by no means excluded thereby; rather was the bearing in this case a removal. “When the priests ate they incorporated sin, as it were, and the people received forgiveness unto themselves, that it might be prefigured that at some time the priest and the victim would be one person, namely, the Messiah, a prediction exactly fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.” Deyling. This singular episode between Moses and Aaron sheds much light upon the sacrifices. The goat of the sin offering and whatever touched it were most holy. The priests were to eat it, and thus the sins of the people, having been transferred through the animal to the priests, were representatively borne. See Numbers 9:13, note.
Atonement Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 4:20, notes.
18. Blood… not brought See Leviticus 6:30, note. In the passage referred to it will be seen that it was a law of the sin offering that it should not be eaten when the blood was brought into the tabernacle, for this is the meaning of the holy place in this place. This verse proves the converse to be true, namely, that every sin sacrifice shall be eaten whose blood was not brought into the holy place. In the first case the sprinkled blood expiated, and in the second, the eaten flesh removed, sin.
19. Such things have befallen me “Aaron here supplies the ‘one touch of nature’ which ‘makes the whole world kin.’ The deeper laws assert themselves against the more superficial statutes and ordinances.” Joseph Parker. Aaron, forbidden to mourn in public, could not restrain his grief. His bursting heart finds relief in this one sentence whispered in the ear of his irate brother as an apology for his own neglect to eat the sin offering. He had been deterred by his sense of unworthiness and by his fear of committing an impropriety which might call down still greater judgments. This soft answer turned away wrath, for when Moses heard… he was content. “They were all, in a sense, unclean, even though the anointing oil of the Lord was upon them. They might eat the meat offering which was their due, but could not make atonement for the sins of the people.” Bib. Sac. It is far better to be real in our confession of failure than to put forth pretensions to spiritual power without foundation. This chapter opens with positive sin, and closes with negative failure, the former dishonouring God, and the latter forfeiting his blessing.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 10". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16