Leviticus 9:7–10:20; Mark 4:26-5:20; Psalm 37:30-40; Proverbs 10:6-7
Do you have a son, or even sons, who disobey God? Is there anything more grievous for a parent than to raise sons in the knowledge of the Lord only to see them turn away in adulthood? I have sons who disobey. And, therefore, I am intensely interested in today’s account of the actions of Aaron’s disobedient sons, Nadab and Abihu.
These two men were given the same commands as Aaron and his other two sons, Eleazar and Ithamar. They knew the regulations for the burnt, grain, sin, guilt, ordination and dedication offerings (Lev. 7:35-37). They had participated in the detailed preparations for the tabernacle and the ark. They had heard the laws that Moses gave their family, chosen to be the priests for the nation Israel. It was not lack of knowledge that caused them to offer strange fire to the Lord.
And it was not a lack of consecration, either, for they had been washed and clothed in special garments unique to the priesthood (Lev. 8:7).
Aaron had been instructed by Moses (Lev. 9:7-10) to come and offer his sin sacrifice and his burnt sacrifice to make atonement for himself and the people. Aaron humbly did what was required for right standing with God. Then he blessed the people, went with Moses into the tent of meeting, and then together again blessed all the people after coming back out. The Lord showed his pleasure in the obedience of their actions by sending fire to consume the portions on the altar (Lev. 9:23-24).
Now something goes wrong. Terribly wrong.
Nadab and Abihu perceive that they want glory for bringing fire from heaven! In their pride, they defy the Lord. He immediately sends fire, consuming fire, but not the kind they wanted. Instead of being exalted before the people, they are extinguished before the people as the fire consumes them.
One can only imagine the pain Aaron is experiencing at this moment. His two sons have died a horrible, violent and tragic death! Yet Moses forbids him and his remaining sons to exhibit the usual signs of mourning—they must not tear their clothes or muss their hair because the anointing oil is on them. Imagine the self-control it took for Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar to carry on with their ministry assignment having witnessed the death of their sons and brothers!
At the end of this awful day, Moses is angry with Aaron that he hasn’t eaten the goat that was the sin offering, but burned it instead of eating it. Aaron answers, “Such things as have happened to me today. If I had eaten the sin offering would the Lord have been pleased?” He is saying, “My heart is broken; I cannot eat on such a day as this. Would the Lord have been pleased to have me eat when my stomach refuses food because of the pain of losing my sons?”
And Moses is mollified.
God is very serious about sin. He is serious about sin that exalts itself against him. Though we don’t know exactly what the strange fire was that Nadab and Abihu used, we can be sure that it was forbidden, based on pride and human exaltation, and designed to bring glory to them instead of to the one true and holy God. And God would not tolerate this offense to His holiness. What God did was right, and Aaron, in his pain and sorrow, acknowledged it. He continued to obey God, even though it cost him his sons’ lives.
And I wonder—Lord, do I have that kind of strength? Do I have enough faith and trust in you to follow you no matter what my sons do? I want with all my heart to see them humble themselves, for pride is the root of their sin, too. But if they don’t, I pray that you will be my stronghold in trouble, that you will help and deliver me (Ps. 37:39-40). In the mighty name of Jesus, I pray they be set free from the demonic oppression they suffer under just as You set free the man who had an evil spirit (Mk. 5:8).
Give me courage to follow You whether my sons are set gloriously free from the chains that hold them or whether they face your righteous judgment. This I pray in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
- Nell Sunukjian
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