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Nadab and Abihu


Now Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his censer, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered unholy fire before the L ord, such as he had not commanded them. 2And fire came out from the presence of the L ord and consumed them, and they died before the L ord. 3Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the L ord meant when he said,

‘Through those who are near me

I will show myself holy,

and before all the people

I will be glorified.’ ”

And Aaron was silent.

4 Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come forward, and carry your kinsmen away from the front of the sanctuary to a place outside the camp.” 5They came forward and carried them by their tunics out of the camp, as Moses had ordered. 6And Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not dishevel your hair, and do not tear your vestments, or you will die and wrath will strike all the congregation; but your kindred, the whole house of Israel, may mourn the burning that the L ord has sent. 7You shall not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, or you will die; for the anointing oil of the L ord is on you.” And they did as Moses had ordered.

8 And the L ord spoke to Aaron: 9Drink no wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons, when you enter the tent of meeting, that you may not die; it is a statute forever throughout your generations. 10You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; 11and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the L ord has spoken to them through Moses.

12 Moses spoke to Aaron and to his remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar: Take the grain offering that is left from the L ord’s offerings by fire, and eat it unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy; 13you shall eat it in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due, from the offerings by fire to the L ord; for so I am commanded. 14But the breast that is elevated and the thigh that is raised, you and your sons and daughters as well may eat in any clean place; for they have been assigned to you and your children from the sacrifices of the offerings of well-being of the people of Israel. 15The thigh that is raised and the breast that is elevated they shall bring, together with the offerings by fire of the fat, to raise for an elevation offering before the L ord; they are to be your due and that of your children forever, as the L ord has commanded.

16 Then Moses made inquiry about the goat of the sin offering, and—it had already been burned! He was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s remaining sons, and said, 17“Why did you not eat the sin offering in the sacred area? For it is most holy, and God has given it to you that you may remove the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement on their behalf before the L ord. 18Its blood was not brought into the inner part of the sanctuary. You should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, as I commanded.” 19And Aaron spoke to Moses, “See, today they offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the L ord; and yet such things as these have befallen me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been agreeable to the L ord?” 20And when Moses heard that, he agreed.

16. And Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin-offering Moses had not omitted to tell them what was to be done with the goat; and the sacrifice which he had himself performed, was a visible instruction to them. He had set before them what they should imitate, and this would have been enough even for children. But, as I have said, in such serious matters Moses had not spared labor and care, whereas the sons of Aaron, as if they had neither heard nor seen anything of the sort, pervert the whole order of them, although they had been just before reminded that they had been appointed to keep the charge of God. Perhaps they were impelled to this error by the trouble arising from their grief; but we gather from hence that however exquisite may be the ability of masters and teachers, it may be often fruitless unless they have obedient scholars with retentive memories. And hence also we learn that when God often inculcates the same thing, His labor is not superfluous, because we do not understand what we seem to understand; or what has been clearly shewn to us soon afterwards escapes.

Further from the anger of Moses, which is mentioned in his praise, we may infer that the transgression was no light one, although it was not so severely punished as the presumption of Nadab and Abihu. The excuse which some make for them, or allege in extenuation of their crime, that they thought they were deprived of the right before accorded to them, and therefore abstained through modesty, is refuted by the answer of Aaron himself. It was, therefore, grief alone which impelled them to this error. But the reason why God was more merciful to them than to their brethren, is only known to Himself. Conjectures may, indeed, be advanced; but at last we must come to this, that because God’s judgments are hidden, they are not therefore unjust; but that we must humbly adore their depth into which the minds of men cannot penetrate.

19. And Aaron said unto Moses, Behold, this day Aaron replies that it arose from pious fear that they had not feasted before God, because they would in a manner have defiled the sanctuary by their tears and melancholy, as if he had said, Part indeed of the sin-offering was reserved for our food, but we could not properly partake of it except in cheerfulness and with thanksgiving. The grief arising from his sudden bereavement did not allow of this; but it was not a just defense; for he ought rather to have striven against the feelings of the flesh, so that his domestic calamity should not withhold him from the service of God. But, inasmuch as in his perplexity his fear was deserving of pity, Moses forgives him; and it is said that he was appeased, because he finds less of evil than he supposed.

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