The Sin of Nadab & Abihu
Leviticus 10:1-3 (KJV) “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He command them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron, this is it that the LORD spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.” The judgement of Nadab and Abihu followed the solemn consecration of Aaron and his sons and the beginnings of the ministrations of the Aaronic Priesthood.
God often judges severely when He was instituting something new and there was an infraction (breach), as with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3); violation of the Sabbath day (Numbers 15:32-36); and even the lying of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). God wanted all to know the seriousness of presumption and disobedience. God made a graphic example of its results as a warning to others. Everything that Nadab and Abihu did were wrong.
Nadab and Abihu were the wrong people to handle the incense and presenting it to the LORD. This was the responsibility of Aaron, their father, the High Priest. Nadab and Abihu were usurping, in a blatant manner, the responsibilities of the High Priest in the Priestly Hierarchy:
- Exodus 30:7 (KJV) “And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamp, he shall burn incense upon it.”
- Exodus 30:8 (KJV) “And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at evening, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generation.”
- Exodus 30:9 (KJV) “Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burn sacrifice, nor meal offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.”
- Exodus 30:10 (KJV) “And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD.”
Nadab and Abihu presumed to do what God has not commanded them – Leviticus 10:1b (KJV) “Which He (God) commanded them not.” They tried to take over the responsibility of the High Priest.
Nadab and Abihu used the wrong censers, their own censers instead of the censer of the High Priest, sanctified by the special anointing oil – Exodus 40:9 (KJV) “And thou (Aaron) shalt take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle, and all that is therein, and shalt hallow it, and all the vessels thereof: and it shall be holy.”
Nadab and Abihu acted at the wrong time, for it was only on the annual Day of Atonement that the High Priest was permitted to take the incense into the Most Holy Place, and even them he has to submit to a special ritual – Leviticus 16:1 (KJV) “And the LORD spoke unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD and died.” The whole special ritual is recorded in Leviticus 16.
Nadab and Abihu acted on their own, – under “the wrong authority.” They did not consult Moses or their father, Aaron, nor do they sought to follow the Word of God, which was given to Moses. The action of Nadab and Abihu comprised a blatant act of disobedience and constitutes an act of defiance towards God. This was the force of the words: “Which He (the LORD) commanded them not” (Leviticus 10:1b, KJV).
- Nadab’s and Abihu’s sin was not in doing what is forbidden, but in doing what was not enjoined (commanded) – “Which He (the LORD) commanded them not” (Leviticus 10:1b, KJV).
- Nadab and Abihu set Divinely Constituted Authority at naught, which amounted to the despising of God’s Authority.
- This was the very sin of Korah and his Company (Number 16).
- Nadab and Abihu introduced confusion by intruding into the Office of the High Priest.
The penalty of being “cut off,” prescribed in Numbers 15:30 for sins of deliberate intent against Covenantal Requirements, was put into dramatic effect – “But the soul that doeth anything presumptuously, whether he is born in the land, or a sojourner, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among His people” (Numbers 15:30 (KJV).
Nadab and Abihu wrongly access into – their offering of fire “before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:1b, KJV) seems to imply that they tried to press “within the veil” into the Holy of Holies where the Shekinah Glory of God dwelt. This seems to be the explanation, given in Leviticus 16:1-2. None but the High Priest, and he only once a year on the Day of Atonement, has the right of access to the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16:12). Nadab and Abihu deliberately disobeyed God’s Word and asserted themselves in the process of handling Sacred Service.
Nadab and Abihu used the wrong fire (“strange fire,” KJV; “unauthorized fire,” NIV) to burn their incense:
- Fire “from before the LORD” (Leviticus 9:24) has kindled the “Altar of Burnt Offering” (Brazen Altar) the flame which the Priests was to keep alive (Leviticus 6:12-13).
- No commandment has yet been given on how the incense should be kindred. It was only given in Leviticus 16:12-13.
- Nadab and Abihu offered “strange fire,” fire not taken from the “Altar of Burnt Offering” (Brazen Altar), but fire from the boiling of sacrificial flesh. This fire was not kindled by the LORD but by man.
- Leviticus 16:12-13 (KJV) “And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil. And he (Aaron) shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD that the cloud of the incense may cover the Mercy Seat that is upon the testimony that he (Aaron) dies not.” It was ordered that on the Day of Atonement, the incense fire should be taken from the Brazen Altar (“Altar of Burnt Offering”), and this was no doubt the requirement on all occasions, though the Law has not been recorded.
The sin of Nadab and Abihu was in acting in the things of God without seeking the mind of God. It was “will worship” (Colossians 2:23). “Will-worship” is offensive to God. Two Prohibitions were given in Exodus 30:7-10, concerning Worship:
- No “strange incense” was to be offered. This speaks of simulated or purely formal Worship – Exodus 30:9a (KJV) “Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon.”
- No “strange fire” (Leviticus 10:1-3) was permitted. This may refer to substitution for devotion to the LORD of any other devotion, as to religious causes or sects (1Corinthians 1:11-13; Colossians 2:8, 16-19; Exodus 30:38).
- Exodus 30:9 teaches that no incense was to be offered on the Altar apart from the Daily Offering – thus, Nadab and Abihu were killed because they offer an additional Sacrifice – Exodus 30:9 (KJV) “Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, no meal (meat) offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.” Both Nadab and Abihu were making an offering in a different way from that which God has commanded.
Exodus 30:34-36 gave the prescription for incense. Incense was symbolic of Worship/Prayer (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4; Luke 1:9-10), because its fragrance rises into the air as true Worship/Prayer rises to God. Exodus 30:37-38 sounds the warning about the incense (Worship/Prayer). What was condemned in Exodus 30:37-38 was the making of Worship/Prayer a mere pleasure to the natural man – Exodus 30:37-38 (NIV) “Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the LORD. Whoever makes any like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from his people.” God seeks true Worshipper (John 4:23-24).
Nadab and Abihu acted from the wrong motive and did not seek to Glorify God – improper offering of incense on the part of the Priests would detract from God’s Glory, and this Glory of God was not to be robbed – Leviticus 10:3 (KJV) “Then Moses said unto Aaron, this is it that the LORD spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.” The action of Nadab and Abihu did not:
- Set God Apart: “I will be sanctified” (Leviticus 10:3b)
- Glorified God: “I will be glorified” (Leviticus 10:3c).
We do not know the secret of their hearts, but we get the impression that what Nadab and Abihu did was a wilful Act of Pride. Their desire was not to sanctify and glorify the LORD but to promote themselves and their importance.
Nadab and Abihu may be under the influence of alcohol as implied in Leviticus 10:9-10 (KJV) “Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, not thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations; and that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.” This is a reminder of Ephesians 5:18 (KJV) “And be not drunk with wine….but be filled with the Spirit.”
Nadab and Abihu did not do what was prescribed to be done as Priests, leading the people in Worship/Prayer. They acted independently of the Revelation of God regarding proper Worship/Prayer. Leviticus chapters 8 to 9, the refrain appears: “Just as Yahweh had commanded” (12 times – Leviticus 8:4a, 5b, 9b, 13b, 17b, 21b, 29b, 34b, 36b; 9:6b, 7b, 10b) and Nadab and Abihu did that “which the LORD had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1b, KJV). The point was clear: Nadab and Abihu drew near to God in an aberrant (deviant) manner, one that was not in accordance with God’s Word. It was, therefore, a deliberate disobedience. In place of God’s Word, they thrust self-will and personal caprice (whim).
To be continued….. Stay Tuned…..