4. Immediate Punishment
After the context of Leviticus chapter 9, chapter 10 starts with something of a shock. Reading through the section, it has an event that seems to come out of nowhere with no warning. Leading up to it for the first nine chapters of Leviticus, the matters are quite routine and methodical. The requirements for sacrifices had been given, and then there had been the description of Aaron and the people carrying out those instructions.
But then in Leviticus 10, the same terse and matter-of-fact narrative tone continues, but it includes something quite astounding.
Leviticus 10:1: Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer, and put fire in it, and laid incense on it, and offered strange fire before Yahweh, which he had not commanded them. 2. And fire came forth from before Yahweh, and devoured them, and they died before Yahweh. WEB
That's it. Just two verses recording the event, and it raises so many questions
- What was the strange fire?
- Why did they do it?
- Were they actively rebellious or just wanting to try something different?
- What was God's emotion? It doesn't even say he was angry.
- What was the peoples' reaction?
This event is recorded a couple of other records, but in that case is even more terse. For example, in Numbers 26.
Num 26:61: Nadab and Abihu died, when they offered strange fire before Yahweh. WEB
It is written as if it is just the natural consequence for offering this strange fire.
It would seem that they had simply been careless and not given God and their role sufficient reverence. It is something easy to do, and it comes from a natural confidence. A natural confidence in self.
It is also a matter of applying human thinking to try to rationalise what God has specified. They possibly reasoned that fire was fire and that the actual source of the fire didn't matter that much so long as the job was done.
This has all the hallmarks of the men being carried away with the occasion, and wanting to add to it. Adding to it in a way that seemed good to them at the time.
However, a characteristic of the worship was that it had been clearly laid down in a series of protocols, and they weren't listening to God's word, but rather making up what they thought was the right thing for God.
This is similar to what Saul did sometime later, when he decided to make a sacrifice of captured livestock, rather than destroying it as he had been instructed,
1 Sam 15:22: Samuel said, Has Yahweh as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. 23. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because you have rejected the word of Yahweh, he has also rejected you from being king. WEB
Saul may have thought it would be a nice thing for God to receive that sacrifice, but there is no point giving to God what we want to give, when he wants something else.
How do we feel about the death of Nadab and Abihu? It's different to what we see day to day, so it's a bit hard to really picture a response. But this was a real event, and we see it through reading the pages of Leviticus
In reality, we can't really argue about it. This was God's choice, and so we know it was the right thing to do.
However, we should naturally be uneasy about it, because we're human and don't have the level of understanding of God that we should. So if we really understood God, we would understand this event and be backing up God 100%. If we don't really understand God, we may have other ideas out of our own morality. Having other ideas, just as Nadab and Abihu did.