The first seven chapters of Leviticus lay down a whole series of procedures and guidelines for the preparation of sacrifices. The record goes through each of the types of offering and describes how they were to be performed,
- Burnt Offering
- Grain Offering
- Peace Offering
- Sin Offering
- Trespass Offering
In each case, they are detailed accounts and show some specific details of how the sacrifice was to be carried out. As an example, from Leviticus 1, there is the case of a burnt offering from flock,
Lev 1:10: "`If his offering is from the flock, from the sheep, or from the goats, for a burnt offering, he shall offer a male without blemish. 11. He shall kill it on the north side of the altar before Yahweh. Aaron's sons, the priests, shall sprinkle its blood around on the altar. 12. He shall cut it into its pieces, with its head and its fat. The priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire which is on the altar, 13. but the innards and the legs he shall wash with water. The priest shall offer the whole, and burn it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor to Yahweh. WEB
As with the other types of sacrifices, it has to be without blemish, and from the best of what the giver had. Here the sheep or goat had to be killed specifically on the North side of the altar, whereas with other types of sacrifices, different procedures were given. In the case of burnt offerings from the herd, or a bird there were subtle differences that had to be made to the procedure.
Amongst all the offerings the Israelites were to perform, there was't a lot of room for choice and creativity. A specific pattern was laid down, and did't allow for people to modify that or decide their own procedure.
There is some measure of choice, in terms of what type of animal to offer, and in some cases whether to offer at all in the first place, but when the offering was made, it was to be done in the specified way.
There wasn't room to offer a grander offering, like an elephant or a tiger, nor was there a choice of how to kill or cut up the animal.
Today's mainstream media values the availability of choice, and freedom of expression. From our 21st century background, we may feel inclined to want to add our own individuality to things, but there wasn't the room for this in sacrifice directions. It's like the basic school uniform. Some children love to hate the school uniform, because it reduces everyone to one level, without the ability to show individualism.
But this is something that God required in worship of him: a loss of personal individuality, and instead an obedience in following God's individuality.
2. Offering for the People
After all of the directions in the early chapters of Leviticus, it is in Chapter 9 that the theory is put into practise with offerings being made for the people.
Lev 9:1: It happened on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel; 2. and he said to Aaron, "Take a calf from the herd for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering, without blemish, and offer them before Yahweh. 3 You shall speak to the children of Israel, saying, `Take a male goat for a sin offering; and a calf and a lamb, both a year old, without blemish, for a burnt offering; 4. and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before Yahweh; and a meal offering mixed with oil: for today Yahweh appears to you.'" WEB
So God was to appear to them that day. This isn't something to idly read over, it was truly a significant occasion, and something that the people would have been excited about.
For that day there was a specific procedure laid out, with a series of sacrifices. There was to be
- sin offering
- burnt offering
- peace offering
- grain offering
Lev 9:5: They brought what Moses commanded before the Tent of Meeting: and all the congregation drew near and stood before Yahweh. 6. Moses said, "This is the thing which Yahweh commanded that you should do: and the glory of Yahweh shall appear to you." WEB
Here we see laid out a principle. It was one of obeying the commandment to see the glory. This was a specific situation where this was to occur, but also operated as a more general principle. People have continually been called to obedience, and in doing so will live to see the glory of God.
Leviticus 9 records the process of Aaron making the sacrifices in accordance with the instructions given earlier. After following all of the procedure and making the offerings, he blessed the people and went down from the altar.
After that, we see the first response from God, when fire came down from heaven. As we would expect, the fire had the people in awe.
Lev 9:22: Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people, and blessed them; and he came down from offering the sin offering, and the burnt offering, and the peace offerings. 23. Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of Yahweh appeared to all the people. 24. There came forth fire from before Yahweh, and consumed the burnt offering and the fat upon the altar: and when all the people saw it, they shouted, and fell on their faces. WEB
This display of God's glory at the end of the event is striking in that really it wasn't until the end. Right through the long procedure there wasn't a response from God. There wasn't a direct indication of whether he was happy with the procedure, or even whether he was interested. The striking display of the fire at the end of the proceedings emphasises by contrast the lack of God's visible reaction during the rest of the event.
Aaron and the people had to maintain faith and expectation throughout the day, based on just following the earlier instruction. They had been promised that God would appear, but first they needed to go through the procedure. It was only at the end of that that they would see the result.
This is a familiar pattern with God. He requires us to have a faith in him, a faith that he will do as he has promised.
3. Sacrifice of Christ
One aspect of note in Leviticus 9 is that the high priest had to not only make offerings for the people, but had to do so for himself first,
Lev 9:7: Moses said to Aaron, "Draw near to the altar, and offer your sin offering, and your burnt offering, and make atonement for yourself, and for the people; and offer the offering of the people, and make atonement for them; as Yahweh commanded." WEB
This is different to what happened in the surrounding nations, with the worship to their gods. In those cases, the priests were made to be above the people and somehow closer to the gods that they didn't need the humility of sacrificing for their own sins.
However, here we see the different role of the priests to the God of Israel.
In the book of Hebrews, we see a contrast between the sacrifice made by Jesus, and that offered up by the priests. Speaking of Jesus,
Heb 7:26: For such a high priest was fitting for us: holy, guiltless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; 27. who doesn't need, like those high priests, to daily offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. For this he did once for all, when he offered up himself. 28. For the law appoints men as high priests who have weakness, but the word of the oath which came after the law appoints a Son forever who has been perfected. WEB
Dying with Christ
It is of course through Jesus that we have a great gift. We get to participate in a sacrifice that is lasting. But to do that, we really need to be a part of it. In Galatians, we read of how this involves taking on the life of Jesus,
Gal 2:19: For I, through the law, died to the law, that I might live to God. 20. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me. That life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me. 21. I don't make void the grace of God. For if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nothing!" WEB
So just like the Israelites and their offerings, there is a removal of individuality and choice. It is no longer ourselves that is living, and instead we need to be new people with our individuality being part of Christ.
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.
5. Immediate Feedback
In the Leviticus record, there is a short passage about the reaction of Moses and Aaron to the event. They were Aaron's own sons, and one can well imagine this event would be upsetting to Aaron. Moses had a short and simple response:
Lev 10:3: And Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD spoke, saying: 'By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.' " So Aaron held his peace. NKJV
By just these words, Aaron knew that God was right in what he did. It reminded Aaron of his place, and that he was God's high priest, and not a priest of his own world.
From that, one value that we can see of the punishment of Nadab and Abihu is that it was a strong example. Direct action like that makes it easy for us to know right and wrong. The basic human instinct of fear and survival reminds us to not do the things that are wrong. If we saw this happening every time that someone sinned, we would certainly sin less often, and have God in our minds all the more.
We see this aspect of education as the chapter continues,
Lev 10:8: Yahweh spoke to Aaron, saying, 9. "Drink no wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting, that you don't die: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations: 10. and that you are to make a distinction between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; 11. and that you are to teach the children of Israel all the statutes which Yahweh has spoken to them by Moses." WEB
Here Aaron and the people were given a lesson about God, and the respect that He was due.
Although it seems hard, it would make life easier. There would be less choice, and it would be easier to make decisions. The options of straying from God would become all the less attractive. So from this aspect, does it make the immediate and decisive judgement of God a Good Thing?
In Psalm 109, David also called for judgement on the wicked
Psalm 109:1: God of my praise, don't remain silent, 2. For they have opened the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of deceit against me. They have spoken to me with a lying tongue. 8. Let his days be few. Let another take his office. WEB
Surely there is a strong case for the immediate punishment of Nadab and Abihu.
- It was God's action
- It sends a strong lesson
- It makes life easier by seeing sin's consequence
- It would silence the enemies of God.
But yet, as humans, a grain of doubt should stay in our minds about that whole incident. That's because we too are sinners. Paul's writing in 2 Cor 1, reminds us of that,
2 Cor 1:8: For we don't desire to have you uninformed, brothers, concerning our affliction which happened to us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, so much that we despaired even of life. 9. Yes, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead, 10. who delivered us out of so great a death, and does deliver; on whom we have set our hope that he will also still deliver us; WEB
They had been deeply persecuted and it brought home the realisation of the sentence of death. As sinners, we are all subject a sentence of death. God has delayed judgement on us personally that we may have a chance of being saved.
That is a great blessing, that God has spared us, and we need to ever keep in mind that our life is a testimony to God's mercy, and not to his tolerance. God is still justified in striking us down immediately in fire from heaven - and it would teach us greatly if he did.
But instead we have been given the time to instead stop making our own choices through our own individuality, and instead become part of Jesus: that priest without sin.