For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

The lesson being taught in the fate of Aaron’s two sons is that the only worship God will accept is what is impelled by the Holy Spirit, and presented according to divine order.  Everything else is an abomination to Him, and will merit His curse rather than His blessing.  “... according to divine order” includes, not only the content of what we offer, but also the time of presentation. For example, what the Holy Spirit may reveal to a brother during the Lord’s Supper, may be very suitable as an expression of worship, but not necessarily at that particular time.  It is therefore incumbent upon every brother at the Lord’s table to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, both as to the content of what he feels led to say, and the time when he says it.


It is scarcely necessary to say that what passes in Christendom for worship is a travesty lacking scriptural authority for either content or mode of presentation.


10:1.  “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 commanded them not.”


Nadab, Aaron’s firstborn, means the willing one; and Abihu, his brother, means my father is he.  A principle that runs through scripture is that the firstborn is always rejected in favor of the secondborn, e.g., Cain was rejected in favor of Abel; Esau in favor of Jacob; Reuben in favor of Joseph; Manasseh in favor of Ephraim ...  Saul, Israel’s first king was rejected in favor of David; and the first man Adam was rejected in favor of Christ, the last Adam.  The lesson God would teach us in this is that the firstborn represents what we are by natural birth; the second what we become by being born again spiritually, and apart from which we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, as it is written, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see (enter) the kingdom of God,” John 3:3.


The meaning of Nadab’s name the willing one suggests what experience shows to be also true of the natural man, i.e., the man who hasn’t been born again: he is willing to do almost anything to fit himself for heaven, except confess himself a sinner, and trust in Christ as his Savior.


His brother Abihu meaning my father is he, points to yet another characteristic of the natural man.  He will claim that God is his spiritual Father because he thinks that religion, good works, etc., establish that relationship, not knowing that that bond is forged only by the new spiritual birth.


Each of these men took his censer (a vessel in which incense is burned), and filled it with burning coals, on top of which he placed incense, this ritual being symbolic of worship in the OT age.  But God calls the fire “strange,” because it came from a source other than the altar on which He Himself had kindled the fire by sending it down from heaven, see 9:24, and commanding that it never be allowed to go out, see 6:12-13, that fire being a symbol of the Holy Spirit, its continuous burning being symbolic of His eternal existence, He alone being the One who is to indite our worship, everything else being simply what is impelled by the energy of the flesh, and which is therefore an abomination to God.


“... which he commanded them not,” means not that He had distinctly forbidden them to do this, but that He had not commanded them to do it.  There is a salutary lesson in this.  The fact that God hasn’t forbidden us to do something, should never be construed as His tacit permission to do it.  We should be very careful about doing anything without having a clear “Thus saith the Lord” as our authority for acting.


What these two men did is typological of what some do today at the Lord’s supper: they pray audibly, read Scripture aloud, or request the company to join in singing a hymn, when it is obvious to spiritual believers that they are simply acting in the energy of the flesh, their participation marring rather than enriching the worship.  And while God doesn’t strike them dead, He will judge their conduct at the Bema or at the Great White Throne depending on whether they are genuine believers or mere professors.


10:2.  “And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”


“... devoured” here means, not that their bodies were destroyed, but that they were killed, possibly by the equivalent of a stroke of lightning.


In that distant day God’s response to sin was often dramatically swift and deadly; and because it isn’t so today we may not assume that He is indifferent: He isn’t.  It is simply that in consonance with the character of this age of grace, He has chosen to extend the period of probation, but judgment is no less certain than in those earlier ages: He will just as surely judge sin.


There is solemn warning connected with the fact that these two who were slain were of the priestly order, both of them being Aaron’s sons.  Whether they were believers is open to question, but only the naive will believe that everyone today who professes to be a Christian is one, hence the need of care in receiving into the fellowship of the local church all who seek reception.  Elders should be satisfied that the applicant’s profession of faith has the ring of truth to it, and that his life confirms his verbal profession.


10:3.  “Then Moses said unto Aaron, this is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified.  And Aaron held his peace.”                   


The Lord’s being sanctified in those who approach Him means that by their reverential posture His sacredness and glory will be declared.  He is unique: He is above and distinct from all others.  The disobedience of Nadab and Abihu in taking the fire from a source other than the altar, declared symbolically that they considered their own method of worship to be just as good as that ordained by God, and thus they denigrated Him.


A fact frequently forgotten is that God will eventually be glorified just as much by His destruction of the unbeliever as by His salvation of the saint.


Even though his heart was broken by the terrible consequences of his sons’ rebellion, Aaron “held his peace,” i.e., he voiced no complaint, for he recognized that God was justified in slaying them.  His silence rebukes the tendency in many of us to complain sometimes, verbally or in our hearts, against some aspect of God’s will for our lives, instead of resting on the assurance that, “All things [even seeming adversity] work together for good to those who love God,” Romans 8:28.          


10:4.  “And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said unto them, Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.”


Mishael means who is what God is?; Elzaphan my God is hider; and Uzziel my strength is God, the meanings of their names indicating that all three were godly men, whose privilege it was to remove from the sanctuary and from the camp these dead bodies which were defiling both places.  The NT counterpart of this is recorded in 1 Corinthians 5:13 relative to the expulsion from the local church of those whose conduct defiles it, “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”


10:5.  “So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp; as Moses had said.”


“... coats” is literally tunics or priestly linen robes, which had marked them as men separated unto the service of God, but which now, defiled by the sin of the wearers, must also be removed from the camp of Israel. 


Keeping in mind that garments are types of our lives as seen by men, it behooves us, as royal priests, to “... walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil,” Ephesians 5:15-16, being careful to preserve our “coats” from being stained by sin, which would interrupt our communion with God, and mar our testimony to men.


10:6.  “And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord hath kindled.” 


The uncovering of the head, dishevelling of the hair, tearing of their garments, were all demonstrations of grief or mourning. Aaron and his sons Eleazar, meaning God is helper; and Ithamar, palm-coast, brothers of those whom God had just slain, were forbidden to exhibit any sign of sorrow, for to have done so would have been to imply disapproval of God’s act, and would have incited His further judgment upon them and upon the whole congregation.


All the people however, were to bewail the deaths of the two offenders, their mourning being not only an expression of grief

at these two deaths, but also the demonstration of their repentant sorrow for the sin that had provoked God’s anger.


10:7.  “And ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.  And they did according to the word of Moses.”


Their period of ministry had not yet been completed, hence God’s forbidding them to leave the tabernacle precincts.  They had been anointed with the holy oil for the prescribed period of their service, and to have left before the completion of that time would have been rebellion against God, for it would have implied that His work was of secondary importance.  His forbidding them to leave the tabernacle before their tour of duty was complete is the OT foreshadowing of the truth declared in Luke 9:62, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” 


Scripture offers no hint that God has ever called anyone to anything less than lifelong service; nor does it furnish any authority for what is becoming increasingly popular: short term stints of so-called missionary work by young people during summer vacation time.  They could be doing exactly the same work in their hometowns without incurring substantial travel expenses in going to a foreign country where they don’t even speak the language.  I would suggest that their time would be better spent in distributing tracts in their own neighborhoods; but I find that many of these same young people have never spoken a word in the Gospel, or handed a tract, to their own family members or neighbors.


Of further very questionable character is the fact that some of the organizers of these schemes and teams draw very substantial salaries.  One such organization, in fact, is reported to have assests in excess of six million dollars!


10:8.  “And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying,”


10:9.  “Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations:”


Some have understood this command to indicate that Nadab and Abihu may have been drunk when they violated God’s command relative to the fire to be used in connection with the offerings.


Concerning wine it is written that it, “makes glad the heart of man,” Psalm 104:15, but experience teaches that it induces a fleshly, rather than a spiritual joy, which is frequently the product of impaired thinking.  The spiritual counterpart of this proscription relates to our conduct at the Lord’s Supper. Everything said and done at that meeting is to be at the impulse of the Holy Spirit, the activity of the flesh having absolutely no place there.  Our service likewise is to be under His control, for the intrusion of the flesh into that realm will hinder rather than help.


10:10.  “And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;”


“... unholy” is also rendered profane, secular, and doesn’t necessarily imply that it is inherently bad, but that its legitimacy in everyday affairs doesn’t automatically make it suitable in relation to spiritual things.  How much this warning is needed today is evidenced by the extent to which the methods of the business world have been adapted to the spiritual realm, with disastrous results, e.g., gospel campaigns employing entertainment strategies that appeal to the emotions, rather than the consciences of the audience, with the result that there are many professions of conversion which prove in a very short time to have been false.


“... between unclean and clean” goes further than does the need to distinguish between what is holy and what is unholy, for to be unclean, in the present context, is literally to be morally contaminated, foul.


10:11.  “And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.”


As Aaron was to teach the children of Israel all that the Lord revealed to him, so are we responsible to share with others, believers and unbelievers alike, what God reveals to us from Scripture.


10:12.  “And Moses spake unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons that were left, Take the meat (meal) offering that remaineth of the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and eat it without leaven beside the altar: for it is most holy:”


This translates into instruction to believers (spiritual priests) to nourish our souls on the written Word, represented here by the meal; and its being associated with the fire, symbol of the Holy Spirit, reminds us that that same Word can be our spiritual food only as an unquenched and ungrieved Holy Spirit enlightens our understanding as we read.


Their being commanded to eat it without leaven, symbol of sin, warns of the need to walk in holiness before God; while the command to eat it beside the altar which speaks of sacrifice, and in the present context of service, teaches the further lesson that if we would be acceptable to God as instruments of service, we must nourish our souls with His Word.  This is the OT foreshadowing of what is written in Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”


10:13.  “And ye shall eat it in the holy place, because it is thy due, and thy sons’ due, of the sacrifices of the Lord made by fire: for so I am commanded.”


Their being required to eat it in the holy place translates into the truth that if the written Word is to be our spiritual food we must read, study, and meditate upon it in a quiet place, with the distractions of the world shut out.  


10:14.  “And the wave breast and heave shoulder shall ye eat in a clean place; thou, and thy sons, and thy daughters with thee: for they be thy due, and thy sons’ due, which are given out of the sacrifices of peace offerings of the children of Israel.”


Its being their due, i.e., their divinely appointed portion, assures us that He has made the same provision for us: the written Word is our spiritual food, without which we will lack the ability to walk obediently, or to render any acceptable service.  Nor should we fail to note that this is not an option: it is a command.  To neglect the daily reading of Scripture is more than careless neglect: it is disobedience.


“... out of the ... peace offerings” reminds us that obedience and peace are inseparable, as it is written, “Be careful for nothing ... And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4:6-7.


To wave an offering was to extend it horizontally towards the altar; and to heave it was to lift it up vertically towards heaven; but since the breast is scripturally synonymous with love; and the shoulder with power and strength, the lesson being taught here is that we need God’s love on our own human level in order to enjoy His peace; but His power and strength in order to render acceptable service. 


“... shall ye eat in a clean place” continues to emphasize the need of having a quiet place where we can read and study His Word, without the distractions of the defiling world.


Since the male speaks of activity of the will; and the female, of passivity, the mention of sons and daughters teaches the truth that there is need for both the activity and the submissivness of our wills to be exercised in submission to His will. 


“... out of the sacrifices of peace offerings” teaches the further truth that obedience is the foundation of our peace with God.


10:15.  “The heave shoulder and the wave breast shall they bring with the offerings made by fire of the fat, to wave it for a wave offering before the Lord; and it shall be thine, and thy sons’ with thee, by a statute for ever; as the Lord hath commanded.”


The linking together of the shoulder and the breast as a wave offering, with the fire of the burning fat which speaks of the worth of the Lord’s sacrifice to the Father, teaches the truth that our work, of which the shoulder speaks, and our worship, of which the breast speaks, have eternal value in God’s sight, His appreciation of both being demonstrated by His reward that will be given to each believer at the Bema.  Their being burnt on the burning fat tells us that apart from the Lord’s sacrifice of Himself to redeem our souls, we could neither worship nor serve God.


10:16.  “And Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and, behold, it was burnt: and he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron which were left alive, saying,”


10:17.  “Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord?”


10:18.  “Behold, the blood of it was not brought in within the holy place: ye should indeed have eaten it in the holy place, as I commanded.”


God had commanded in 6:30 that if the blood of the sin offering was brought into the holy place, the carcase was to be burned; otherwise it was to be eaten, 6:26.  Since in this instance the blood had not been brought into the holy place, the animal should have been eaten. 


Eating is the symbolic expression of every believer’s satisfaction with the sacrifice of Christ which has made complete atonement for all our sins.  Aaron and his sons however, instead of eating it, had presented it as a burnt offering, their disobedience kindling Moses’ anger and impelling his demand for an explanation, because what they had done was typologically to present worship without having first presented the blood for the expiation of their sins. It was the spiritual equivalent of an unbeliever’s attempting to worship.


10:19.  “And Aaron said unto Moses, Behold, this day have they offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord; and such things have befallen me: and if I had eaten the sin offering to day, should it have been accepted in the sight of the Lord?”


The only explanation Aaron could offer for this breach of the proper order was that he had been so overcome with sorrow at the death of his two sons, that to have eaten the sin offering would have been hypocritical, for while, as high priest he must approve

God’s having slain them, as their father he could not help being overcome with grief at their deaths.


10:20.  “And when Moses heard that, he was content.”


Moses’ acceptance of the explanation was the equivalent of God’s also having accepted it, for Moses was His representative; and in his (Moses’) willingness to pardon the breach of proper order in this instance, we see the heart of God revealed, as it is written, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted (tested, tried) above that ye are able ....” 1 Corinthians 10:13;  “For we have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted (tested, tried) like as we are, yet without sin,” Hebrews 4:15.

[Leviticus 11]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough