Classic Overreaction (Leviticus 10)


How many of you just let loose once you’re done with something huge? I know I’m not the only one. After graduation, there are parties. After completing a difficult project at work, there are vacations. Even celebrities, after finishing a movie or show, stop their workout plans and start eating junk again. And right now all I can think about is the party of one I’m going to throw at the end of this year when I get a break from both school and work. There’s just something about the relaxation, about the lessening of expectations that makes us want to celebrate as vigorously as we can.

I wonder if those exact thoughts were going through the heads of Aaron and his children after completing a tedious ordination day, a long week living at the tabernacle, and a detailed start to their services as priests. Maybe they were exhausted. Maybe they were wondering when they would get a break. Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons, were definitely feeling the strain of service, because they decided to make a mini-vacation of their own. They lit up – not with drugs, but with their censers – and played around in the tabernacle, offering the censers and their fire to God without permission. Maybe they were poking fun at all the formality of the sacrifices. Maybe they were drunk (verse 9). No one found out what they were thinking. God killed them instantly.

As priests, Aaron and his sons couldn’t mourn traditionally. They kept themselves clean and their clothes un-torn (verse 6) while the Israelites fully mourned the loss of those two young men. Sacrifices were offered to atone for the sins they had committed. And then life went on. But after such a tragedy, could it? Did it?

The Treasures Within:

That Escalated Quickly

Didn’t it, though? It’s always jarring to come across sudden death in the Bible, and even more jarring when God is the One who orders or causes the death. There is a momentary short circuit in our brains, and we struggle to coalesce the love that God is supposed to embody with the fierce anger we see before us. I mean, they burned alive. That’s a horrible way to die. And all they did was offer “unauthorized fire”. That’s literally the only phrase in the sentence preceding the death (verses 1-2) that suggests any negative action. Why did God end Nadab’s and Abihu’s lives over that?

But did God escalate things quickly? Or did Nadab and Abihu? In verse 3, Moses tries to give Aaron some sort of reasoning for why God killed his sons. He says that these deaths are what God was warning them of when He said: “Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.” Nadab and Abihu “approached” God and promptly died. This must mean that God was not “proven holy”; He was not “honored”.

As God’s priests, Nadab and Abihu had been intimately aware of how holy God was. They had offered sacrifices. They had been close to the tabernacle, its instruments, its holy place. They had been within inches of the presence of God. That is a huge deal. Imagine being inches from your favorite celebrity. Imagine being inches from the President of the United States (not – just – you know what I mean). Those are huge deals to us because the President has power and authority and celebrities are so beautiful and do so many amazing, talent-filled things. God takes those qualities and more to a completely different level. He redefines authority and power because He is the omniscient Creator. He redefines beauty and goodness because everything He does is perfect. Yet He is the same God that Nadab and Abihu went before as a joke, as a game. They were casual. They were disrespectful. They were condescending. They acted as if God was not really all that holy. They acted as if God was nothing more than a pretty idea, a widespread fantasy. They did this not from a distance, but inches from God. The bottom line is that Nadab and Abihu deserved to die. So that’s what happened.

How To Survive

If God’s actions here seem extreme to us, maybe we are not honoring God the way we should either. And even if they don’t, the fact still remains that Nadab and Abihu are not worse than we are. We don’t physically come so close to God’s presence today, but we still do exactly what those two men did. We are casual with God. We walk into church laughing and joking, only thinking about who will see us in our pretty outfits and what we’re doing after service. We are disrespectful to God. We take His name in vain and laugh when others make fun of Him or the belief in Him. We are condescending to God. We blatantly, proudly disobey Him, claiming that our desires trump His – that we know what’s best for us. We do these things without a second thought, but when we do these things, we are proclaiming to anyone watching that we don’t really think God is holy. We don’t even think He’s real. He’s a pretty idea, a slight comfort, a small part of our curated images.

Yet we are not dead. But we are dying. And we will die. God says “the wages of sin is death” and He kills Nadab and Abihu and with both actions He is making the same point: sin will kill us. Disrespecting God will kill us. This is true in both the literal sense and in the existential sense. God promises to destroy sin one day, and that includes all of us who will not stop doing it. But right now, today, while He still mercifully gives us life, sin is destroying our happiness. It keeps us from the joy of a relationship with Jesus. It keeps us from overcoming all those bad habits that crush us with guilt and ruin us with consequences. It keeps us from truly living. To really live, God promises, is to obey Him. But do we want to live?

God’s Message To Us:

“The wages of sin is death.” God says this over and over and over again. Is it because He’s an angry Being, this close to going over the edge? Is it because He cannot wait to destroy us for our sin? Is it because He doesn’t want us to enjoy ourselves? If any of those things were true, you wouldn’t be here to read these words and I wouldn’t be here to write them. We’re alive because of mercy. We’re alive because of love. We’re alive because the highest Authority in the world, the One behind it all, wants us to choose Him and live better than we ever thought possible. But choosing Him requires us to respect Him. It requires us to obey Him. It requires us to worship Him as holy. So will we make a change, or will we end up like Nadab and Abihu?

What do you think? How did you feel about God’s reaction to Nadab and Abihu’s sin? What did God want you to learn from this chapter?

There Are Always Questions:

  1. After Nadab and Abihu’s death, when the priests offer a sin offering for what they did, Aaron and his sons did not eat the portion of the sin offering that they were supposed to. When Moses asked why, Aaron’s response was that God would not have been pleased if Aaron to ate the sacrifice because of what his sons had done. Moses seemed to agree (verses 16-20). Was what Aaron said true? Why?

One thought on “Classic Overreaction (Leviticus 10)

  1. You make a powerful point when you say that obeying God is life and disobedience is death. Now, while we live, we have the privilege to choose life.


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