I was a bit bothered by the fact that Nadab and Abihu were struck by God and killed immediately for disobeying Him, yet Aaron, who didn’t eat the sacrificed meat like the Law said he was supposed to, got a free pass. So I started digging.
One trusted commentator suggested it was a matter of intention. Nadab and Abihu wanted glory for themselves. Aaron meant no harm. That confused me more because I don’t see anywhere else in Scripture where God overlooks the disobedience of people who have good intentions.
So I went to another source and read that Nadab and Abihu died because they were drunk while performing the duties of a priest. We can assume they had been drinking because of God’s instruction to Aaron after the fact. But is this account intended to be an argument against alcohol? The author seemed to think so. I wonder.
Matthew Henry reminded me that God had actually included instructions for the priests as to what to do with leftover meat from the sacrifice. (Leviticus 7) The meat that wasn’t eaten could not be given to anyone else, could not be put on ice for the future. If it was not eaten by the priests and their families, it was to be burned outside the camp.
Aaron had just watched two of his sons die. He obeyed God in that he didn’t tear his clothes and make a public display of mourning. But I’m sure the man had no appetite. The meat had done it’s job on the altar as the sacrifice. It was given to the priests “to take away the guilt of the community by making atonement for them before the Lord.” (vs17) And the priests did that.
Aaron assured Moses that they had sacrificed their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord (vs19). Moses realized that was true, and was satisfied with that response.
I think God is telling me today to let Scripture define Scripture. When I question what I read, and I do often, I ultimately need to let God’s Word speak for itself. I’m thankful that Henry pointed me in the right direction. It’s easy to get caught up in causes by reading into things, like whether or not a preacher should be allowed to drink alcohol. I want to be careful that when I infer truth, I don’t do it on the basis of a solitary verse or story.
Nadab and Abihu died because they disobeyed. It doesn’t matter their intentions. They sinned, and God is reinforcing the truth that the wages of sin is death. That’s a truth that is repeated often in Scripture. And that’s the lesson from this story I want to take with me today.