Sunday School Insights: Nadab and Abihu

Death of Nadab and Abihu // larryhuntbiblecommentary.wordpress.com

The Death of Nadab and Abihu

Gerard Jollain

The moral of the story of Nadab and Abihu seems at first to be that God wants things done correctly, just as he commands.  However, while I do not disagree with the idea that God wants us to follow his commands, I do not believe that this is the moral of this story.  God killed Nadab and Abihu after they offered strange fire, which, as Barnes notes, was probably fire from someplace other than the altar, but God’s rebuke (v.3) was not that Nadab and Abihu had offered unauthorized fire.  It was that they had not treated him with honor, as their holy God.  This, coupled with the ban on drinking while serving in the tent of meeting (vs. 8-11) strongly suggests that Nadab and Abihu were drunk when they offered the strange fire.  Being drunk would, in itself, be a sign of disrespect and would also hinder their ability to enact the ritual properly.  Compare this episode with the one in vs. 16-20.  There the remaining sons of Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar, intentionally break yet another commandment of God, which seems to send Moses into an angry panic for their sake.  They burned up the goat of the sin offering rather than eat it, but they did so out of respect for and fear of the holiness of God.  Because of the shame that Nadab and Abihu had brought on the family, Aaron and his remaining sons concluded that they would be unfit to carry out the commandment and eat the goat.

Once Moses heard their explanation, he was satisfied.  At first this puzzled me because it was not Moses who needed to be satisfied, but God.  I think, however, that Moses’ satisfaction came from understanding why God had not already killed the remaining sons.  His anger in v. 16 is the sort of anger I would have with a loved one who foolishly put himself in horrible danger.  Before their explanation, Moses was worried that they too would die, but afterward he understood why they were spared while Nadab and Abihu were not: When Eleazar and Ithamar broke God’s commandment, it was (ironically) because they respected and feared him.  When Nadab and Abihu broke the commandment, it was a sign of their disrespect for God.  As for the severity of Nadab and Abihu’s punishment, I can only say that sometimes we are unaware of the gravity of our actions.  I’m sure almost any drunk driver who has accidentally killed someone would agree that this is so.


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