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(MT versing)
The Sin of Nadab and Abihu The Profane Fire of Nadab and Abihu The Fate of Nadab and Abihu The Sin of Nadab and Abihu Complementary Legislation
a. A Lesson in Exact Obedience
10:1-3 (3) 10:1-3 (3) 10:1-3 (3) 10:1-3 10:1-3 (3b)
b. Removal of Bodies
10:4-7 10:4-7 10:4-7 10:4-5 10:4-5
c. Rules for Priestly Mourning
10:6-7 10:6-7
Conduct Proscribed for Priests Rules for Priests d. Wine Forbidden
10:8-11 10:8-11 10:8-11 10:8-11 10:8
e. The Priests' Portion in Offerings
10:12-15 10:12-15 10:12-15 10:12-15 10:12-13
f. A Special Regulation Concerning Sacrifice for Sin
10:16-20 10:16-20 10:16-20 10:16-18 10:16-20

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


1Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. 2And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3Then Moses said to Aaron, "It is what the Lord spoke, saying,
  'By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy,
  And before all the people I will be honored.'"
So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.

10:1 "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron" These sons had accompanied Moses and Aaron to Mount Sinai (cf. Exod. 24:1). They had known the holiness of God, yet they disobeyed His commands. Apparently they were intoxicated (cf. Lev. 10:8-11).

NASB, TEV, JPSOA  "firepan"
NKJV, NRSV, NJB, REB  "censer"

The BDB (367, NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 924) gives several usages of this root.

  1. snuff-holder of gold ‒ Exod. 25:88; 37:23; Num. 4:9
  2. bronze fire-pans to be used at the altar of sacrifice ‒ Exod. 27:3; 38:3
  3. gold fire-pans ‒ 1 Kgs. 7:50; 2 Kgs. 25:16; 2 Chr. 4:22; Jer. 52:19
  4. censer ‒ Lev. 10:1; 16:12; Num. 16:6,17,18; 17:2,3,4,11

The KB (KB 572) gives three usages.

  1. scuttle for carrying burning coals or ashes ‒ Exod. 27:3; 38:3; Lev. 10:1; 1 Kgs. 7:50; 2 Kgs. 25:15; 2 Chr. 4:22; Jer. 52:19
  2. container for embers used for incense offering ‒ Lev. 16:12; Num. 16:6,17,18; 17:2,4,11
  3. small pan of gold ‒ Exod. 25:38; 37:23; Num. 4:9,14

▣ "took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them" There has been much speculation about exactly what these young priests did that was inappropriate.

  1. should have been unlit coals (Jewish Study Bible, p. 227)
  2. they took coals from the wrong place
  3. they usurped the place of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement
  4. they put improper incense in their firepans (cf. Exod. 30:1-10)
  5. they used the wrong firepans
  6. because of Lev. 10:9 and later Jewish tradition, that they were intoxicated
  7. it was not out of a motive of awe and respect
  8. not at the appropriate time and method

We are not sure of the motives of these young men. It could have been possible that they wanted to worship God and were overcome with the presence of God in the Shekinah cloud, but it seems that because of Lev. 10:9-10 that there was a negative element in their attitudes and deeds. It specifically says that they offered "strange fire," which would tend to confirm the interpretation that they took the coals from the wrong altar, possibly from the fire that was used to boil the meat mentioned in Lev. 8:31. Whatever the reason, God's judgment fell on these two young priests for not following His explicit procedures.

10:2 "fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord" Whatever the motive, whatever the reason, the same fire that came out in Lev. 9:24 and consumed the offering is the exact same fire that came out and consumed (same VERB as Lev. 9:24) these young men (see SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE). This fire could have been

  1. from the Shekinah cloud
  2. from the inner shrine
  3. from the altar of sacrifice.

Fire was one method of

  1. cleansing
  2. judgment

10:3 "Then Moses said to Aaron" Moses immediately commanded (IMPERFECTS used as JUSSIVES) Aaron not to show any signs of mourning (see SPECIAL TOPIC: GRIEVING RITES; cf. Lev. 10:6). Any mourning rites that Aaron would have shown would have been seen as his consternation over God's justice. Moses ordered (two IMPERATIVES) some other relatives to remove the bodies (Lev. 10:4) and this would have made them ceremonially unclean and they would have had to remain outside the camp for a designated time. Moses assured Aaron that the congregation would grieve over his sons (cf. Lev. 10:6).

Notice the two Niphal IMPERFECTS related to how YHWH was to be viewed/treated.

  1. by the priests ‒ YHWH will show Himself holy (i.e., His actions toward Aaron's two oldest sons); see SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY
  2. to the congregation ‒ YHWH will be honored/glorified; see SPECIAL TOPIC: GLORY (kabod, OT)

The issue of worship is the unique character of Israel's God. See SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD (OT).

▣ "kept silent" This VERB (BDB 198 I, KB 226, Qal IMPERFECT with waw; NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 972) has three connotations.

  1. be silent
  2. be still (in speech and motion)
  3. dumb struck (fear or awe, LXX)

It is hard to know which of these is intended (see Exod. 15:16; Job 29:21; 31:34; Ps. 4:4; 30:12; 31:18; 35:15; 37:7; 62:6; Isa. 23:2; Jer. 8:14; 48:2; Ezek. 24:17; Amos 5:13).
There is another possible root (BDB 199 II), which means "wail" or "lament" (cf. Isa. 23:2; NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 973).

4Moses called also to Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron's uncle Uzziel, and said to them, "Come forward, carry your relatives away from the front of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp." 5So they came forward and carried them still in their tunics to the outside of the camp, as Moses had said. 6Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, "Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, so that you will not die and that He will not become wrathful against all the congregation. But your kinsmen, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which the Lord has brought about. 7You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent of meeting, or you will die; for the Lord's anointing oil is upon you." So they did according to the word of Moses.

10:4 Moses calls on some of his fellow Levites (i.e., tribe of Levi), who were his and Aaron's uncle's children (their cousins) to remove the burned bodies of Aaron's oldest two sons. They carried them outside the camp (cf. Lev. 4:12). Their presence polluted the Tabernacle.
This removal (i.e., touching dead bodies) would have made them ceremonially unclean. It is possible that the mentioning of "in their tunic" is meant to inform the reader that they did not touch the dead bodies themselves directly and were not considered "unclean." Being "clean" or "unclean" was very important (cf. Lev. 10:10).

10:6 "that He will not become wrathful against all the congregation" This expresses the Hebrew concept of "corporality." Examples:

  1. Adam/Eve sinned and all humanity fell (cf. Rom. 5:12-21)
  2. Achan sinned and the Israeli army lost a battle and some soldiers dies (Joshua 7)
  3. David's sin with Bathsehba affected his entire family for generations
  4. Jesus died as a substitute for all human sin (i.e., Isaiah 53; Mark 10:45; Romans 5:12-21; 2 Corinthians 5:21)

10:7 Aaron and his sons were set aside to uniquely "draw near" to YHWH in the service to the Tabernacle. This special office required special care.

8The Lord then spoke to Aaron, saying, 9"Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—10and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, 11and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses."

10:8 "The Lord then spoke to Aaron, saying" The rabbis say that this is the first time that Aaron is addressed directly by YHWH and the He was pleased with him because he did not grieve over the death of his sons.

10:9 "Do not drink wine or strong drink" Notice that this is not a prohibition (JUSSIVE) from wine entirely (cf. Deut. 14:26) but while on duty. This same type of instruction is given to the leaders of the church in 1 Tim. 3:3,8; Titus 1:2; 2:3. Wine is not excluded completely but an addition to wine, and certainly not at inappropriate times such as while ministering to the Lord. See SPECIAL TOPIC: ALCOHOL ‒ ALCOHOLISM.

10:10 "so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean" Notice that the priest was to have certain responsibilities for (1) judging (i.e., Deut. 17:8-9) and (2) discerning of diseases. If he was intoxicated, his ability to make true judgments and discernment would be greatly hindered.
For modern people it is important to see the range of sacred ‒ secular (see NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 1005-1006, #7).

  1. everything was either holy or common
  2. something could be common yet still it must be determined it if was clean (read all of rom. 14:1-15:13). Some people of faith are weak, even superstitious!

10:11 Part of the job of the sons of Aaron was to be teachers of the people (i.e., Deut. 24:8). This task later fell to the local Levites.
Notice the phrase "all the statutes." This is very similar to the Great Commission of Matt. 28:20. A faith relationship with God involves

  3. obedience (see SPECIAL TOPIC: KEEP)
  4. worship (see SPECIAL TOPIC: WORSHIP)
  5. perseverance (see SPECIAL TOPIC: PERSEVERANCE)


12Then Moses spoke to Aaron, and to his surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, "Take the grain offering that is left over from the Lord's offerings by fire and eat it unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy. 13You shall eat it, moreover, in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons' due out of the Lord's offerings by fire; for thus I have been commanded. 14The breast of the wave offering, however, and the thigh of the offering you may eat in a clean place, you and your sons and your daughters with you; for they have been given as your due and your sons' due out of the sacrifices of the peace offerings of the sons of Israel. 15The thigh offered by lifting up and the breast offered by waving they shall bring along with the offerings by fire of the portions of fat, to present as a wave offering before the Lord; so it shall be a thing perpetually due you and your sons with you, just as the Lord has commanded."

10:12 "Take. . .eat" These two imperatives mandate that the appropriate parts of the sin offering be eaten by the officiating priest. This is because the act symbolized forgiveness

  1. to bear away the guilt of the congregation, Lev. 10:17
  2. to make atonement for them before the Lord, Lev. 10:17

▣ "most holy. . .holy" there are several levels of "holiness".

  1. the offerings
    1. grain/cereal offerings
      (1) memorial portion given to YHWH by fire
      (2) rest for priests (cf. Lev. 2:3; 6:16-17; 10:12-13)
    2. peace offering
      (1) certain parts to YHWH by fire
      (2) most meat to
      (a) offerer
      (b) offerer's friends
      (c) priests and their families
    3. sin and guilt offering
      (1) blood, fat, and some meat to YHWH by fire
      (2) certain parts for priests in the holy place (cf. Lev. 6:25,26; 7:6; 10:17; 14:13)
    4. some of the offerings for priest's family, Lev. 10:14; 22:11-13; Num. 18:11
  2. the difference between what could be eaten and not eaten
    1. none of the burnt offerings could be eaten, all given to YHWH by fire
    2. sin offering, where part of the blood was taken from the altar of sacrifice into the inner shrine could not be eaten (cf. Lev. 6:30; 10:18)
  3. the offerings were a divine way to feed the priesthood (Lev. 10:13-14)

10:13 "because it is your due" All the other tribes, except for Levi, would receive a land allocation (i.e., Joshua 12-19), but the priests were to receive their "due" or livelihood from

  1. the sacrifices (i.e., Lev. 10:14-15)
  2. the Levitical cities and small garden plots surrounding them (i.e., Joshua 20-21)

16But Moses searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it had been burned up! So he was angry with Aaron's surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar, saying, 17"Why did you not eat the sin offering at the holy place? For it is most holy, and He gave it to you to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord. 18Behold, since its blood had not been brought inside, into the sanctuary, you should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, just as I commanded." 19But Aaron spoke to Moses, "Behold, this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord. When things like these happened to me, if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight of the Lord?" 20When Moses heard that, it seemed good in his sight.

10:16-20 Moses began to look (INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and PERFECT VERB from the same root, BDB 205, KB 233) for part of the offering that the priests were to eat on this eighth day. However, he found that they had made a mistake and apparently burned that which was to have been eaten. Moses was very angry. Here, again, the procedures had not been followed correctly. Why were these sons spared when Nadab and Abihu were killed for not following procedures correctly? Apparently their motives and attitudes were innocent. Moses must have made an exception because there was no willful, rebellious intent. This implies that there was such intent in the actions of Nadab and Abihu.

10:17 "He gave it to you to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord" The priests as YHWH's earthly sacrificial agents (see notes in NET Bible, p. 233, #12).
See Lev. 16:22 for this same concept of "bearing away" in one of the scapegoats. This is also seen in the Messiah's substitutionary death in Isa. 53:11-12 (cf. Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:12-21; 2 Cor. 5:21)!
For "make atonement" see SPECIAL TOPIC: ATONEMENT.

10:18 Moses reenforces the fact that YHWH's procedures must be followed exactly. This is communicated grammatically by the INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 37, KB 46), which is translated "you should have certainly eaten"! The priests must follow the divine procedures.

10:19-20 Aaron expresses his desire to do this (Lev. 10:19) and Moses accepted his good motives and commitment (Lev. 10:20). See NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 703.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. What did Nadab and Abihu do which resulted in their death by the Lord?
  2. Why were Eleazer and Ithamar not killed when they also broke the procedures in Lev. 10:16-20?
  3. Why could Aaron not mourn the death of his two oldest sons?
  4. Explain the concept of Hebrew corporality found in Lev. 10:6.
  5. How does Lev. 10:8-9 relate to Deut. 14:26?
  6. How is Lev. 10:17 unique? How would you explain how priests "bear away" sin?
  7. Why was Moses angry in Lev. 10:16?

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