Day 5

The Disobedience of Nadab and Abihu

from the Leviticus reading plan


Leviticus 10:1-20, Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 6:1-7, Romans 12:1, 1 Peter 2:1-5

BY Jen Yokel

Shortly after Aaron and his sons offer their first sacrifices as newly ordained priests, we read about a strange and unsettling incident. Aaron’s eldest sons burn “unauthorized fire” in the tabernacle, and as punishment, they are destroyed with fire from God.

How did reading this difficult story today hit you? If you found it strange and disturbing, you aren’t alone. A quick search of commentaries from Jewish and Christian writers reveals that readers are still wrestling with this passage. You can find plenty of theories about why their actions were so offensive—that they were disrespectful, they didn’t follow God’s directions, or that their actions had occultic influences. All we have in the text is a statement that they did what God had not commanded them to do.

In the middle of all these questions, I am most struck that Aaron’s response is silence. What can you say in response to these words from God? “I will demonstrate my holiness to those who are near me, and I will reveal my glory before all the people” (Leviticus 10:3). Later, when Moses confronts him about how he handled the sin offering, Aaron speaks with honesty. “Since these things have happened to me, if I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been acceptable in the LORD’s sight?” (v.19).  

Whatever we make of Nadab and Abihu’s fate, we know Aaron and his sons are not perfect priests. Scripture resounds with the echoes of Aaron’s question, whether it’s David lamenting the depths of his sin in a psalm or Isaiah trembling under the full weight of the King’s glory. These men—the king and the prophet—both find their healing amid their brokenness. I imagine David writing through his tears, “You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God” (Psalm 51:17) Or Isaiah lifting his gaze in awe as he hears a holy voice kindly say, “your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for” (Isaiah 6:6).

It’s not about the fire or the blood or where the priests ate their ceremonial meals. Over and over, we’re shown that God desires living sacrifices, not dead ones. God wants humbled hearts and lives of service, a whole family of holy priests who offer their hearts and bodies to serving the King. And all along the way, these stories point to Jesus, the One who perfectly fulfills every possible role—the Priest and Lamb, the Prophet and King.

Post Comments (28)

28 thoughts on "The Disobedience of Nadab and Abihu"

  1. Biffit Williams says:

    I relate to what you’ve posted. It’s my prayer also to spend quality time with God daily. This Podcast is AWESOME and I’m grateful to have found it.

  2. Amadi Swartz says:

    Liz-thank you for sharing. I thought I was the only one that would rather get extra minutes of sleep over reading and prayer. I’ve employed my husband who is much more disciplined to help me get up in the morning (I know it seems childish but it’s working). I have noticed on the days I do, I am calmer, nicer and the word goes with me throughout the day. There really is nothing like his presence. May the Holy Spirit give you the strength to be disciplined and consistent…I pray the same for me. Grace and Peace to you dear friend.

  3. Liz Evans says:

    “God desires living sacrifices, not dead ones” is really speaking to me. I started this subscription bc I had a desire to learn more and needed the encouragement to put myself in a worship spaces DAILY. I’ve always struggled with discipline and consistency and I’ve been hoping that this would help. I’m still struggling lol. I go back and read the lessons 4/5 days at once. But…that’s just it. I have to be a living sacrifice and actively sacrifice the extra mins of sleep or whatever it is that is keeping me from making worship and study a daily practice. Thankful for this today.

  4. Portia Strange says:

    After typing my first message, I began to think if should romanticize our relationship w/ Jesus at all? I’m really wrestling with this because there’s nothing romantic about taking up your cross daily, suffering for Christ, yet one of the meanings of romantic is to be ‘marked by expressions of love or affection.’ God has love & affection for us & we are to reciprocate that, right? So, is this romanticizing? What’s the happy, holy medium between romanticizing & over-romanticizing? Any thoughts?!

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