The Disobedience of Nadab and Abihu

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

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.

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29 thoughts on "The Disobedience of Nadab and Abihu"

  1. Casey Evans says:

    So well said, thank you

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?!

  6. Portia Strange says:

    Great questions Alayna P.!

    Passages like Leviticus 10 are always unsettling to me. I wrestle w/ them because I’m quick to believe that God is compassionate, gracious, kind, loving, & merciful (which He is). Passages like today soberly remind me that God is also holy, jealous, & just (attributes of God that I’m slower to understand, believe, proclaim, and/or cling to). His wrath will be poured out because of unrepentant sin. When you Google ‘God’ or ‘Jesus,’ images portraying the former are much more likely to appear. I find it a ‘tough pill to swallow’ because I want ‘Holy Ghost goosebumps.’ I want a little conviction here & there, little to no discomfort. I want it to be ‘butterflies, rainbows, & sunshine’ when it comes to God because it’s far too difficult to not only accept these attributes of God in my own life, in my own relationship w/ Him, let alone to share w/ these hard truths w/ other people. Help me Holy Spirit to be careful not to over-romanticize God & my relationship w/ Him. To understand, believe, proclaim, AND cling to the fact that God is holy, jealous, & just.

  7. Andrea McQueen says:

    This was really great. I was having trouble wrapping my head around this lesson, but you unpacked it so perfectly. Thank you!!

  8. Melissa Mcronney says:

    Thank You Jesus

  9. Jennifer Ficklen says:

    Mercy! Thank you for mercy! Amen

  10. Rachel Russell says:

    Mercy you always share such insight. Thank you!

  11. Caty says:

    I’m not a theologian by any stretch but I wondered if Aaron didn’t eat it bc his sons took fire that wasn’t authorized so he wasn’t sure if it would be acceptable since the fire wasn’t. I am probably totally off base.

  12. Alayna P. says:

    I know we will never know but I can’t help but wonder what Nadab and Abihu’s motive was in coming to the Lord the way they did? Were they drunk and not thinking clearly? Impatient after the 7 day consecration? Also, I didn’t quite understand why Aaron didn’t eat the sin offering. Why wouldn’t it have been acceptable to the Lord?

  13. Alayna P. says:

    Can do

  14. Jennifer Anapol says:

    I pray I wouldn’t take God’s holiness for granted.

  15. Mercy says:

    God is a fearsome God. He does not tolerate sin. My study Bible note says that the two sons of Aaron were also intoxicated when they were in service -which was another violation. The reverence is needed especially for His priests to follow and to set an example for the whole community and congregation. May we approach God with reverence and humility, God is not a buddy buddy with us, which is a disrespectful way to come closer to Him, we must approach God on His terms. It’s a hard lesson. I could not imagine the shock of horror for the eye witnesses there, especially to Aaron. That’s why the Lord says we must put a difference between holy and unholy, and teach them to our children. It might have been due to Aaron not teaching his two sons carefully
    And another detail later that the Lord was angry with the remaining two other sons who were left alive, why again, this shows the consistency in lack of teaching about holiness in Aaron’s household. May we learn to teach our children to reverence God. I love Job’s example in waking up early and covering his children in prayers and making intercession on their behalf asking God for mercy in case they sin against God in their heart. Job is such a careful dad and I always think how blessed to have a dad like Job. The Bible also said Aaron was silent after the incident happened. I felt that it is a small detail that gives away that he was convicted deeply from within that he knew and he knew why. Adding my two pence ;)
    from wearing a detective hat. Wishing everyone a nice weekend. Lifting our sisters in prayers. May the Lord be with you and strengthen your heart and reveal to you each day the mysteries of His goodness and His incredible unlimited might. Be blessed dear sisters.

  16. Kimberly Z says:

    @taylor praying hard for you. I too have been in those dark times and I promise it will get better. Hang in there. This passage was hard to read. Knowing that I do wrong every single day yet God still shows up is overwhelming to me. I don’t deserve many of the good things God has done for me in life yet he still shows up.

  17. searching says:

    TAYLOR – praying for encouragement, for mental strength, discernment and clarity in your situation.

    Praying for RHONDA J and also LEXI B’s family in the aftermath of Ian – hope everyone is ok

  18. Dorothy says:

    WOW!!! This is a lot to take in on a Friday or any day. I’m amazed what I’m learning through SRT and my chronological Bible about the Old Testament twists and turns, ups and downs, good and bad times, happy and sad times, hard and easy times. BUT GOD….. HE is ALWAYS, ALWAYS there. He will always forgive. Christ came to the Earth to die and be resurrected so we would no longer have to make animal sacrifices. ALL God requires of us is to have believe and have faith. In my devotional/ journaling Bible I found this “Treasure of Truth” (that’s what they call it), “Faith is an absence of fear and a confidence in God”. The fire/light I plan to keep burning is my faith and my love for God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.

    Sisters, please pray for me my life is crazy right now. My sister is having memory problems. We’re going to be moving out October 22. I’m still paying rent at my other place as well as I will have to help with rent at the place with my sister. I’m still working. Thank you.

    Sisters, be blessed and have faith in God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.

  19. Donna Wolcott says:

    So sorry Taylor. Prayers for those affected by Ian and for those in its continued path. Thank you for my blessed Savior and Shepherd.✝️

  20. Allison Bentley says:

    Todays reading let me confused at first BUT then I immediately thought of Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These guys disobedience resulted in death- imagine what message that sent to the rest of the community? They couldn’t “consult” with Aaron and his other sons – all they knew was God is serious and disobedience leads to the wrath (fire) of God!!!! Happy Friday sisters!!! Praying everyone sees the beauty, goodness and truth in their lives today!!

  21. Cee Gee says:

    TAYLOR, you are being covered in prayer. I am so sorry for the let down yesterday. Praying God’s PEACE and COMFORT for you. God bless!
    Praying for all recovering from Ian’s wrath!

  22. Susan Lincks says:

    Lord, help me to understand what You want me to do. I want to be right in Your eyes. Please show me mercy and grace in this hard world. Teach me how to show mercy and grace to others as well.

  23. Taylor says:

    Hi ladies, thank you for your prayers. My conversation didn’t go so well yesterday, so my mental health has gotten worse. I called my doctor this morning but they can’t see me until mid-October so I think I’m going to have to go to urgent care to see someone. I was supposed to ref a college game today, but I called the assignor to see if they can find someone else because I’m really struggling. I appreciate your prayers as I walk through the valley. So grateful for this community where we can be vulnerable.

  24. Angie Mills says:

    “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.” — She Reads Truth, Jen Yokel (contributor)

    In this passage, we learn that God is holy. His holy glory fills the whole earth. He expects His people to obey His commands in the way He has given us. When we go against His commands, we are disobedient. Disobedience deserves death. There are times when we seem disobedient to others, yet God accepts those whose attitude is one of a humbled heart in awe of Him & His ways.

    God wants us to present our bodies to Him as a living, holy, pleasing sacrifice. He is pleased when we come to Him with hearts broken & contrite over our sin & sinfulness. His holiness reveals our sinfulness.

    Also, our prayers to God should be done with the right attitude. We need to remember that when we pray, we are in the presence of the King over every king and the Lord above every lord.

    I agree with CHURCHMOUSE, we must have a balance between approaching God with familiarity as our Friend and Father and approaching Him with the reverence He rightly deserves as our Creator God who is Sovereign over every single thing. Our God deserves all power, all riches, all wisdom, every strength, every honor, all glory, and every blessing.

    If you have not read them yet, I urge you to read these two classics:
    1. The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul
    2. The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer

    Sprout’s book explains God’s holiness, whereas Tozer’s book describes our pursuit to become intimate with our holy God.

  25. Kenya Rafferty says:

    Another assurance that humans will always be human – regardless of how “important” we are made to be in the world. Even Aaron own sons who had been chosen to protect all the laws of the land, made mistakes. Deadly ones. Jesus is the only perfect one but just because we are loved and chosen by Him, as he covers our iniquities doesn’t mean we get to live how we want. We still have to represent Holiness in our lives as living examples of the perfect God.

  26. Aimee D-R says:

    Father I want my life to reflect my love for You. Amen

  27. Churchmouse says:

    Don’t trifle with God’s holiness. Yes, He is our friend and father but He is also holy and wholly worthy of our worship. And our obedience. Our intimate relationship with Him, made possible by the blood of Jesus, provides the balance between reverence and familiarity.

  28. Kristen says:

    When I read Isaiah 6, I’m reminded of a series done by R C Sproul about the Holiness of God. God is merciful, loving, and so much more, but we can’t forget that He is Holy. Here is the link:–3S6w1kdhXY9Cb
    R C also had a teaching on Nadab and Abihu. You can find it on YouTube if you search Holiness and Justice.
    I heard Paul Washer saying yesterday about what it means in the Lord’s prayer when we say, “ Hallowed be Thy Name.” This means that God is in a total other category. God is not a bigger, better version of him. He is nothing like Paul or us. He talked about the Otherness of God. We don’t use His Name in vain, because we reverence Him. He is in an infinitely other category in nobility, beauty, righteousness, and Holiness. I’m paraphrasing, but here is the link to listen!
    Prayers for you all today!

  29. Kelly (NEO) says:

    From HRT:
    “You see, knowing the obstacle that was their sin, in His compassion, God provided for Israel a way to safely enjoy the goodness of His presence. But importantly, the way to draw near to God was provided and openly disclosed by God Himself. Israel didn’t have to search out a path to God. Rather, in love, it was gifted to them.

    This is what Nadab and Abihu ignored, but we know that they are not alone. There is a universal human desire to craft our own creative pathway to God. We imagine paths to God that are based on personal morality, specific spiritual practices, or our favorite social issues. But there is one and only one way to draw near to God, and we don’t need to search it out because He came looking for us. The way into the good presence of the holy God is through Jesus Christ alone.

    So the next time you are tempted to believe that you have to muscle your way into God’s blessings by your good works or biblical knowledge, remember the compassion that lines this tragic story: the way into the joy of God’s presence has been gifted to you in Jesus Christ. Alleluia!”
    (Collin Ross)

    God is holy – only by Jesus’ righteousness may I approach. Thank You Jesus for making the way!