Why did Nadab and Abihu die? Why was what they did so wrong (Leviticus 10:1-2)? Leviticus Quandaries covers an overview of Leviticus 1-8 and Aaron’s reaction to when Moses rebuked Aaron and his sons (Leviticus 10:16-20). Today I’ll start a three-part series on other puzzling things in Leviticus. Rituals will be explained with their symbolisms. Significance will resonate with these details and with us.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BURNT OFFERING
The purpose of the burnt offering is in Leviticus 1:4,
a means of reconciliation…. The…worshipper in laying his hand on the head of the animal…symbolizes acknowledgement of one’s sins, and the…identification with the animal…. This ritual is no light matter. The Hebrew verb “set” literally means “to lay [an object] heavily on something” (cf. Psalm 88:7). The idea is that sin and guilt lie heavily on the worshipper, but now he is setting that weight on the sacrificial animal…. The person making the offering has the duty of butchering the sacrificial animal…. It probably originally meant ‘to slit the throat.’From Leviticus, An EP Study Commentary
The Rabbis mention the following 5 acts as belonging to the offerer of a sacrifice: the laying on of hands, slaying, skinning, cutting up, and washing the inwards. These other 5 were strictly priestly functions: catching…blood, sprinkling it, lighting the altar fire, laying on the wood, bringing up the pieces, and all else done at the altar itself.From The Temple
WHY WAS THE BURNT OFFERING SET APART AND A PLEASING AROMA TO YAHWEH?
The burnt offering, a pleasing aroma (Leviticus 3:16: 8:21), was set apart from other sacrifices in two ways. One way was God would almost always not accept other offerings as a pleasing aroma like the burnt offering (compare Leviticus 2:12). The other is the animals were killed north of the altar.
The idea of smell…is anthropomorphic. It is…an ancient Near-Eastern formula used to denote a god’s acceptance of a sacrifice. For example, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim describes an offering he makes after having been delivered from a major flood: “The gods smelled the savour….”From Leviticus, An EP Study Commentary
One additional detail is that the animals…are to be butchered on the “north side of the altar”. The location may be to distinguish this type of sacrifice from the offering [of] the herd that is to take place in front of the altar…passages denote the north as the direction from which God comes to visit his people (see Job 37:22; Ezekiel 1:4).
WHY BLOOD ON THE RIGHT EAR, THUMB AND TOE?
Placing blood on the right extremities of the priests constitutes a form of merism: it reflects the encompassing of the whole person. Its purpose is total purification and dedication. The priest belongs in his entirety to the service of Yahweh. The right side…denotes strength, standing, authority and pre-eminence.
Oehler comments on another possible reason that these body parts are used in the ritual: “The ear, because the priest must at all times hearken to…God; the hand, because he must execute God’s commands…the foot, because he must walk rightly and holy.”From Leviticus, An EP Study Commentary
WHY NADAB AND ABIHU DIED
So what did they do wrong? The verse tells us that they offered “strange”, or “foreign”, fire before Yahweh. The precise meaning…is uncertain and greatly debated. The term itself is usually used of aliens or non-Hebrews and, thus, perhaps they were guilty of introducing some characteristic of pagan ritual…. Some argue…they should have taken their “fire”, or “coals”, from the altar, but they…took embers from a convenient hearth…. Others claim they entered the Most Holy Place…. Some authors believe the priests were drunk when they entered the sanctuary…based on contextual considerations (see 10:9-10). Bad timing has also been offered as a reason for their judgment. One final position, based on Exodus 30:9…no incense is to be offered on the altar apart from the daily offerings….From Leviticus, An EP Study Commentary
In reality, it is not clear what they are specifically doing wrong. However, what is crystal clear is that they are…offering in a different way from that which God had prescribed.
THE BLESSING OF THE NEW COVENANT
In one of my blogs, I briefly referred to repentance as a gift (see 2 Timothy 2:25). I’d also like to point out here a truth Christians often miss: It is God who does the work in our hearts if we do grow to be spiritual (or godly) Christians (Philippians 2:12-13). Yes, we are challenged at the same time to apply ourselves. But I always think of it this way: if we do obey God, he deserves all the praise. And if we don’t obey, we deserve all the blame (because of our sin natures).
I mention this because throughout Leviticus we see the constant struggle of mankind to do what pleases God versus the sin natures that take over. Praise God for the new covenant since God puts the desire for us to please God into our hearts! Even for the ability we’re given to follow through in obeying him!
The above pictures are scanned from Nadab and Abihu died and Nadab and Abihu’s dead bodies carried