Bible Study with Jairus – Leviticus 10
God Protects His Glory
In Leviticus 10, Aaron’s sons were put to death because they presented to God a careless, irreverent offering. This short chapter brings up some startling questions. Why were Aaron’s sons killed for such a small misdeed? Why did the Lord discipline them so severely?
Although this question is difficult to answer, I believe that Aaron’s sons were not the only ones who sinned. Aaron also had problems he needed to deal with. To back up this claim, I want to mention another Old Testament story.
In the time of the judges, we see an example of a father being judged for his son’s sins. Eli died because his sons were committing sexual immorality with the women in the tent of meeting and stealing the sacrificial meat. Eli was lenient with his sons and did not restrain their wickedness. The Bible says Eli honored his sons more than God. As a result, God sent great disaster to the Israelites. As the Chinese say, parents are to blame for their children’s behavior.
In the same way, Aaron likely failed to train his sons correctly. His sons’ carelessness shows that Aaron himself had not set a good example for them. God was not only dealing with Aaron’s sons but was also judging Aaron’s uncleanness through the death of his sons. The Lord clearly stated his standards: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified” (ESV, Leviticus 10:3).
God’s holiness is a theme throughout the Bible. Hebrews 12:14 says that without holiness, “no one will see the Lord.” The Lord also says, “I will be glorified before all the people.” In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve sinned, God sent cherubim and a flaming sword to block the way to the tree of life. Anyone who violated God’s holiness, glory, and righteousness would be killed if they tried to come near the tree of life. God’s standard of holiness is high, and his judgment purified Aaron the priest and made him holy. Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were burned by God as a representation of sacrifice (see Leviticus 9:23), and God’s holiness and glory were manifested.
The Responsibilities of Aaron and His Sons
Although Aaron failed to set an example for his sons, Nadab and Abihu were also responsible for their behavior. Aaron’s sons should not have offered strange fire, nor should they have entered the sanctuary without permission. Though they were responsible for their choice, they made these choices under the sinister influence of Satan himself.
The disciple Peter made a similar mistake. At one point during Jesus’ ministry, Peter made an extraordinary confession that Jesus was the Son of the living God. But later he relied on his flesh and rebuked Jesus for his self-sacrificial intention to go to the cross. As a result, the Lord bluntly rebuked him and called Peter, “Satan.” In the same way, Satan was trying to destroy God’s work in the lives of Aaron’s sons. Just like Satan influenced Peter, tempted Eve, and hardened Cain’s heart, Satan influenced Aaron’s sons’ choices.
There is a spiritual battle behind Nadab and Abihu’s choices. God’s discipline for Nadab and Abihu is not the only aspect of this story. During a shadow play, we should not focus only on what’s going on in front of the stage, but also understand the story going on behind it. In the same way, we shouldn’t just focus on Nadab and Abihu. We must see the reality of this spiritual battle behind their external conflict. Every human conflict is just a reflection of the cosmic battle between God and Satan. We should find out who’s behind each struggle. It’s Satan and his deception.
Satan wanted Nadab and Abihu to challenge God and defile the holiest place on earth. This story took place near the golden altar of incense, near the entrance to the Holy of Holies. The golden altar of incense stood right in front of the veil that separated the sanctuary from the Holy of Holies. The two men were getting dangerously close to entering the Holy of Holies. If God hadn’t stopped them, perhaps they would have been even more daring next time, going straight into the Holy of Holies.
As we see the essence behind the external story, we see that Aaron’s lack of teaching and example gave Satan an opportunity to use Aaron’s sons. God sent severe discipline because this incident severely provoked him to anger. The same is true for us today. If our mind is set on the Spirit, we experience life and peace. But when our mind is set on the flesh, it brings death (Romans 8:6). When thinking about things that dishonor God, we allow Satan to use us as pawns in the cosmic battle against God, just as he did with Peter, Eve, Nadab, and Abihu.
How did the men’s death glorify God?
So the second troubling question we see in this passage is, “Why did God say that killing Nadab and Abihu would glorify his name among the Israelites?” I believe that Nadab and Abihu experienced judgment in place of Aaron. Although their sacrifice was unwilling, they died in their father’s place. This reminds us of Jesus, the only Son of God, who willingly went to the cross to be judged for our sins. Therefore, this action sanctified God’s name among those who were near to Him.
Those whom God calls to serve Him often pay a special price for that service. However, we cannot ultimately compare these men’s death with the death of God’s Beloved Son for our sins.
Christian history often talks about the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross, but it rarely talks about the pain of the Father, who gave up His beloved Son. This needs to be addressed. No father can give up his son without suffering. Any time a father sees his son suffering, the father’s pain is often even greater than the son’s. The father yearns to suffer in place of his son.
In the same way, the pain God the Father experienced may have been even greater than the pain experienced by his son. The Father must have yearned to be able to die in his son’s place. As Jesus Christ bore our sins on the cross, the Father grieved for His Son. But because God loved us, his children, he was pleased to bruise Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:10).
In this passage, Aaron must have had similar feelings. On the one hand, he mourned the death of his own sons. On the other hand, because of God’s judgment, Aaron knew that God’s name was being sanctified among those who were near Him, so he was content.
The fire of the Lord came down to kill Nadab and Abihu. God said that he sent fire so that His name might be sanctified among those who were near Him and so he would be glorified among the people of Israel. Fire from heaven is often related to God’s glory. Leviticus 9 says that when the Israelites offered sacrifices, fire from heaven came down and consumed the sacrifices. In this way, God’s glory was revealed (9:22-24). The willing, obedient offerings of the people were consumed by the fire of God’s glory.
But how can God’s fire reveal God’s glory when Nadab and Abihu were not willing, obedient, innocent offerings? The sacrifices in the Old Testament had to be without blemish, but Nadab and Abihu’s sacrifices were imperfect. Even though the analogy is imperfect, Nadab and Abihu’s death can still remind us of Christ’s death. David, Solomon, and others prefigured Christ, but they were imperfect people. In the same way, these imperfect men can remind us of the perfect Christ.
Jesus Christ went to the cross to save us. Did his death glorify God? Yes, Jesus Christ went to the cross to glorify God’s name. So I believe that the death of Aaron’s two sons glorified God by prefiguring Jesus’ death on the cross in the future.
Even though God has disciplined Nadab and Abihu with physical death, this does not necessarily mean that they will face eternal death. I believe that Nadab and Abihu will not necessarily perish eternally. Maybe they are already with God. Their death was unfortunate, but it provided a good life lesson for Aaron. Numbers 18:1 says, “The Lord said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood.’” Aaron and his sons bore the sins that the people committed against the sanctuary. Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu committed sins against the sanctuary, so Aaron had to take full responsibility for their sins. Their judgment taught Aaron a serious lesson. It also served as a stern warning to future generations.
Does God sacrifice others to train us?
An older brother in Christ once told me, “God sometimes sacrifices one person’s life in order to teach someone else a lesson.”
“I accept what you are saying,” I replied, “but I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Let me give you an example,” he said. “When we first started preaching the gospel as young Christians, we made many mistakes. We often did not speak well, and the people we were witnessing to often resented our attempts. Not only did we fail to convert those who were listening to us, but our ignorance may have pushed our listeners even farther from God. God temporarily sacrificed these people’s souls in order to train us.”
His explanation made sense to me. When we first learn to preach the gospel, we are often overzealous and unwise, leading others to become disgusted with Christianity. However, we need these experiences to help us learn how to preach the gospel. God loves these people and wants them to be saved. But God sees our eagerness to serve him, and he uses these circumstances to train us to preach the gospel.
Similarly, God often allows one person to suffer while another person is learning how to balance church life and family life. A zealous wife who goes to church every day may shortchange her home responsibilities. The resentful husband may oppose and persecute the zealous wife. The less-fervent spouse is sacrificed to the other spouse’s learning curve.
This exact situation played out in a family I know. Both spouses are Christian, but the wife was overly zealous about serving in the church. She called other Christians every day to remind them to read the Bible. She also attended so many church services that her husband was often at home alone, with no food to eat and no one to keep him company. Understandably, problems arose in their marriage.
Eventually, this woman learned to balance church and home commitments. She began to spend more time with her husband and serve him at home, and sacrificed some of her favorite church activities. Slowly, her husband noticed her transformation. He praised her for her growth and balance. Their marital relationship improved greatly.
At first, the wife thought that she was being persecuted because she loved the Lord. But in reality, she was causing her husband’s suffering. His needs were being sacrificed to her own learning curve. God set up a learning environment in which the wife would grow in obedience and balance. As she changed her perspective, she learned the true essence of spirituality.
On the contrary, I have also seen negative examples. These wives ignored their husband’s needs and continued to prioritize church activities that they enjoyed. They ultimately did not manifest the Lord’s character to their family. When we truly live for the Lord, we obey Him in all things, even when we have to give up activities that we enjoy.
From these stories, we can see that God sacrificed Nadab and Abihu in order to teach Aaron a lesson of obedience and holiness. There must have been some areas in Aaron’s life where he had disobeyed God and was not holy enough, so Nadab and Abihu paid the price to help Aaron learn these lessons.
Why didn’t Aaron eat the sin offering?
After Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire, Moses commanded Aaron and his two other sons to offer sacrifices and eat them, but Aaron did not do so. Moses couldn’t find the goat for the sin offering. When he found out that it had been burned, he got angry and rebuked Aaron’s other sons. He reprimanded them for not eating the sin offering. He said, “Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the place of the sanctuary, since it is a thing most holy and has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord? Behold, its blood was not brought into the inner part of the sanctuary. You certainly ought to have eaten it in the sanctuary, as I commanded.” (Leviticus 10:17-18).
Leviticus 6:30 reveals the reason for Moses’ anger. The verse says, “No sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place; it shall be burned up with fire.” Leviticus 6:24-26 says, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting.” This is what God commanded Moses.
When Moses commanded them to eat the sacrifices in this chapter, he specifically stated, “for so I am commanded.” (Leviticus 10:13). The only reason not to eat a sin offering was if its blood had been brought into the sanctuary. In that case, the animal was brought into the sanctuary to be burned up. Otherwise, the sin offering should be eaten. Since this goat’s blood had not been sprinkled in the sanctuary, it should have been eaten. But Aaron and his remaining sons had burned up the sacrifice (Leviticus 10:16). This was the reason for Moses’ anger. Aaron and his two living sons had not obeyed the law that the Lord had commanded Moses.
In response to Moses’ anger, Aaron said, “Today they have offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, and yet such things as these have happened to me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would the Lord have approved?” After Aaron said this, Moses was no longer angry, and he gave his approval (Leviticus 10:20).
Why did Moses approve? We can speculate that although the goat’s blood was not brought into the sanctuary, some other blood equivalent had been offered. Perhaps the blood of Nadab and Abihu was symbolically offered in the sanctuary. Of course, the two men did not actually bleed, because they were consumed by fire. But Aaron may have regarded his two sons’ death as a sacrifice that had entered the sanctuary. As previously stated, these men’s death may remind us of the sacrifice of God’s only son, Jesus Christ.
What was Aaron feeling here? Yes, he was feeling sadness, pain, and self-reproach. Was he also angry and hateful at God? He seemed to be complaining against God himself. People often mistakenly think that Aaron was dissatisfied with God. But this is not necessarily true.
As any normal father would, Aaron felt pain, sadness, and self-reproach. That’s why he could not eat the sacrifice at that time. His sons had been sacrificed, and he had lost his appetite. If he ate the sacrifice, it would be kind of like eating his son. He just couldn’t do it. He chose not to eat. Instead, he burned up the goat of the sin offering. The Bible does not tell us who gave the command to burn the goat of the sin offering. But my guess is that it was Aaron’s decision. Although the blood of the goat of the sin offering was not brought into the sanctuary, Aaron probably felt that the death of his sons served as a sin offering; therefore, he could not eat the goat.
Moses, who represented God, was pleased with Aaron’s explanation. We believe that Aaron’s feelings here were not necessarily anger towards God, but rather sadness and pain for losing his sons. His feelings may be a representation of the pain that God the Father would one day experience after giving up His Son on the cross. This may be the reason why Moses approved of his explanation.
When our uncleanness is judged by God, He is sanctified. When our sacrifices and offerings are accepted by God, His glory is manifested in us. Nadab and Abihu were forced to represent these sacrifices. Aaron burned the goat of the sin offering, even though its blood had not been brought into the sanctuary. This small act showed Aaron’s obedience before God. He offered Nadab and Abihu as sacrifices to God and was then approved by Moses, who represented God.
When we are disciplined by God, we can choose to respond in rebellious hate or in obedient faith. When we choose to obey, the glory of God is revealed to us. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). Aaron’s obedience to God brought glory to God by ushering in a greater filling of the Holy Spirit.
Dear friend, are you willing to give up the unholy things you love? You may love pornography, greed, or other fleshly desires. Are you willing to give these things up if the Lord removes them from your life? When God disciplines us, we can either choose to learn the lesson of obedience or become more rebellious. Nadab and Abihu’s choices represent those unclean things in our lives. When I say they are the representations of offerings, I am speaking more about our responses to them. Aaron set a good example of obedience to the Lord. His obedience, contrite heart, and lowly spirit were the true sacrifices that God valued the most (Psalm 51).
Let me end with a quote from the famous Chinese Christian Watchman Nee:
It is important for us to receive God’s arrangement in the circumstances. This arrangement is the discipline of the Holy Spirit. To escape God’s arrangement just one time is to lose an opportunity to have our capacity enlarged. This will prolong the time required for life to mature in us and will even require us to make up this lesson in order to reach maturity. A believer can never be the same after passing through suffering. Either he will have his capacity enlarged or he will become more hardened. For this reason, when believers are passing through suffering, they must pay attention and they must realize that maturity in life is the sum total of receiving the discipline of the Holy Spirit. People may see a person who has matured in life, but they cannot see the accumulated discipline of the Holy Spirit which that person has received secretly day by day throughout the years.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Witnee Lee, Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministries), 1991, .