Category: Aaron

Nadab and Abihu were the oldest and second oldest sons of Aaron, the brother of Moses and first high priest of Israel. Their relation to Aaron is mentioned in Numbers 3:2–3 as two of Aaron’s four sons: “The names of the sons of Aaron were Nadab the firstborn and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. Those were the names of Aaron’s sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests.”

Exodus 24 includes Nadab and Abihu as two of the leaders of Israel who came before the Lord. They were given the special privilege of seeing a vision of God: “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:9–11).

Nadab and Abihu are best known, however, for offering “unauthorized fire” (or “strange fire,” KJV) before the Lord in the tabernacle and dying as a result. Leviticus 10:1–2 shares this sobering account, stating, “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.”

Why did God put Nadab and Abihu to death? Leviticus 10:3 offers the explanation: “Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘“Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.”’” Those who served as priests before the Lord were required to serve Him honorably. If they did not, the consequence was death. In the case of Aaron’s sons, they dishonored the Lord by disobeying His command to only use fire from the brazen altar in the tabernacle (see Leviticus 16:12). The “unauthorized fire” they offered was taken from another source.

A similar penalty can be found when David and the Israelites attempted to move the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem from Kiriath Jearim (1 Chronicles 13:1–10). When the ark started to fall over, a man reached out and touched the ark to catch it, and he was immediately struck dead. Why? He was not one of the Levites God had authorized to serve in this sacred, reserved role (Deuteronomy 31:25; 1 Chronicles 15:2).

It may be difficult to understand such strict views regarding ceremony in our time, but these ways were part of how God revealed Himself as holy to the people of Israel. With the coming of Jesus, we find a fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:16) and the curtain of the temple torn in two, offering direct access to God through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:20). God continues to reign in perfect holiness, and all who come to Him through Christ are made part of “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9).

 Aaron was born into a family of Levites during the time of Israel’s enslavement  in Egypt. The Israelites were considered the dregs of society among the  Egyptians who used them as slaves (Exodus  1:14). To add to their burden, Pharaoh forced upon them population control,  ordering the murder of any male babies that might be born to them (Exodus 1:15-16).

Aaron, his sister, Miriam, and their parents were probably very apprehensive  when baby Moses was born. They knew that he was under a death sentence, so in  order to protect him, his mother had set him adrift in a basket, with Miriam  watching, until Pharaoh’s daughter snatched him out of the water and took him to  raise as her own. Aaron grew up knowing he had a brother, although he could not  share his life with him, so he must have felt relief when he was finally able to  have a relationship with Moses. Exodus 4:27 indicates that God directed Aaron to walk back into Moses’ life.

God had  taken Moses down several life paths, giving him the finest education the  Egyptians had to offer (Acts 7:22),  which enabled him to be used to write the Torah (the first 5 books of the  Bible). God prepared him to be the deliverer of His people, Israel, by giving  him a sympathetic heart towards their plight (Exodus  2:11-15). Moses had grown up in the palace of Pharaoh in a life of  privilege; Aaron, on the other hand, had grown up in a hut in a life of poverty  and persecution. Though their experiences were different, Scripture records that  they were together in their faith and trust in the true God (Exodus 4:28-30), so they  were obedient to His will.

Moses argued with God, because he lacked  confidence in his ability to speak, so God appointed Aaron to be the spokesman  for Moses (Exodus  4:14-16). God charged these two brothers: “Moreover, he shall speak for you  to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him”  (Exodus 4:16). In this  directive, God was speaking not only literally to both of these men, but He was  also speaking prophetically of Aaron’s descendant, John, the son of Elizabeth  and Zacharias (Luke 1:13),  about whom He said, “It is he who will go [as a forerunner] before Him in the  spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the  children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make  ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke  1:17).

From Aaron, we learn the lessons of brotherly love, humility,  loyalty, faithfulness, and willingness to serve. Aaron loved his brother, and he  was willing to step up to the plate and serve the Lord, even when his brother  was reluctant (Exodus  4:10). He realized that it was Moses who was called to deliver God’s people,  and not he, so he humbled himself and submitted to Moses’ leading. Like Aaron,  we are called by God to follow the leaders He has ordained, submitting to them  in humility and a spirit of service. Aaron was faithful to God, even though he  stumbled, as in the incident of the golden calf, falling back into the ways of  the Egyptians (Exodus  32:4). But God will use us even when we have lapses of faith if we repent  and turn back to Him. He is faithful to forgive us our sin (1 John 1:9) and “remember it  no more” (Hebrews  8:12).