Nadab and Abihu. 1* Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers and, putting incense on the fire they had set in them,a they offered before the LORD unauthorized fire, such as he had not commanded. 2Fire therefore came forth from the LORD’s presence and consumed them,b so that they died in the LORD’s presence. 3Moses then said to Aaron, “This is as the LORD said:
Through those near to me I will be sanctified;
in the sight of all the people I will obtain glory.”* c
But Aaron said nothing. 4* Then Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, with the order, “Come, carry your kinsmen from before the sanctuary to a place outside the camp.” 5So they drew near and carried them by means of their tunics outside the camp, as Moses had commanded.
Conduct of the Priests. 6Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not dishevel your haird or tear your garments,e lest you die and bring God’s wrath also on the whole community. While your kindred, the rest of the house of Israel, may mourn for those whom the LORD’s fire has burned up, 7you shall not go beyond the entrance of the tent of meeting,f else you shall die; for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you.” So they did as Moses told them.
8The LORD said to Aaron: 9When you are to go to the tent of meeting, you and your sons are forbidden, by a perpetual statute throughout your generations, to drink any wine or strong drink, lest you die.g 10You must be able to distinguish between what is sacred and what is profane, and between what is clean and what is unclean;* h 11and you must be able to teach the Israelites all the statutes that the LORD has given them through Moses.
The Eating of the Priestly Portions. 12Moses said to Aaron and his surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, “Take the grain offering* left over from the oblations to the LORD, and eat it beside the altar in the form of unleavened cakes, since it is most holy. 13You must eat it in a sacred place because it is your and your sons’ due from the oblations to the LORD; such is the command I have received. 14i The brisket of the elevated offering and the leg* of the contribution, however, you and your sons and daughters may eat, in a clean place; for these have been assigned to you and your children as your due from the communion sacrifices of the Israelites. 15The leg of the contribution and the brisket of the elevated offering shall be brought in with the oblations of fat to be raised as an elevated offering before the LORD. They shall belong to you and your children as your due forever, as the LORD has commanded.”
16Moses inquired closely about the goat of the purification offering* and discovered that it had all been burned. So he was angry with the surviving sons of Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar, and said, 17j “Why did you not eat the purification offering in the sacred place, since it is most holy? It has been given to you that you might remove the guilt of the community and make atonement for them before the LORD. 18Since its blood was not brought inside the sanctuary, you should certainly have eaten the offering in the sanctuary, as I was commanded.” 19Aaron answered Moses, “Even though they presented their purification offering and burnt offering before the LORD today, still this misfortune has befallen me. Had I then eaten of the purification offering today, would it have been pleasing to the LORD?” 20On hearing this, Moses was satisfied.
* [10:1–2] Nadab and Abihu are the older sons of Aaron (Ex 6:23–24). Their sin apparently involves using embers from an unapproved source instead of the altar (cf. 16:12). The fire that destroys them is the same type found in 9:24.
* [10:3] The explanation for the divine reaction indicates that improper cultic actions desecrate God and compromise God’s glory. Desecration evokes divine punishment (cf. Ex 28:43; Nm 4:15, 19–20). Those near to me: i.e., cultic officials.
* [10:4–5] Moses has lay people remove the bodies so that the priests can continue their cultic activities free of contamination by a corpse (cf. Nm 19).
* [10:10] Sacred and…profane…clean and…unclean: something or someone may be either sacred or profane (i.e., ordinary, not set apart), and at the same time clean or unclean. Priests would be particularly concerned about keeping what is unclean away from the sacred.
* [10:12–13] Grain offering: this is the grain offering of the people of 9:4, 17. Only the token offering had been offered; the rest was for the priests’ consumption.
* [10:14] Brisket…leg: these are from the Israelites’ communion sacrifices in 9:4, 18–21.
* [10:16–20] Goat of the purification offering: this is the people’s purification offering of 9:3, 15. Since its blood is not brought into the sanctuary, then, according to 6:17–23, this is the type of purification offering which is to be eaten by the priests in a holy place. Eleazar and Ithamar: they burned the entire goat of the people’s purification offering (9:15) instead of eating it in a sacred place (6:19) to remove ritually the sin of the community by the ingestion of the meat of the offering. Aaron’s defense of this action of his sons is somewhat vague: he merely alludes to the loss suffered in the death of Nadab and Abihu, without giving an explicit reason for Eleazar and Ithamar’s not eating the people’s purification offering, as required.
a. [10:1] Lv 16:1; Nm 3:4; 26:61; 1 Chr 24:2.
b. [10:2] Nm 16:35; cf. Lv 9:24.
c. [10:3] Lv 21:17, 21; Nm 20:12.
h. [10:10] Lv 11:47; 20:25; Ez 22:26; 44:23.