Nadab and Abihu

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This article is about the sons of Aaron. For the Israeli singer-songwriter, see Avihu Medina.
Illustration of the sin of Nadab and Abihu, from a 1907 Bible card.

In the Book of Exodus, the Book of Leviticus and the Book of Numbers, Nadab (Hebrew: נדב, Nadabh ; "generous, giving") and Abihu (Hebrew: אביהוא, Abhihu ; "He is my father") were respectively the eldest and second-eldest of the sons of Aaron.[1] They offered a sacrifice with strange fire before the LORD, disobeying his instructions. Nadab and Abihu were consumed immediately by God’s fire. The priests were commanded not to mourn, but the people at large were permitted.

Background[edit]

Nadab and Abihu were the first two sons of Aaron the Levite by his marriage to Elisheba. He had four sons in total, the younger two sons being named Eleazar and Ithamar. According to the book of Exodus, Aaron and his sons were the first priests appointed as the priestly system was established by God.[2] The Levites as a tribe were later ordained for the priestly service after answering a call to take the LORD’s side after the idolatry centered around the golden calf.[3] Abihu and Nadab accompanied Moses, Aaron, and 70 elders up Mount Sinai. There they and the others saw God and shared a meal in God's presence. After the death of Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar took their places as priests, because neither Nadab nor Abihu had any sons.[4]

Violation of God’s law and punishment[edit]

In Leviticus 9 and Exodus 30, God outlines a proper sacrifice to him.[5] Aaron, the chief priest, was to present all offerings representing himself and the people.

Moses said to Aaron, “Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and the people; sacrifice the offering that is for the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD has commanded.”

— Leviticus 9:7 New International Version

God would send his own fire to consume the sacrifice as a sign of his presence.[6]

When Nadab and Abihu lit the offering in the censers themselves, their fire was profane and thus God was not in it.[7] They prepared an incense offering upon kindling of their own and not of the holy incense from off the sacred bronze altar. Thus Hebraically, it was termed strange fire.[8] Aaron’s sons spurned the command to wait for holy fire and offered incense with profane fire.[9] Anyone who altered the sacrificial system assumed a prerogative belonging to God alone.[10] God determines the judgments that are carried out against those who flagrantly and arrogantly violate God's commands.[11]

Burial and mourning[edit]

Burial[edit]

After the death of Nadab and Abihu, Moses dictated what was to be done with their bodies. He told Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle, to carry the bodies away from the sanctuary to a place outside of the camp. He specified for Mishael and Elzaphan to be careful to only touch Nadab and Abihu’s tunics, and not their bodies.[12] The first concerns in burial were to prevent what is holy from being defiled and the service of God from being disrupted.[13] The corpses had to be removed immediately, because to allow the uncleanliness of the bodies to remain in the sanctuary could invoke God’s wrath again.[14] The bodies were lifted up “by their tunics”[15] to avoid direct physical contact. This did not prevent the carriers from becoming ritually unclean, but lessened the time and procedures needed to restore them to ritual purity.[16]

Mourning[edit]

Aaron and the other surviving priests were commanded not to mourn, participate in mourning rituals, or have contact with the dead. This was applicable not only in this case; but it was modified in an ongoing command. While priests could mourn, they could not have contact with the dead - even a dead spouse, parent or child - and they could not participate in public mourning rituals.[17] As the representatives of the people, priests were to avoid anything that might disqualify them for God’s service.[18] They were to remain ready and able to act in God's service whenever the community needed them.

The command not to mourn also applied because the crime of Nadab and Abihu was so provoking to God and fully merited the punishment which God had inflicted. To mourn in this case could be seen by the people as accusing God of undue severity.[19] Both the people and the priests needed to show submission to a righteous judgement.[20] If the anointed priests were to sin in this manner, the blame would fall not only upon them but also upon the people.[21] In addition, all Jews are prohibited from mourning on the Sabbath and during Festivals of the Lord. These are days for celebration, no sorrow is permitted to impinge upon the joy of the days.

However, the people in the community as a whole were allowed to mourn and display grief. The death of Nadab and Abihu was tragic yet deserved,[22] and the people were to first recognize that it was deserved and then mourn their death.

Catholic view[edit]

Whether Nadab and Abihu neglected to follow God’s outlined sacrificial system out of presumptuousness, or out of thoughtlessness and inattention, their fault was severely punished so that all might learn to comply exactly with God's commands, and not try to change them or explain them away.[23] The mixing of falsehood with the word of God was a serious sin. Those in power, like priests, should be especially careful in their behavior, because they are examples to those they serve.[24]

Reformation and Post Reformation view[edit]

Nadab and Abihu were in a great position to become honorable and respected priests. If Nadab and Abihu’s deed had been done through ignorance, they would have been told to bring a sin-offering. But instead they did it presumptuously (deliberately and arrogantly), and in contempt of God's majesty and justice. They were therefore cut off, for the wages of sin is death. The sin and punishment of these priests showed the imperfection of that priesthood from the very beginning, and that it could not shelter any from the fire of God's wrath.[25]

View in Judaism[edit]

Nadab and Abihu's sin is a matter of speculation and is debated. The Talmud holds it was for rebelling against Moses (Eruvin 63b) and the Midrash (Vayikra Raba) says the only hint we have is the commandment not to drink wine given to Aaron immediately after their death - an indication that they were drunk. Some views developed the Talmudic approach, arguing that there was an encroachment on duties which devolved on their father alone as the high priest. But the offense was of a far more aggravated nature than an encroachment on duties. Many also argued that there were multiple sins contained in one act. First, they scornfully ventured to perform the incense service—the highest and most solemn of the priestly duties. They also engaged together in a work which was the duty only of one. And, thirdly, they haughtily presumed to light the fire on the offering themselves (unholy fire was used). In this respect, "they offered strange fire before the Lord"; they were guilty of a presumptuous and unwarranted intrusion into a sacred office which did not belong to them.[26] In these actions they obstinately showed carelessness, irreverence, and a want of faith, lamentable especially for those in the priestly service.[27] A precedent of such evil tendency was dangerous, and it was necessary, therefore, for the priests as well as the sacred things, that God should give a punishment.[28] Finally, the Rashbam, Rashi's grandson argues that their sin was an error - not done on purpose - and that they thought they were supposed to bring their offering. Because they brought forwards the wrong offering, they were struck down by the same Divine fire that consumed the offering their father had brought. The Rashbam does not mention the Midrashic view in his comments, however his position supports it.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Numbers 3:2, 26:60 Leviticus 10. Dummelow, J.R. ed., The One Volume Bible Commentary. The Macmillan Company, 1950. Page 91
  2. ^ Exodus 29:9; Commentary on Leviticus 10:1-14, The Jewish Study Bible:Tanakh Translation. The Jewish Publication Society, 2004. Page 227.
  3. ^ Exodus 32:29, Levites. Unger, Merrill F. Unger’s Bible Handbook: An Essential Guide to Understanding the Bible. Moody Press, Chicago. 1967. Page 87.
  4. ^ Numbers 3:4; 1 Kings 18:38; Leviticus 9:24; Nadab and Abihu. Unger, Merrill F. Unger’s Bible Handbook: An Essential Guide to Understanding the Bible. Moody Press, Chicago. 1967. Page 114.
  5. ^ Leviticus 9:6-10; Leviticus 9:24; Exodus 30:7-8; Nadab and Abihu. Unger, Merrill F. Unger’s Bible Handbook: An Essential Guide to Understanding the Bible. Moody Press, Chicago. 1967. Page 114.
  6. ^ 1 Kings 18:38; Leviticus 9:24; Nadab and Abihu. Unger, Merrill F. Unger’s Bible Handbook: An Essential Guide to Understanding the Bible. Moody Press, Chicago. 1967. Page 114.
  7. ^ Commentary on Leviticus 10:1-14, The Jewish Study Bible:Tanakh Translation. The Jewish Publication Society, 2004. Page 227.
  8. ^ Commentary on Leviticus 10:1-14, The Jewish Study Bible:Tanakh Translation. The Jewish Publication Society, 2004. Page 227.
  9. ^ Leviticus 10:1-3
  10. ^ Leviticus 10. Clarke, Adam. Commentary on the Holy Bible. Beacon Hill Press, 1967. Page 160.
  11. ^ Leviticus 10. Halley, Henry H. Halley’s Bible Handbook. 74th Edition. 1993. Page 136.
  12. ^ Leviticus 10: 4-5
  13. ^ Leviticus 10. Dummelow, J.R. ed., The One Volume Bible Commentary. The Macmillan Company, 1950. Page 91.
  14. ^ Commentary on Leviticus 10:1-14, The Jewish Study Bible:Tanakh Translation. The Jewish Publication Society, 2004. Page 227.
  15. ^ Leviticus 10:5
  16. ^ Leviticus 10. Clarke, Adam. Commentary on the Holy Bible. Beacon Hill Press, 1967. Page 160.
  17. ^ Leviticus 21:1-6; Leviticus 21:10-12; Commentary on Leviticus 10:1-14, The Jewish Study Bible:Tanakh Translation. The Jewish Publication Society, 2004. Page 227.
  18. ^ Leviticus 10. Clarke, Adam. Commentary on the Holy Bible. Beacon Hill Press, 1967. Page 160.
  19. ^ Leviticus 10. Clarke, Adam. Commentary on the Holy Bible. Beacon Hill Press, 1967. Page 160.
  20. ^ Leviticus 10. Dummelow, J.R. ed., The One Volume Bible Commentary. The Macmillan Company, 1950. Page 91.
  21. ^ Leviticus 4:3; Commentary on Leviticus 10:1-14, The Jewish Study Bible:Tanakh Translation. The Jewish Publication Society, 2004. Page 227.
  22. ^ Commentary on Leviticus 10:1-14, The Jewish Study Bible:Tanakh Translation. The Jewish Publication Society, 2004. Page 227.
  23. ^ Leviticus X .Haydock, William. Haydock’s Catholic Family Bible and Commentary. 1859. Printed by Edward Dunigan and brother. Page 187.
  24. ^ Leviticus X .Haydock, William. Haydock’s Catholic Family Bible and Commentary. 1859. Printed by Edward Dunigan and brother. Page 187.
  25. ^ Leviticus 10. Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000. Page 247.
  26. ^ Konatch, Yonotan. Masters of the Word: Traditional Jewish Bible Commentary from the Eleventh Through Thirteenth Centuries. KTAV Publishing House. 2001. Page 307-308.
  27. ^ Konatch, Yonotan. Masters of the Word: Traditional Jewish Bible Commentary from the Eleventh Through Thirteenth Centuries. KTAV Publishing House. 2001. Page 307-308
  28. ^ Carmi, Gloria. A Torah Commentary for Our Times: Exodus and Leviticus. 1983. ISBN 0-8074-0530-2.