We have covered the significance of the sacrifices, and just in how many multitude of ways they provide a 3-D rendition of the spiritual truth of Christ Jesus, in front of the tabernacle, which is also a physical manifestation of the truth of the heaven in relation to earth and the church of the Sent One.
From chapters 1-7, we have seen just how crucial the details are behind the sacrifices. We have seen the intricacies, the types of animals, the ways the animals are cut, the way the blood is either drained or thrown onto the altar sides or horns… and the person at the center of all these sacrifices at large are the priests. Thus, these next three chapters I will turn to understand the importance of the priests which we have touched upon in the previous 7 chapters. One interesting thing to note is this: the sacrifice is a type of Christ, and the heart-circumcised Jews knew that in the OT. The high priest is also a type of Christ. Try meditating on the picture of a high priest sacrificing an animal – and both priest and animal are types of Christ and imagine the implications of Christ’s work on the cross. I will be working through that in the latter part of this post.
1. The Sanctification of Jesus Christ with the anointing of the Spirit (Leviticus 8 )
2. The acceptance of Aaron’s offering (Leviticus 9)
3. The Death of Aaron’s two sons – Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10)
1. The Sanctification of Jesus Christ with the anointing of the Spirit (Leviticus 8 )
The first few verses sums up the chapters ahead:
1(A) The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Take Aaron and his sons with him, and(B) the garments and(C) the anointing oil and the bull of the sin offering and the two rams and the basket of unleavened bread. 3And assemble all the congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” 4And Moses did as the LORD commanded him, and the congregation was assembled at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
Thus begins the detail about Aaron and his sons. We knew from Exodus 4 that Aaron is going to be Moses’ assistant, chiefly his mouthpiece because of Moses’ ‘uncircumcised lips’ (i.e. speech problem); but slowly, Joshua exchanged the role with Aaron as his chief disciple and assistant, whereas Aaron became Moses’ helper, his peer – from bearing Moses’ arm during the fight against the Amalekites through Yeshua/Joshua’s victory. Throughout Exodus, Moses’ work is inextricably tied with Aaron’s work – as if they were nigh inseparable. Moses’ presence and faith in Christ is the picture which dominated the book of Exodus, until Exodus 28 points towards Aaron and his sons as the priests of the to-be-built tabernacle. Now, the time has come, and Aaron is the prophesied high priest. Yet, without Moses, Aaron’s work would not have occurred. Moses therefore plays the role of the Christ in the Old Testament: the Christ who physically saves as the Angel, and as the LORD who brought them out of Egypt. But in the New Testament, our Christ fulfills the meaning of that physical salvation by completing the true spiritual salvation by the blood. So what if the Israelites are saved from the Egyptians? They will still fall into idolatry. It is the salvation by the blood of Christ which he brings into the room of the Holy of Holies which clinches that peace between us and the Father. Moses – the type of OT Christ, the Rock, the Saviour, the type of the one who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, the land of no Jesus; Aaron – the type of NT Christ, the Lamb, the High Priest, the type of the one who emphasises that the physical exodus is only true if we are circumcised via the spiritual exodus to new Jerusalem (Galatians 4). Make no mistake: the OT and NT are tied together; we are born under the Old Covenant so we can turn to the New. And under both instances, we turn from law of Christ to the gospel of Christ – Christ is at the centre of both typologies of Moses and Aaron.
So, when we look at Aaron, we actually understand Christ better as he presented himself in the NT. So often I hear that NT Christ sheds light on OT sacrifices; but that is not true. If anything, without the OT, NT means nothing; however, with the OT, we can more of less shape the gospel save understand the fullness of the time in which Christ will come. But the Israelites at this point already have a good grasp of the fundamental offerings, the mediator-nature of their Yahweh, and most definitely a visible concept of the Holy Trinity. The NT is just a time of fulfillment (NOT ‘special’ revelation, for the entire OT is already special revelation of Christ); the OT is one of prophecy awaiting Christ who has already been specially revealed as Angel (Genesis 16, Exodus 3), as Lamb (Genesis 22), as animal sacrifice (Genesis 3), and now as High Priest.
So how can Aaron and co. be sanctified (i.e. set apart) for the LORD’s work? How can they be holy? This is different from being clean, as I hinted in the previous post.
The process of sanctification, of being set apart as Holy for the LORD, follows some procedure. Adam Clarke sums it up nicely (and I put in the bracketed numbers to help you navigate):
(1) Moses is commanded to consecrate Aaron and his sons, Lev 8:1-3.
(2) Moses convenes the congregation; washes, clothes, and anoints Aaron, Lev 8:4-12.
(3) He also clothes Aaron’s sons, Lev 8:13.
(4) Offers a bullock for them as a sin-offering, Lev 8:14-17.
(5) And a ram for a burnt-offering, Lev 8:18-21.
(6) And another ram for a consecration-offering, Lev 8:22-24. The fat, with cakes of unleavened bread, and the right shoulder of the ram, he offers as a wave-offering, and afterwards burns, Lev 8:25-28. The breast, which was the part of Moses, he also waves, Lev 8:29.
(7) And sprinkles oil and blood upon Aaron and his sons, Lev 8:30.
(8 ) The flesh of the consecration ram is to be boiled and eaten at the door of the tabernacle, Lev 8:31, Lev 8:32.
(9) Moses commands Aaron and his sons to abide seven days at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, which they do accordingly, Lev 8:33-36.
Let’s quickly decipher them. Moses, in this picture, is like the OT Christ baptizing the NT Christ – the reason I say that is because the New Testament picture provides that of John the Baptist baptising Jesus (Matthew 3:15), when Jesus began his public work as the Anointed One (“Christ” is the greek for the Hebrew term “Messiah/Mashiyach”, meaning “Anointed One” or the “Consecrated One” -משׁיח c.f. Psalm 132:10). This explains why, in verses 4-12, Moses convenes a congregation (Hebrew: edah, meaning assembly, the Hebrew equivalent for ekklesia, church, in the NT) of Israel before the consecration of the High Priest. The direct parallel is also shown in Matthew 3, when the church of Israel witnesses Jesus Christ being consecrated for his ministry as THE Anointed One, the High Priest fulfilling all righteousness. More on this when we speak of the anointing with the oil as the third step of the ritual.
The establishment of the ministry of the Anointed One
The reason I make the typology of Moses as John the Baptist and as role played by Christ in the OT is twofold. Firstly, John the Baptist is the very last prophet of the Old Testament prior to the first advent of Christ – and every prophet is merely a typology of THE chief prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15), THE chief messenger – Christ. As Moses is playing the role of prophet, his role right here parallels the image of John the Prophet and Baptizer of Jesus. Jesus as the Anointed One is now being portrayed by Aaron, the now consecrated High Priest, in front of the assembly/ekklesia/church of Israel. Secondly, is the way I play with the name “Moses”, which means “drawn out of the water”. How much more fitting is it therefore for Moses to baptise Aaron with the water for washing, drawing from the water of the Spirit (as represented by the oil later) after being kept alive by being drawn out out of the waters of punishment?
This is followed closely by the clothing of the priests AFTER the washing as the second step. The clothing of the priests I’ve largely covered in the commentary in Exodus. Primarily, the significance is to tie the burden and the hearts of the Israelites to this one High Priest – the stones on his shoulders and on his breastplace continually remind him that he is standing as the mediator between the Father and the church. He is stepping temporarily into the shoes of Jesus.
The third step is the important ritual of anointing with oil. v.10 reveals that Moses consecrated the tabernacle first, before consecrating Aaron and his sons. 1 Samuel 16:13 –
Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
This shows just how important the Spirit is to any ministry. Without oil, representing the Spirit, the work of the High Priests are in vain (1 Corinthians 2; 1 Corinthians 12). Thus, the truth of the Spirit resting on Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One, is strengthened clearly in the picturing of oil everywhere (Isaiah 42:1-4, 61:1-3; Luke 4:14-21). The oil comes again later in v.30.
The offerings in the preparation of Aaron & his sons
In v. 14-17, Aaron and his sons put their hands on the head of the bull as sin offering. The bull, which “absorbs” the sin of Aaron and his sons is then destroyed away from the camp, so as not to threaten the purity of the camp or the Tent. This “Great Exchange” of imputing our sins to Christ and his sins to us is spoken of in Romans 3 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 –
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Just is the essence of true Christian justification: we aren’t just made into a blank slate with the Father solemnly approving our entrance into heaven. No no, much more! We are actually pleasing in the Father’s eyes so long as Christ is our captain, and we are in Him, the true Noah’s ark! The Father now looks on us like how he looks on his eternal Son!
Now that the altar is purified, the preparation of the priests is completed, to which we turn to the burnt offering for the atonement of their sins. The first sin-offering cleansed them; and now, the burnt offering puts them in a position of pleasure before the LORD (refer back to 2 Corinthians 5:21) through the necessary substitute death of the animal sacrifice. This anger of the LORD being soothed, the fellowship offering from v.22-29 takes the next stage. First and foremost, all the offerings mentioned in these verses are forms of fellowship/peace offering (so they do not break-away from the 5-types of offerings in chapters 1-7, as if they are a sixth or seventh type of offering).
The reason why fellowship offering is so important is because it represents table fellowship with the LORD, so that we can eat with the Father and not only with the Incarnate Son (c.f. Last Supper). Without the prior sin and burnt offering, this fellowship offering could not occur: this once against focuses on the truth of the importance of Jesus’ work on the cross before we can come before God as pleasing aroma of Christ and enjoy fellowship with Him. Often, I have heard a simple phrase of “God is love” or “God is grace” – as biblical as the former is (1 John 4:16), the phrase is often taken out of 1 John’s context. God is love through the propitiating blood of Jesus Christ. God is love because of the propitiating blood of Jesus Christ. Too often “Christ” and “blood” and “sacrifice” and “propitiation” is taken out of the picture, and we see a God who isn’t ‘judgmental’, but simply a God who is nice and loving – and this has caused the reason of so many heresies like contemporary pop-Marcionism: the OT God is full of wrath, the NT God is full of love. Both the LORDS spoken of in OT and NT are Jesus Christ (yes, even the Old Testament usage of “LORD”, for who has known the Father without firstly knowing the visible Son of God (Luke 10:22)), and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all angry at sin, yet the work of the cross fully deals with our punishment on the tree, and that is no blind grace – it is a true and legally justified salvation by grace.
One interesting difference is however found in the ordination/consecration (in the KJV) offering (v. 22-24). The blood is applied on the priest’s lobe of the right ear, thumb of the right hand, and big toe of the right foot. The right hand side is often seen as more important throughout Scripture (Genesis 48:14; Exodus 15:6; Deuteronomy 33:22; 1 Kings 2:19; Job 40:14; Psalm 16:8, 18:35; Ephesians 1:20), whether as a blessing on the next generation or as a powerful and protective force. Jesus himself sits at the right hand of God, and many times people take refuge in the right hand of God, which depicts the power, protection and refuge of Jesus Christ. Thus, the blood on the right hand side displays a full-allegiance not only to “God”, but to the right hand of God, Jesus Christ. This right-hand side smearing of blood is practised later in Leviticus 14 on a leper, who through doing so is restored to full fellowship with God. The priest is thus similarly cleansed and accepted into table fellowship with the Trinity.
The conclusion of the ordination ritual
The ordination ritual thus comes to an end with oil in v.30, covering the priests and their clothing once again. The oil thus begins and ends as bookends for the offerings and depicts a clear message of what the Anointed One will do for spiritual Israel. When priests are therefore engaged in their work, we will definitely think – “this, also, is what the Anointed One will do!” This is far more profound than the shy provision of oil for prophets and kings: the priest is completely covered in the Spirit! Psalm 133:2 –
“It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!”
This section of Psalms presents some deep theology: the precious oil on the head of Aaron runs down his beard to the collar of his robes and later covering his clothing. So also: the Spirit on the head of Christ, runs down to his body, the church, and through the work of the Consecrated and Anointed Priest – the work of the Great Exchange of imputing our sin to him and his righteousness to us so we can have table fellowship with the LORD – is then the church manifested by the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit to come to new life.
When these rituals are completed, Aaron and his sons are given the offerings to eat at the entrance of the tabernacle, and so these prototype mediators stand between the LORD and His assembly, eating the LORD’s meat whilst in the priestly clothing representing the church. This is very similar to the eating and drinking before the LORD in Exodus 24, the table fellowship with the seen Jesus. Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu are now re-experiencing that wondrous moment in the thickness of the clouds of Mt. Sinai, on the border of the cloud of darkness and pillars of fire – the boundary between heaven and earth, between east of the garden of Eden and the Garden itself.
The final five verses of Leviticus 8 finishes the ritual of the priests:
31And Moses said to Aaron and his sons, “Boil the flesh at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and there eat it and the bread that is in the basket of ordination offerings, as I commanded, saying, ‘Aaron and his sons shall eat it.’ 32And what remains of the flesh and the bread you shall burn up with fire. 33And you shall not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the days of your ordination are completed, for it(U) will take seven days to ordain you. 34As has been done today, the LORD has commanded to be done to make atonement for you. 35At the entrance of the tent of meeting you shall remain day and night for seven days, performing what the LORD has(V) charged, so that you do not die, for so I have been commanded.” 36And Aaron and his sons did all the things that the LORD commanded by Moses.
Thus, if the priests fail to eat of the remainder of the flesh, the pronouncement of judgment on the sinful flesh, it shall be burnt with fire – a picture of the true punishment via the lake of fire (Revelation 21). This is mildly preached when Jesus ate the fish (Habbakuk 1:14 and Genesis 1 – the fish and sea creatures have no life in them, c.f. my post on Genesis Day 2 and 5), as a pronouncement of judgment on the mindless fish – the unsaved men.
And unsurprisingly, the seven days focus takes us back to the creation of the world in 6 days, and sabbath on the 7th. This picture of creation of heaven and earth completed in 7 days is a foretelling of the re-creation of the world also told in the symbolic 7 days through the priestly work of Christ. From the 8th day, the work of re-creation has already begun, just as Christ was resurrected on the 8th day (c.f. Genesis 17 circumcision, and Christ rising again on the 8th day AFTER the Sabbath on the 7th day, a picture of the new work of re-creation of heavens and earth, taking into account the symbolic second set of 7 days). Hence, we move onto the 8th day in Leviticus 9.
A final note on the ordination is the question of whether modern-day ordination has similar significance. Yes and No – Yes, in the sense that (as I will later cover in Leviticus 10), the ordination of these high priests is akin to the ordination of ministers and pastors. They are given a highly responsible role of stewarding the sheep in the Shepherd’s stead, though of course, aligning to the Shepherd’s teachings. The pastoral epistles such as Timothy and Titus were not written for any laymen, just as the 70 elders of Israel were chosen with specific character qualities. However, the ordination of Leviticus 8 is not the same as the ordination of ministers at the same time – because the ministers are not made “holy” because of the ordination. Rather, the holiness is one which all Christians inherit by the power of the Spirit. We are to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6), not a kingdom of laymen and minority of priests! The message spoken of here is a message of us taking on the nature of Christ through his propitiating and cleansing work of his own blood and the waters and oil of the Spirit. In that sense, today’s ordination of ministers does not make them any more “holy” than the time that they were, when they first came to Christ prior to their ordination. Therefore, a minister’s state of ‘holiness’ is no more than the state of ‘holiness’ that we are given by the power of the Spirit in whatever ministry we are anointed to perform.
2. The acceptance of Aaron’s offering (Leviticus 9)
The significance of the 8th day shouldn’t be downplayed. You should feast your eyes on Bullinger’s Numbers in Scripture’s chapter on the number 8, and here is just a small excerpt which is by no means enough to show the parallel of 8th day and new creation:
EIGHT BY ITSELF: It is 7 plus 1. Hence it is the number specially associated with Resurrection and Regeneration, and the beginning of a new era or order.
When the whole earth was covered with the flood, it was Noah “the eighth person” (2 Peter 2:5) who stepped out on to a new earth to commence a new order of things. “Eight souls” (1 Peter 3:20) passed through it with him to the new or regenerated world.
Hence, too, circumcision was to be performed on the eighth day (Gen 17:12), because it was the foreshadowing of the true circumcision of the heart, that which was to be “made without hands,” even “the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col 2:11). This is connected with the new creation.
The first-born was to be given to Jehovah on the eighth day (Exo 22:29,30). But RESURRECTION is the great truth which is signified. Christ rose from the dead on “the first day of the week,” that was of necessity the eighth day.
So what happens on the 8th day is of serious importance to the understanding of God’s work of re-creation. Adam Clarke’s commentary comes in useful again, with my edited numbering and extra notes in italics:
(1) Aaron is commanded to offer, on the eighth day, a sin-offering (bull calf) and a burnt-offering (ram), Lev 9:1, Lev 9:2.
(2) The people are commanded also to offer a sin-offering (male goat), a burnt-offering (calf and a ram, a year old without blemish), peace-offerings (ox and a ram), and a meat-offering (I think A.Clarke meant grain offering – mixed with oil) , Lev 9:3, Lev 9:4. They do as they were commanded; and Moses promises that God shall appear among them, Lev 9:5, Lev 9:6.
(3) Aaron is commanded to make an atonement for the people, Lev 9:7. He and his sons prepare and offer the different sacrifices, Lev 9:8-21. Aaron and Moses bless the congregation, Lev 9:22, Lev 9:23.
(4) And the fire of the Lord consumes the sacrifice, Lev 9:24.
The centrality of the verses above drives on two verses: “so that the (Glory of the) LORD may appear to you”. Part (1) relates strictly to Aaron and sons (with sin and burnt offerings), but part (2) involves the work of Aaron and sons for the congregation of Israel, which doesn’t just involve sin and burnt offerings, but also fellowship and grain offerings as fellowship and dedication to the LORD respectively. Everything that priest has done is to involve themselves and to involve the congregation so that their own sins and the congregations’ sins are tied to these sacrifices, imputed onto them, and so that the LORD may appear to them. This may sound odd, given that they were ALREADY witnessing the glory of God as a pillar of cloud and fire in the tabernacle! No – what is meant here is the significance of these sacrifices in ORDER to meet with God. They cannot just expect to dwell with Jesus, given their sinful nature (including the priests, who are after all only acting as the True Priest who is entirely sinless).
Lev 9:22 Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. 24 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
This chapter ends on a high note – the work of re-creation, on the 8th day, is powerfully shown through the sacrifices made – and the “glory of the LORD appeared to all the people” as the High Priest lifted his hands to bless the people (an image of Melchizedek, who is Jesus, the Sent One who blessed Abraham the model of faith – Romans 4). This “glory of the LORD” of course is no mere glory, for who has seen God except the visible person Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15)? Sometimes I hear people today saying things like “I saw God’s glory”, which they usually mean as “I felt the intimacy of God today”. However, in Scripture, to see God’s glory is to actually see Him – not just to feel the intimacy, but to see Him with the eyes of our hearts, when a particular mystery in the fullness of Christ is revealed by the Spirit. Can you see the glory of God through the music of a worship song? Sure. Can you see the glory of God through a pastor praying for you? Indeed. Only if both take us back to Jesus Christ, and not because we feel like we are being loved. It is important to distinguish the feelings from the fact of God’s revelation to us, for often the feelings of a compromising Christian precede that of fact: and this leads to all types of spiritual troubles in store for them. Let the true glory of God, Jesus Christ, reveal more of the truth of his work on the cross for us, so we worship Him with more reverence.
The picture of fire coming out from before the LORD and consuming these offerings is one of acceptance of the people, while simultaneously pronouncing judgment on the now sinful animal sacrifices. This rejoicing is bittersweet – they live, because of the death of another; yet, our rejoicing in Christ is not bittersweet – he will not only die on the cross, but will live and ascend to bring us up again to the new heavens and earth as fully righteous and not just a blank slate.
3. The Death of Aaron’s two sons – Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10)
Although the last chapter ended optimistically, it is no mistake that Moses chose to juxtapose the glory of Aaron’s work, prophesying Jesus’ completed work on the cross starting from the 8th day (after Sabbath), with the decadence of the examples of Nadab and Abihu.
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. (Lev 10:1)
Because of this “unauthorised” fire, v.2 goes on to say that Nadab and Abihu were immediately consumed by the LORD’s fire. What a horrific image: one moment, the church of Israel is rejoicing, because Aaron and his sons went through the steps with a mixture of solemnity (of imputing their sins onto the sacrifice), and joy (of the imputation of righteousness onto them); and another moment, Nadab and Abihu fail to remember these important steps to God’s love and are consumed!
Let’s decipher ‘unauthorised’ fire first. In the KJV, this is “strange” fire. The LXX translates this as “αλλοτριον” (from the lexical root allotrios), meaning strange, alien or hostile. This is different from the “heteros”, also meaning strange but more akin to “different”, used in Jude 7 referring to different flesh. While I understand the cultural and semantic distinctions between LXX greek and NT greek, the context helps us understand that this strange fire is very different from ‘strange flesh’ which refers in the latter part to angelic flesh. This strange fire, however, is unauthorised as the ESV translators put it: it is alien, and it is most importantly hostile.
If we just read the narrative, the message is quite simple: both the sons of Aaron took his censer and put fire in it and literally gave a hostile offering before the LORD. Of course, they did not think it was hostile – but the LORD did, hence His reaction in v.2. Paul Blackham notes that some people have read v.8-9 of chapter 10 and came to the conclusion that Nadab and Abihu are drunk, though I agree with him that actually, this seems not so feasible since chapter 10 follows immediately after chapter 9. There is no indication of a time gap, especially v.12-16, explaining how the food offerings haven’t yet been consumed. Since v.3 follows on from v.2, the judgment on Aaron’s sons, it would perhaps give the best explanation of why Nadab and Abihu were punished:
“This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.
Moses’ explanation is straightforward: without committing to the right steps to salvation, committing ourselves to God’s glory through Jesus Christ, our prayers and desires are unheard. This is extremely important: for we remain under wrath outside of Jesus Christ (John 3:16-18 ) – and so Nadab and Abihu show just how they were under judgment, if they provide unauthorised offerings.
But surely Nadab and Abihu were just adding to the offerings? No – it isn’t that simple. The significance of the entire sacrificial system, the priestly ordination, is that it is the LORD’s commandment. He has ordained salvation to be wrought in an extremely specific and detailed way, and any subversion or alteration of it is to preach one thing: that we know it better than the LORD. That we can take or add from the word of God (Revelation 22:18 ). Some can even go as far as to say that what Nadab and Abihu were doing is a great example of works-salvation: it is as if Aaron’s sons felt that the sacrificial offering through Jesus Christ is not enough, and they have to add their own to justify themselves. Either way, the LORD is furious that we would want to alter, or add onto the salvation of Jesus. HE is our rock, HE is our righteousness – not our unauthorised and hostile offerings which has no bearing on our justification before Him.
v.3-6 is a sad image of Nadab and Abihu’s relatives carrying the two brothers’ corpses out, while Aaron their father holds his peace. Nadab, whose name means “generous”, and Abihu, whose name means “he is my father” (possibly referring to God), is carried out by their relatives Mishael (“who is what God is”) and Elzaphan (“my God has protected”), sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel (“my strength is God”). I find it, however, quite touching how they still refer to Nadab and Abihu as brethren (in the KJV, and “brother” in the ESV), and carry them with their coats still covering them – though it is indeed a solemn reminder that the physicali clothing is not what makes them holy; the physical robes of “righteousness” still needs to be true spiritually. Moses tells Aaron and his sons not to bewail the death of Nadab and Abihu; instead, the house of Israel will now mourn for Nadab and Abihu.
Why can’t Aaron and his sons mourn for his eldest and 2nd eldest son? Because they are still anointed with the Spirit:
And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.(v.7)
This corresponds to what Jesus taught in Luke 14:25-26 – if you do not hate your parents, your wife, your brothers and sisters, your sons and daughters compared with God, then you cannot approach Jesus. This is the intense devotion to the living God, and the mark of the Spirit on Aaron and his sons is a mark not merely of cleanness, but holiness. God isn’t asking us to hate our human family; rather, he is teaching us to respect his authority even above the authority of our family. If Aaron mourned, then he is akin to those who Christ are condemning in Luke 14.
Then v.10-11 implies that Aaron and his sons do not have the mere job of managing the sacrifices: they also have the duty to teach the people the meaning of the sacrifices. How fitting it is that Moses is reminding Aaron of such a duty, after his two sons have died because they failed to understand the statute fully. I think this is a crucial verse: so often we practise baptism, communion, sacraments, marriage and many signs of God’s grace to us, but we fail to understand its meaning. This is why we have denominations preaching damaging lies like works-salvation, believer’s baptism, inter-faith or homosexual marriages. They fail to remember what Scripture taught about these practices, and looked upon the physical truth and bound their subjective spiritual definitions to it. The story of Nadab and Abihu is profound: it is telling us to listen to God, and rest on Christ alone as the definer of our faith.
v.12-18 then sees Moses asking the sons of Aaron to do as they were told and ensure that the remains of the sacrifice are dealt with as already told. The key word in v.16, is diligent. Moses is not half-hearted, and the message again is especially poignant after the death of Aaron’s two sons.
v.19-20 sees Aaron admitting his mistake in failing to serve the LORD properly, but there is a mark of humility and repentance in his actions: “If I had eaten the sin offering today, would the LORD have approved?”- indeed, the LORD would approve, as Moses stated. Aaron was inwardly and spiritually mourning as the Father of the two sons, and just like those who fast because they mourn for the days of Jesus’ return (Matthew 9:15), Aaron’s fasting is a mark of his love for his two sons. Thus, the difference between Aaron’s mistake and his sons mistake is quite significant: the former is one who continually feared and revered God and acknowledged his mistake. However, the latter represents two people who impudently and rashly entered His presence with hostile sacrifices even though they should already know the statutes well. Thus, the responses from the LORD are proportional and appropriate. Here is Matthew Henry on Aaron’s repentant heart:
Moses charged the fault upon Eleazar and Ithamar (Lev_10:16), but it is probable that what they did was by Aaron direction, and therefore he apologized for it. He might have pleaded that this was a sin-offering for the congregation, and if it had been a bullock it must have been wholly burnt (Lev_4:21), and therefore why not now that it was a goat? But it seems it was otherwise ordered at this time, and therefore he makes his affliction his excuse, Lev_10:19. Observe, (1.) How he speaks of affliction: Such things have befallen me, such sad things, which could not but go near his heart, and make it very happy. He was a high priest taken from among men, and could not put off natural affection when he put on the holy garments. He held his peace (Lev_10:3), yet his sorrow was stirred, as David’s, Psa_39:2. Note, There may be a deep sense of affliction even where there is a sincere resignation to the will of God in the affliction. “Such things as never befel me before, and as I little expected now. My spirits cannot but sink, when I see my family sinking; I must needs be heavy, when God is angry:” thus it is easy to say a great deal to aggravate an affliction, but it is better to say little. (2.) How he makes this an excuse for his varying from the appointment about the sin-offering. He could not have eaten it but in his mourning, and with a sorrowful spirit; and would this have been accepted? He does not plead that his heart was so full of grief that he had no appetite for it, but that he feared it would not be accepted. Note, [1.] Acceptance with God is the great thing we should desire and aim at in all our religious services, particularly in the Lord’s supper, which is our eating of the sin-offering. [2.] The sorrow of the world is a very great hindrance to our acceptable performance of holy duties, both as it is discomposing to ourselves, takes off our chariot-wheels and makes us drive heavily (1Sa_1:7, 1Sa_1:8 ), and as it is displeasing to God, whose will it is that we should serve him cheerfully, Deu_12:7. Mourner’s bread was polluted, Hos_9:4. See Mal_3:14.