All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Sudden Judgment
Based on Leviticus 10

Through the command of the Lord, the tabernacle is constructed, and Aaron and his sons are instructed about the duties, services, and offerings for seven days. Then they are consecrated to the sacred office of the priesthood, and on the eighth day, they begin their ministration. Aaron, the high priest, assisted by his sons, offers the sacrifices and offerings the Lord requires, then Moses goes into the tabernacle with his brother. When they come out, they pronounce a blessing on all the people, and the glory of the Lord appears to them all. Immediately, fire comes down from Heaven and ignites the wood on the altar—completely consuming the burnt offering!

Swift Punishment

Not long after the inauguration, all twelve tribes of Israel meet at the entrance of the tabernacle for community worship. The prayers and praise of the people ascend to the Lord as Aaron’s sons, Nadab and p Abihu, light their censers to burn fragrant incense within the tabernacle before the Lord. However, they do not follow instructions to take from the fire that came from the Lord and consumed the whole burnt offering. Instead they take common fire from outside the tabernacle, and immediately the fire of retribution goes out from the Lord and consumes them!

All eyes are upon Aaron, who maintains his silence and does not enter into the noisy wailing that usually accompanies mourning. Moses also warns Aaron and his other sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the people.” Leviticus 10:6. Any of these mourning traditions could be interpreted by the people as sympathy for Nadab and Abihu—who had visibly and dramatically come under the condemnation of God!

The Lord then permanently prohibits Aaron and his sons from drinking wine or strong drink before entering the tabernacle—indicating that Nadab and Abihu took common fire in their censers when they went into the tabernacle because they were intoxicated. Their sin was deliberate and reflected scorn for the sacred things of the Lord, thus disqualifying them for service and making them worthy of divine judgment.

Misunderstanding Solved

Moses calls Mishael and Elzaphan, cousins of Aaron, to carry the ashes of Nadab and Abihu away from the camp. In the confusion that follows, Aaron suspends the tabernacle ritual of eating the portion of the meat offering that pertains to him, but Moses warns him in forceful terms to continue the ritual. When priests eat their portion of the purification offerings that atones for the sins of others, they bear the guilt of the sinful offerers—a foreshadowing of what the Messiah, in His priestly role, would ultimately do.

Moses also careful inquires about the goat of the sin offering. When a goat is used as a sin offering, its blood is not carried into the sanctuary, but put on the horns of the altar of whole burnt offering. Then the flesh of the goat is eaten by the priests. Because Aaron fails to eat the flesh, there is no transfer of sin to him or his sons, and they cannot make atonement for sins they do not bear.

Moses becomes angry because they have not eaten of the meat as the ritual indicates, but Aaron responds, “If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been accepted in the sight of the Lord?”

Nadab and Abihu became their own sin offering by being burned up, so there was no reason to continue the ritual. Finally, Moses understands his brother’s actions.

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