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and then for the people, thus making atonement for both; after which he lifted up his hand toward the people, and blessed them, and came down from the altar.
Moses and Aaron then went into the tabernacle, and came out, and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared unto them all. At the same time fire issued from the tabernacle, and consumed the burnt-offering and the fat which were upon the altar. These were miraculous and striking manifestations of the divine presence in the midst of the people, and of the gracious acceptance of their offerings. Struck with the sight, they shouted for joy, and prostrated themselves on the earth in grateful adoration of the goodness of Jehovah.
Strange as it may seem, in the midst of scenes like these, with such manifestations of the presence of God, and such explicit commands to have every thing done in exact obedience to his directions, there were those who could utterly disregard these commands and profane the service of the sanctuary. Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, did this ; themselves but just invested with the priestly office, and solemnly consecrated to God, for the faithful discharge of its duties. They took their censers, and put fire in them, and incense thereon,
and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded not.”
What their precise object was in doing this, we cannot ascertain. It was, however, a most daring and high-handed offence. The time was probably altogether an improper one; and instead of taking the fire from the sacred altar, on which God him. self had kindled it, and where it was to be kept always burning for his service, they procured it from some other source. They assumed the right of acting in the place of Jehovah, and altering the ordinances of his worship. These considerations, together with the peculiar circumstances of the late religious ceremonies; and the necessity of preserving unsullied the divine dignity, and of guarding the institutions of the sanctuary against the least profanation, called down upon them a terrible punishment. " There went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord;" in front of the door of the tabernacle.
Aaron, their father, was filled with anguish at the sight: while the keenness of his suffering was greatly increased by the cause of their death,—the presumption and impiety of the offenders. While mournfully gazing on it in deep astonishment, Moses addressed him in these words, - This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified.”
It was a reason that explained the event ;reason simple and awe-inspiring. Aaron felt the
force of it, and made no reply; bowing in silent submission before this expression of the divine vengeance upon his guilty children!
Moses then commanded the dead bodies to be carried out of the camp and buried, by Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel, who was the uncle of Aaron. He, also, enjoined upon Aaron and his surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, not to uncover their heads, nor rend their garments, nor exhibit any other of the customary signs of mourning; " lest ye die," added he,
land lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord hath kindled. And ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die : for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you."
They were consecrated to the service of the sanctuary. Its duties were urgent and not to be dispensed with; and rather than suffer any interruption in performing them, the otherwise becoming expressions of sorrow must yield to these high and holy obligations. "And they did according to the word of Moses."
A divine injunction immediately following these events, has given rise to the supposition that Nadab and Abihu were unduly excited, or perhaps intoxicated, by the excessive use of wine, when they sinned so grievously against the Lord; and it is not at all improbable that this was the case. " The Lord spake unto Aaron, saying, do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations. And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; and that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Mo. ses.” They were to be free from the least possible excitement from every stimulating drink; so as to be able to exercise a clear and sound judgment in the discharge of their official duties. This precept is a very ancient one, given more than three thousand years ago by God himself, to direct the conduct of those who were engaged in his peculiar service. It shows the danger to which the moderate use of wine might expose them, in the proper performance of their duties, and which must be guarded against under the penalty of death itself. What they were permitted to do, in this respect, at other times when they were not about to enter the tabernacle, we are not informed. The reason, indeed, of the command would seem to apply with equal force to other occasions demanding similar self-possession and clearness of understanding, though no mention is made of them.
How is this danger increased, from the moderate use of all drinks which can intoxicate, at the present day, and among all classes and conditions of men ! For the temptations to excess, and the means of indulgence, have increased a thousand fold! If Aaron and his sons were commanded to practice total abstinence under the peculiar circumstances in which, at seasons occurring daily and frequently, they were placed; may we not, all of us, now be placed, from the peculiar circumstances of the country and age in which we live, under obligations to follow their example in this respect, at all times, except when sickness, or pressing bodily infirmity, furnish an exception. What follower of Christ, (and we should all be his followers,) but must desire always to be able to put a difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.