In the books of Exodus, Leviticus & Numbers, Nadab (“Generous/Giving”) & Abihu (“Yahweh is My Father”) were the first and second sons of Aaron. They offered a sacrifice with “unauthorized fire” before the Lord, disobeying His instructions. They were immediately consumed by God’s fire. The rest of the priests were commanded not to mourn for them, but the people at large were allowed to.
Nadab & Abihu had quite a pedigree: sons of the high priest, Aaron, and in line to take his place; nephews of Moses, the great leader who had conversations with God; part of God’s covenant people, Israel; set aside for ministry as priests. Yet, despite all of that, Nadab & Abihu disobeyed God in a very public way. And their sin cost them their lives.
Some interpret their sin to the possibility they brought unconsecrated coals from somewhere else to burn on God’s altar. But, whatever the particulars, their behavior was brazenly wrong enough to warrant immediate, deadly discipline from God.
Their deaths remind us: It is not enough to know what to do, we must also do what we know!
Abihu’s position meant he had great responsibilities as he represented the people and the sacrifices they offered God. His priestly clothes set him apart from the masses and emphasized his special role in the community. The people likely gave him their attention when he offered them instruction. They respected his work in the tabernacle as he took great care with the holy pieces there.
But, being a popular religious leader, or respected member of ministry, did not give him a free pass when it came to honoring God.
Early in the wilderness experience of Israel, Abihu and his older brother, Nadab, became reckless in the offerings they brought to God. Rather than take the best care in preparing their sacrifice, they carelessly created an incense offering from common fire rather than from the holy fire source God had ordained (Lev. 10:1,2) God’s judgment on their irreverence came swiftly and severely; fire consumed both brothers… even as they were in the midst of their insolent act.
I. They Took Their Access for Granted
II. They Worshiped Their Own Way
III. They Forgot – or Ignored – God’s Holiness
God expects every person to treat Him and His instructions with reverence and respect. No pulpit is so big… no ministry is so important… and no position is so prestigious to be exempted from God’s requirements.
You can read Abihu (& Nadab’s) story in Exodus 24 & Leviticus 10.