God takes sin seriously. Nadab and Abihu decide to do things their way and it costs them their life. We all rebel against God’s direction in various ways every day, but seldom does God strike someone dead for their rebellion. God usually displays His mercy, like He did with Adam and Eve. Instead of instantly killing them, He is patient and leads them to repentance.
So why do these men die instantly and others seem to go unpunished?
I don’t know all the answers, but here are a few things to think about:
1. God emphasizes the necessity of building the tabernacle by His instructions repeatedly. He carefully explains how the priests carry out their duties because they are in His presence. The Bible is clear that God cannot look on evil and that we cannot enter His presence without holiness (see Habbakuk 1:13 and Hebrews 12:14). This is a vivid example.
2. On two other occasions, God immediately judges people like this. Uzzah touches the Ark of the Covenant and is killed. Ananias and Sapphira are killed for lying to God. Both of these occur in moments where God’s revelation is clear and He is bringing revival to His people. At other times, God allows people to sin and rebel before finally reining them in. Holiness is necessary when God is near. When God is near, His presence is more intense, the people are more zealous and disciplined, and His blessing is greater.
3. Nadab and Abihu’s motives are intentionally willful and defiant. Later, Aaron’s deviations from God’s command are accepted because his motives are good (10:16-20), but they knowingly choose sin.
4. God is teaching the priests to follow Him carefully. They are called to “distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean” and “teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses." (Lev. 10:10-11) This certainly underscores the importance of listening to God’s guidance and following it carefully.
God takes sin seriously. It separates us from Him. Whether He does it immediately or waits until later, God judges our sin. Apart from holiness, we will never see Him. Thankfully, Jesus comes to take away our sin, cleanse us, and make us holy. Those who are holy will see God.
1. What does the fact that this “Day of Atonement” took place only “once a year” (v. 34) tell you about its importance? What does the fact that it must be repeated every year (“a lasting ordinance”) tell you about human nature? And what about the lasting effect of the sacrifice (see Hebrews 9:9-10)?
2. As important as this Day was to Israel for restoring a correct relationship with God, how much more important and lasting is Jesus’ “once for all” sacrifice (see Hebrews 9:11-10:14)?
3. The role of the two goats (vs. 20-22) shows us that no single offering could fully typify the sacrifice of Christ, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29). What aspect of his atonement is typified by the goat that is killed? What distinct aspect of Christ is typified by the scapegoat?