Nadab & Abihu’s sin: pride or disobedience?

Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire before the LordNadab and Abihu.  Are the names familiar to you?  Nadab and Abihu were two of the sons of Aaron–Nadab, the eldest, and Abihu perhaps the next eldest, as he is mentioned next in line when the sons of Aaron are listed.  If you are familiar with these two men, it is likely that you remember their final act of offering incense before the Lord, only to be “devoured” by fire that went out from the Lord.

Obviously, there was a problem with the actions of Nadab and Abihu.  The question is, what was it?  And then we should ask ourselves, how does this apply to me?

The account of Nadab and Abihu’s death in Leviticus 10 is not the first mention of the men.  Exodus 6:23 lists them as sons of Aaron and Elisheba.  In Exodus 24:1, Nadab and Abihu are two of the men recorded by name as part of the chosen group that followed Moses up on the mount to worship “afar off”.

Exodus 28:1 tells of a special setting apart of these men:

“And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.”

The priest’s office–one which some coveted after–was apparently not sanctified in the minds of Nadab and Abihu like it should have been.

Evidently, Nadab and Abihu’s first foolish move was to drink of alcoholic drink; for the warning which God gave Aaron immediately following his sons’ death started with: “Do not drink wine nor strong drink…when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die….” (Leviticus 10:9)

The events that follow this poor choice, then, are evidence that the Lord does hold man responsible for his sinful decisions made under the influence of alcohol.  We must guard our bodies if we are to guard our minds and our souls!

Leviticus 10:1 describes the exact actions of Nadab and Abihu before their death.

“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.”

Let’s take a closer look at this verse.

They “took either of them his censer”.  First of all, the two of them went together to do a work that God had appointed to one man.  Exodus 30:7,8 says, “Aaron shall burn…incense every morning…and…at even….”

They “put fire therein…strange fire”.  The priest, when preparing to offer incense, was to take live coals from off the altar.  (Numbers 16:46; Leviticus 16:12)  This fire was kindled by the Lord Himself and the priests were responsible for keeping that very fire always burning.  (Leviticus 9:24 and chapter 6:12,13)  It seems pretty clear that this was not the fire that Nadab and Abihu had chosen.

“Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled.  This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.” (Isaiah 50:11)

They did that “which [the Lord] commanded them not”.  That pretty much sums it up.  God means what He says.

“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)  The commandment was being given to the priests in very clear lines.  The Lord laid out the plan as a whole.  Then every step of the way, He was guiding the priests in their new office through Moses.

There was no room for them for uncertainty.  They knew their duty.

So why did they not obey?  Perhaps it had something to do with pride.  After all, the eyes of the entire congregation were on them at the moment.  The Lord had just sent fire to consume the offering upon the altar.  All the people were standing in awe.  Wouldn’t it be a great climax to the event for the two priests to offer the offering of incense?

Obviously not.

“Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?”  “He that walketh righteously….” (Isaiah 33:14,15)  But as for Nadab and Abihu, “there went out fire from before the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” (Leviticus 10:2)

It is not enough for us to do “whatsoever is right in” our “own eyes”.  “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.” (Proverbs 11:21)

So what should we watch out for?  Pride?  Disobedience?  Do you see even more to this lesson?  Feel free to leave a comment!


***The sin of Nadab and Abihu is just one of the lessons touched on as we explore God’s law, the Ten Commandments, and of some of the Israelites’ experiences on their way to the Promised Land in VBS–The Land of Milk & Honey.***

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