Tragedy Strikes

Leviticus 10:1-20

At the height of the celebrations of the first day of the Tabernacle service, Aaron’s two older sons, Nadab and Abihu, take it upon themselves to offer incense that is not part of the commanded service. God sends out a fire from before Him and consumes their souls. Moses offers comfort to his bereaved brother, but Aaron remains silent.


The Israel Bible explains Nadab and Abihu’s actions. Moved by the closeness they felt to God during the inauguration of the Tabernacle, they wish to get even closer to Him by bringing an offer in the Holy of Holies. It was not commanded, however, despite their good intentions, and therefore they were punished. This is the meaning behind Moses’s words to Aaron: “I will be sanctified through those who are nearest to me.” Through the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, who were immeasurably close to God at the time, the Children of Israel learned that God’s rules must be upheld, even by those who are powerful.


Aaron’s cousins minister to the bodies of the fallen priests, as Aaron and his younger sons are not permitted to leave the Tabernacle at this time. God also warns them not to consume any alcohol while serving in the Tabernacle, lest they die.


Moses instructs Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar on how to complete the remaining parts of the service. However, they do not follow his instructions precisely. Moses confronts them for it, and Aaron argues that given their state of bereavement, they acted correctly. Moses accepts his brother’s explanation and acknowledges that they did the right thing under the circumstances.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Why do you think God chooses this time to warn the priestly family to avoid alcohol during their service?

Comments ( 12 )

The comments below do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and opinions of The Israel Bible™.

Post a Reply

Comments must adhere to our guidelines or they may be removed.

  • Herman Arentsen

    It was a great festival. All the people of Israël joined together. All shouted and fell on their faces,……except for the two sons of Aaron. For the eye of all Aaron’s sons put strange fire on the incense of their censers. Strange might see to a. their behaviour and b. also to the place where the fire came from. Strange behaviour because of alcohol ( firewater) consumption ( that might be the reason of the mentioning of being sober or was there a strange fire in their hearts because of them being the sons of the Kohen Gadol (pride?) c.or was in their hearts really the upright wish to be as close to the G-d of their people as was possible? Anyhow they died. because of not obeying the rules of HaShem. At this moment because all the people could see that even the sons of Aarons have to obey.

  • Angela B

    Interesting insights. I am forced to agree with SueJean on the alcohol issue. I guess prior to this tragedy, it was implied/presumed that a priest had to be sober, extremely careful while at their work — having seen the greatness and holiness of Yahweh at the Pesach while in Mitsrayim, the parting of the Red Sea, His glory at Mount Sinai, among other things; the actions of Nadab and Abihu having negated this presumption, Yahweh had to expressly caution them.

  • SueJean Heinz

    I’ve been taught that the warning on alcohol comes at this particular time because the actions of Nadab and Abihu were directly linked to not acting in a clear and respectful manner because they were drunk.
    There must have been a sense of great joy and celebration as they were doing this new thing in the tabernacle. Aharon’s two older sons appear to have let their “wine” go to their heads and they decided to “spice things up a bit” with their own ideas.
    That didn’t go over well with Elohim and HE warns Moshe and Aharon that the priests must be sober and circumspect in their work in the Tabernacle.
    It was a hard lesson in protocol.
    Baruch Hashem.

    • SueJean Heinz

      I learned a little more about this topic when Moshe brings it up again in Chapter 16. Here is a reference:
      1 And the LORD spake unto Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon, when they offered before the LORD, and died; א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל מֹשֶה אַחֲרֵי מוֹת שְׁנֵי בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן בְּקָרְבָתָם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה וַיָּמֻתוּ.
      2 And the LORD said unto Moshe, Speak unto Aharon thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.
      ב וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל מֹשֶה דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ וְאַל יָבֹא בְכָל עֵת אֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִבֵּית לַפָּרֹכֶת אֶל פְּנֵי הַכַּפֹּרֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל הָאָרֹן וְלֹא יָמוּת כִּי בֶּעָנָן אֵרָאֶה עַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת.
      While alcohol may have well been the contributing factor to their bad judgment, it seems that Nadab and Abihu were in the "wrong place" as they had gone into the "Holy of Holies" and this is the actual reason that they died. There's more commentary about this at chapter 16.
      Baruch Hashem.

  • David

    This seems to be a very difficult question. My thoughts could not grasp any answer until I came across this article by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman which deals with this among other issues. I would love your impressions.

    • David

      The relevant section starts “FIRE FROM HEAVEN”.

      • Diana Brown

        I read the article you posted. You are right. This is a difficult question. When I stretch my mind as far as it can go to understand what scripture is teaching me then, like Job, I have to use trust and faith in the Lord God to help me “make the leap” to maintaining peace with Him.
        Only the Lord knows what really motivated Nadab and Abihu to choose to do what they did. Whatever motive they had, we know the Lord God was righteous in what He did for there is no darkness in Him. His works are righteous all the time whether He works in darkness or in light.
        Every time I “lean unto my own understanding and get stuck on Scripture”, I remember these verses…”Hosea 3:4,5.”

        • Diana Brown

          I forgot to add this also David, on the last day of Passover, a prayer is said in Israel for it’s fallen soldiers. Those who died “in the sanctification of God’s Name” and here is the prayer for them. So, dying for the purposes of the Lord, if He calls you to it, does exalt Him before the People and the Nations. Here is the site for the prayer….

          • David

            Thank you Diana it is only by going over and over a piece and sharing we derive more and more understanding. Shalom.

  • Kenneth Osterman

    I hope you do not mind a contrary viewpoint, as I view the action of Nadab and Abihu to not be of pure intention.
    Their action was possibly selfish and hidden from view within the holy or possibly within the most holy. The closer one is to the LORD, the expectation is ever higher for adherence to the commandment. Be ye holy as I am holy.
    Notice the lenience shown to the other two sons who failed to follow the directions, but were spared. Their failure was in the court and not in the holy.
    As for the alcohol, Nadab and Abihu’s failure may have been traced to abuse of alcohol.

    • Diana Brown

      I know that the fire Nadab and Abihu offered to Adonai was called “strange” and not “holy” fire. I am glad the Lord kept the details hidden so there would be no more imitators. I have heard these accounts of what they did also. I suspect they offered “out of order” no matter their intent. Their father was the one who should have offered and they overstepped his position without permission.
      Since the Holy Bible is a Sefer of the Books of Moses and then the history of how well humanity has obeyed His Words, I fear and tremble when I read accounts of men and women who thought they would honoring the Lord when in fact they were taking pride in their own ability. These stories of error are in there to teach us to walk humble before the Lord our God. Boy, some days that is a challenge. It is the one thing that ha satan would not do. Scary!

  • Diana Brown

    So they would be sober in their reasoning and teaching Bnei-Yisrael. They were to be sober when they ministered before the Lord in the Tent of Meeting and before the people as they taught them the distinction between the holy and the common as well as the distinction between the clean and the unclean.

Skip to toolbar