The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 31: The Sin of Nadab and Abihu
After the dedication of the tabernacle, the priests were
consecrated to their sacred office. These services occupied seven
days, each marked by special ceremonies. On the eight day
they entered upon their ministration. Assisted by his sons, Aaron
offered the sacrifices that God required, and he lifted up his
hands and blessed the people. All had been done as God commanded,
and He accepted the sacrifice, and revealed His glory
in a remarkable manner; fire came from the Lord and consumed
the offering upon the altar. The people looked upon this
wonderful manifestation of divine power with awe and intense
interest. They saw in it a token of God's glory and favor, and
they raised a universal shout of praise and adoration and fell
on their faces as if in the immediate presence of Jehovah.
But soon afterward a sudden and terrible calamity fell upon
the family of the high priest. At the hour of worship, as the
prayers and praise of the people were ascending to God, two
of the sons of Aaron took each his censer and burned fragrant
incense thereon, to rise as a sweet odor before the Lord. But
they transgressed His command by the use of "strange fire." For
burning the incense they took common instead of the sacred
fire which God Himself had kindled, and which He had commanded
to be used for this purpose. For this sin a fire went
out from the Lord and devoured them in the sight of the people.
Next to Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu had stood highest
in Israel. They had been especially honored by the Lord,
having been permitted with the seventy elders to behold His
glory in the mount. But their transgression was not therefore
to be excused or lightly regarded. All this rendered their sin
more grievous. Because men have received great light, because
they have, like the princes of Israel, ascended to the mount, and
been privileged to have communion with God, and to dwell in [p. 360] the light of His glory, let them not flatter themselves that they
can afterward sin with impunity, that because they have been
thus honored, God will not be strict to punish their iniquity.
This is a fatal deception. The great light and privileges bestowed
require returns of virtue and holiness corresponding to
the light given. Anything short of this, God cannot accept. Great
blessings or privileges should never lull to security or
carelessness. They should never give license to sin or cause the
recipients to feel that God will not be exact with them. All the
advantages which God has given are His means to throw ardor
into the spirit, zeal into effort, and vigor into the carrying out of
His holy will.
Nadab and Abihu had not in their youth been trained to
habits of self-control. The father's yielding disposition, his lack
of firmness for right, had led him to neglect the discipline of his
children. His sons had been permitted to follow inclination.
Habits of self-indulgence, long cherished, obtained a hold upon
them which even the responsibility of the most sacred office had
not power to break. They had not been taught to respect the
authority of their father, and they did not realize the necessity
of exact obedience to the requirements of God. Aaron's mistaken
indulgence of his sons prepared them to become the subjects
of the divine judgments.
God designed to teach the people that they must approach
Him with reverence and awe, and in His own appointed manner.
He cannot accept partial obedience. It was not enough that in
this solemn season of worship nearly everything was done as
He had directed. God has pronounced a curse upon those who
depart from His commandments, and put no difference between
common and holy things. He declares by the prophet: "Woe
unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness
for light, and light for darkness! . . . Woe unto them that are
wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! . . . which
justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness
of the righteous from him! . . . They have cast away the law
of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One
of Israel." Isaiah 5:20-24. Let no one deceive himself with the
belief that a part of God's commandments are nonessential, or
that He will accept a substitute for that which He has required.
Said the prophet Jeremiah, "Who is he that saith, and it cometh
to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?" Lamentations
3:37. God has placed in His word no command which men [p. 361] may obey or disobey at will and not suffer the consequences.
If men choose any other path than that of strict obedience,
they will find that "the end thereof are the ways of death."
"Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar,
his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes;
lest ye die, . . . for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you."
The great leader reminded his brother of the words of God, "I
will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me, and before all
the people I will be glorified." Aaron was silent. The death of
his sons, cut down without warning, in so terrible a sin—a sin
which he now saw to be the result of his own neglect of
duty—wrung the father's heart with anguish, but he gave his feelings
no expression. By no manifestation of grief must he seem to
sympathize with sin. The congregation must not be led to
murmur against God.
The Lord would teach His people to acknowledge the justice
of His corrections, that others may fear. There were those
in Israel whom the warning of this terrible judgment might
save from presuming upon God's forbearance until they, too,
should seal their own destiny. The divine rebuke is upon that
false sympathy for the sinner which endeavors to excuse his sin.
It is the effect of sin to deaden the moral perceptions, so that
the wrongdoer does not realize the enormity of transgression,
and without the convicting power of the Holy Spirit he remains
in partial blindness to his sin. It is the duty of Christ's
servants to show these erring ones their peril. Those who
destroy the effect of the warning by blinding the eyes of
sinners to the real character and results of sin often flatter
themselves that they thus give evidence of their charity; but they are
working directly to oppose and hinder the work of God's Holy
Spirit; they are lulling the sinner to rest on the brink of
destruction; they are making themselves partakers in his guilt
and incurring a fearful responsibility for his impenitence. Many,
many, have gone down to ruin as the result of this false and
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Nadab and Abihu would never have committed that fatal sin
had they not first become partially intoxicated by the free use of
wine. They understood that the most careful and solemn preparation
was necessary before presenting themselves in the sanctuary,
where the divine Presence was manifested; but by intemperance
they were disqualified for their holy office. Their minds became [p. 362] confused and their moral perceptions dulled so that they could
not discern the difference between the sacred and the common.
To Aaron and his surviving sons was given the warning: "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 forever 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." The use
of spirituous liquors has the effect to weaken the body, confuse
the mind, and debase the morals. It prevents men from realizing
the sacredness of holy things or the binding force of God's
requirements. All who occupied positions of sacred responsibility
were to be men of strict temperance, that their minds might be
clear to discriminate between right and wrong, that they might
possess firmness of principle, and wisdom to administer justice
and to show mercy.
The same obligation rests upon every follower of Christ. The
apostle Peter declares, "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal
priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. 1 Peter 2:9. We
are required by God to preserve every power in the best possible
condition, that we may render acceptable service to our Creator.
When intoxicants are used, the same effects will follow as in the
case of those priests of Israel. The conscience will lose its
sensibility to sin, and a process of hardening to iniquity will most
certainly take place, till the common and the sacred will lose
all difference of significance. How can we then meet the standard
of the divine requirements?" "Know ye not that your body
is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have
of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a
price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit,
which are Gods." 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20. "Whether therefore ye
eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
1 Corinthians 10:31. To the church of Christ in all ages is
addressed the solemn and fearful warning, "If any man defile the
temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God
is holy, which temple ye are." 1 Corinthians 3:17.
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"The Law and the Covenants"