AN EXPOSITION OF LEVITICUS 9:15ff
15 And he brought the people’s offering, and took the goat, which was the sin offering for the people, and slew it, and offered it for sin, as the first.
The first series of offerings were made by Aaron the High Priest of Israel. The sacrifices were offered in their appointed order. First, the sin offering was presented to make atonement. Second, the burnt offering was made to signify the surrender of the whole person, body, soul, and spirit to the LORD. Finally, there was the peace offering, to show that those who have been atoned for are justified and sanctified. There is peace with God.
16 And he brought the burnt offering, and offered it according to the manner.
Meat (Meal) Offering
17 And he brought the meat offering, and took an handful thereof, and burnt it upon the altar, beside the burnt sacrifice of the morning.
The Meat Offering is a KJV expression, referring to a grain offering, and is so translated in the New American Standard Bible, and the New International Bible.
18 He slew also the bullock and the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings, which was for the people: and Aaron’s sons presented unto him the blood, which he sprinkled upon the altar round about,
The blood of an animal sacrifice typically resembled a substitution. In the Divine economy, God has ordained that either an individual pay for his sin, or a substitute pays the penalty. Jesus Christ is the Substitute for sinners, according to Biblical theology. “Behold, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”
“He paid a debt He did not owe.
I owed a debt I could not pay.
I needed Someone to wash my sins away.
And now I sing a brand new song, “Amazing Grace,” (all day long)
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.”
19 And the fat of the bullock and of the ram, the rump, and that which covereth the inwards, and the kidneys, and the caul above the liver:
20 And they put the fat upon the breasts, and he burnt the fat upon the altar:
“The burning of the fat of the sacrifice upon the altar, as an offering made by fire for a soothing aroma unto Jehovah, was symbolic of the handing over of the better part of the man, the part that is susceptible of renewal, to the purifying fire of the divine holiness and love, in order that the inward man might be renewed from day to day by the Spirit of the Lord, and at length be changed into the glory of the children of God.” (The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary) “And he shall take away all the fat thereof, as the fat is taken away from off the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall burn it upon the altar for a sweet savour unto the LORD; and the priest shall make an atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him.” (Lev. 4:31)
21 And the breasts and the right shoulder Aaron waved for a wave offering before the LORD; as Moses commanded.
A portion of some of the offerings were to be given to the priest in payment for priestly services rendered. The priest was to wave the offering before the LORD to indicate that these resources ultimately belonged to Him, though He shared them with the priest.
“Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
Thomas Ken, 1674
The Blessing of the High Priest
22 And Aaron lifted up his hand toward the people, and blessed them, and came down from offering of the sin offering, and the burnt offering, and peace offerings.
The form of the blessing became established. “24 The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: 25 The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: 26 The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” (Num. 6:24-26)
A Double Blessing
23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the people.
Once Aaron had finished his priestly duties, it was reasonable, and proper, that Moses go into the Tabernacle to formally authorize the Aaronic priesthood. Law and grace met together, and were honored by the LORD, whose approval was manifested by His appearance in glory.
According to one Jewish tradition, the second blessing took the form of the words of Psalm 90:17. “And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”
The Targum of Palestine offers another form. “May your offerings be accepted, and may the Lord dwell among you and forgive you your sins.” “The targumim were spoken paraphrases, explanations and expansions of the Jewish scriptures that a rabbi would give in the common language of the listeners, which was then often Aramaic. That had become necessary near the end of the 1st century BC, as the common language was in transition and Hebrew was used for little more than schooling and worship.” (Wikipedia)
Fire From Heaven
24 And there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces.
Ancient Jewish tradition embraces the idea that this sacred fire of the altar originated in a Divine act of consumption, showing the LORD’S approval of the sacrifice. The fire was preserved on the altar of the Tabernacle until the dedication of the Temple, when fire again “came down from heaven.” (2 Chron. 7:1) The basis for this lovely tradition is found in Leviticus 6:13 “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.”
It is a lovely tradition, but Scripture indicates this particular altar-fire which came “out from the LORD” consumed the sacrifice and ceased to burn. When a sacrifice was turned to ashes in this dramatic way, it was believed to have been accepted. Other examples of this dramatic consumption are found in Scripture.
The Sacrifice of Manoah. “So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the LORD: and the angel did wondrously; and Manoah and his wife looked on. 20 For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground.” (Judges 13:19-20)
The Sacrifice of Eliajh. “Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:38)
The Sacrifice of David. “And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the LORD; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering.” (1 Chron. 21:26)
Ten Fires from Heaven
Fire from heaven fell on Sodom Genesis 9:24
Fire from heaven fell on the first offerings Leviticus 9:24
Fire from heaven fell on the offering of Gideon Judges 6:21
Fire from heaven fell on Nadab and Abihu Leviticus 10:2
Fire from heaven fell on the murmurers at Taberah Numbers 11:1
Fire from heaven fell on Korah and his company Numbers 16:35
Fire from heaven fell on Elijah’s offering 1 Kings 18:38
Fire from heaven fell on Elijah’s enemies 2 Kings 1:10
Fire from heaven fell on David’s sacrifice 1 Chronicles 21:26
Fire from heaven fell on Solomon’s sacrifice 2 Chronicles 7:1
The Death of Nadab and Abihu
The Offering of Unauthorized Fire
1 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.
Nadab (spontaneous, liberal), was the eldest son of Aaron, and therefore a priest when he reached maturity. Because of his privileged inheritance, Nadab was permitted to be with Moses on Mount Sinai. He, his father, and brother, along with seventy elders of Israel, were commanded to stay at a distance below the lofty summit of Sinai. The year was c. 1439 BC. Tragically, Nadab, and his brother Abihu (to whom He (God), died a sin unto death, the objects of Divine judgment for disobedience. They “offered strange fire before the LORD”, meaning they lighted the fire on the altar at an unauthorized time, after being commanded not to.
Why? It can only be conjectured.
Perhaps they were intoxicated. More than one priest has staggered to an altar drunk.
Perhaps they were simply excited, and moved too quickly after being encouraged to do something by the people. “Let’s get this show on the road!”
Perhaps they were making an ostentatious, and irreverent display of their holy office. The LORD will not share His glory with anyone.
What is certain is that the offense of Nahab and Abihu was so grievous they were struck dead in front of the Tabernacle for everyone to see. On the most solemn occasion, during a divine service, two men died a sin unto death. A lesson is learned. The same Gospel is to one a savor of life unto life, and to another a savor of death unto death. “To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16)
2 And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
The Divine Explanation
3 Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
Aaron ceased from mourning the death of his two sons, because he knew their deaths were justified.
It is interesting that the death of Nahab and Abihu occurred immediately after the offering of the sacrifices of inauguration, in the evening of the same day. People are susceptible to sin when they are in the midst of a great spiritual experience. For this reason, the heart must be guarded.