Leviticus 10 – Why did God Destroy Nadab and Abihu?

by Nick Lotter on May 6, 2012

Leviticus 10In Leviticus we read about the priesthood. There were 5 priests appointed over Israel – Moses’ brother Aaron the high priest, and his four sons Nadab, Abihu, Ithamar and Eleazar. Leviticus 10:1-2 tells us that 2 of these priests, Nadab and Abihu, were destroyed by God:

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took their censers, and put fire in them, and put incense on them, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He did not command them to do. And fire went out from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

Why did God destroy them? Why would God take such extreme action against these two men who were appointed to be His priests?

The answer can be found in understanding who God is, and exactly what Nadab and Abihu had done to deserve God’s judgement. God destroyed these two men for good reason. They committed at least 3 major sins against God. We are going to take a look at these sins and see how the lessons we learn can be applied to us today.

1. They Drew Attention to Themselves

At the end of chapter 9, there is an awesome event. Leviticus 9:23-24 describes what the people and priests saw:

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 to all the people. 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.

Imagine being there and seeing the glory of God! You can imagine Nadab and Abihu standing there, wide eyed, all decked out in their new priest outfits, and wanting a piece of that action! They’re thinking, why should Moses and Aaron get all the attention? They were priests too, weren’t they?

Nadab and Abihu saw Moses and Aaron, when in reality they did nothing; the glory was the Lord’s. They wanted to do what Moses and Aaron had just done. But they wanted to do it for their own recognition, for the admiration, for themselves.

This is the nature of the flesh. We all want the attention, recognition and admiration of our peers. This is why preaching is such an important yet very dangerous profession. Preachers have to continually battle their fleshly desire to be recognized as a great preacher, to take all the glory for himself.

Many preachers have lost this fight and fallen into the trap of their own fame. This can be said of many of the famous television evangelists you see on TV today – preachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. Whereas they may have once preached a Biblical Gospel and Biblical truth, they fall further away from the truth as their fame grows, and they take the glory for what God has done through their ministries for themselves. They preach less and less about sin and the Gospel, and more and more about personal gain and wealth.

This is why I recommend that congregations be very careful of how they encourage young pastors. Traditionally, in many churches, after the church service the preacher will stand at the back of the church and greet each member of the congregation as they walk out of the church. Generally, one by one as they get to the preacher on their way out, each person will shake his hand and congratulate him on an excellent sermon.  This is very dangerous! Especially for young preachers. Though the congregation no doubt means well, they may be unknowingly planting a seed in the preacher’s mind that his sermons and services are successful and full of blessing because of what HE is doing, instead of what God is actually doing.

All glory belongs to God. From the smallest blessing to the greatest move of the Holy Spirit, all the glory is the Lord’s. God will not share the stage with anyone. He won’t divide up His glory with a man. As we read in Deuteronomy 4:24, He is a jealous God:

For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

To provoke God’s jealousy, is to provoke the consuming fire of His anger.

2. Duplicating a Move of God

Not only did Nadab and Abihu want to draw attention to themselves and take God’s glory for their own, they also wanted to recreate what God did. They wanted to replicate God’s miracle. But God is not a trained animal leaping through hoops on command.

Christians try to do this so often these days. Some spend almost their entire lives trying to chase miracles of God. A Christian might be at a church service one night, and somebody bursts into laughter. The Christian sees this, thinks it is the work of God, and wants to experience it himself. He tries to laugh himself, hoping it will make God do something to him. He travels to different churches where he hears about people laughing, being drunk in the spirit or slain in the spirit. He is pursuing laughter instead of God. Instead of serving God, he is trying to get God to serve him.

3. Strange Fire

The third sin which Nadab and Abihu committed, was that they offered “strange fire”. The Hebrew word used for “strange” in this scripture is “zoor”. It wasn’t strange as in weird, but strange meaning “foreign”.

The fire that they were meant to offer was supposed to come from a specific place, as we see in Leviticus 16:12

And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail:

God commanded that any fire brought to Him had to come from the altar of sacrifice. Nadab and Abihu disregarded this and brought fire from some other foreign place.

The same applies to us today. The fire in your heart must come from the atoning sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for your sins, and not from anything else! Don’t allow the fire in your heart to come from other things. Too many are fired up because the worship band rocks, or because the youth activities are cool. Or, people are fired up to chase signs and wonders. Be fired up because of what Jesus did for you.

Look at what was said between 2 disciples in Luke 24:32

And they said one to another, Did our heart not burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?

That is the kind of fire that is acceptable to God.

In conclusion, I’d like to point out that in all this, Nadab and Abihu’s father, Aaron, remained silent throughout. He never protested, even though he saw his own 2 sons destroyed by God right in front of him.

We would do well to follow his example.

The world and particularly unbelievers look at God’s judgments and call God unjust, unfair, cruel or unloving. How dare they. How dare we? Rebellion against God does not sit well with Him, and it will bring God’s judgment. Who are we to argue with Him? As the apostle Paul points out in Romans 9:20

O man, who are you who answers back against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it…..?

 Even when we may not comprehend or understand why God does everything He does, the unquestionable truth is that everything God does is just, fair, righteous and loving.

Psalm 19:9 “…the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.”

Revelation 16:9 “… Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.”

Although we don’t always understand the ways of God, the thoughts of God, or the judgments of God, we must accept the fact that He is God. We are the ones who are corrupt and unrighteous, not Him.


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