We left off with Nadab and Abihu dying as judgment. Immediately after, God starts speaking commands concerning the priests. First, Moses tells Aaron and his sons not to mourn for their dead family, and not even to allow their hair to become unkempt (or to uncover their heads). The warning goes forth not to leave the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, or else they will die, because the holy anointing oil is upon them.
Notice the point that is being made. It isn’t simply that God is mean, and therefore He commands that you don’t mourn over your lost relatives. In this case, the rest of the family as well as the whole community is allowed to mourn, but the priests are told not to. Also, we read that Aaron and his sons should not drink fermented beverages when they enter the Tent of Meeting, or they will die, because you must distinguish between the holy and the common, the clean and the unclean. There is the point.
What Nadab and Abihu did was offer unclean fire before the Lord. They came with a foreign substance into the holy arena, and in such they sinned before God. Now God is giving command to Aaron and his other two sons to not go the same way. Because the priest is the representative of God before the people, do not perform something that will smear the name of the Lord – especially when the rest of the House of Israel is watching.
We can make the comparison of the leadership in a church or community. When you have people who are not mature in their faith, and they are watching those who are supposed to be mature, whatever that leadership does will reflect to the babe in Christ something of who God is and what He requires. In my own testimony, I was saved in a Pentecostal church. Because everyone around me spoke in tongues, and I was able to mimic the gibberish, I “started speaking in tongues”. I mimicked the noises that everyone else made, and in that I was celebrated because I was only saved for two weeks before supposedly speaking in tongues. The truth was that I was speaking gibberish, but didn’t want to be left out.
What we do will reflect upon God. Something was missing in that community, because somehow I thought they were just chanting bizarre noises. Where was the solemnity to show me that what was happening wasn’t just clatter? Why was there no practice of what Paul prescribed in 1 Corinthians 14, that we should also have an interpreter? It wasn’t explained, and certainly by the attitude that people would applaud me for my imitating there was no discernment.
God’s charge through the rest of the book of Leviticus seems to be this one thing said here in 10:10, “Distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean.”
When we continue reading, we find that Moses then begins to express that the priests should eat the sacrifices they offered. He tells them to eat them in a holy place, because that which they eat is holy. Moses tells them to eat in a ceremonially clean place, because that which they eat is holy.
Then we reach verse 16. Suddenly Moses becomes angry, and for good reason. They allowed the sin offering to burn up. They were supposed to eat the goat, but instead they allowed it to be burned. Aaron’s reply is, “Today they sacrificed their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, but such things as this have happened to me. Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?”
What is happening here?
It is important to know what the sacrifices represent. They aren’t simply sacrifices. We could go back to our previous teachings on what the sin offering and burnt offering specifically represented, but instead I just want to speak generally. We saw how all of these sacrifices point forward to Christ, which is to say that Christ is the fulfillment of all of them (Romans 10:4). When the priests are told to eat of the sacrifices, this is like Jesus’ later teaching in John 6, where we are supposed to eat his flesh and drink his blood. The whole point of John 6 is about communion.
The communion table of the Lord is about taking of the sacrifice that has been offered – as priests – and knowing full well what it meant for that animal to have to die (or, in our case, for the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ). When we see this as a representation of communion, it starts to make a whole lot more sense. Why does Moses say to eat it in a holy place? What could be much holier than communion? Why does Moses get angry when the goat was left burning upon the altar? It would be like if we rejected the communion. What is that saying? What are we saying if we reject to take of the flesh and blood of Christ?
Is it not true that Christ has explicitly said that unless we eat of His flesh and drink of His blood that we have no life in us (John 6:53)? Why is it that Jesus has made such a drastic claim? It does not suffice it to say, at this point, that “the life is in the blood”, and therefore if we don’t take of Jesus’ life we don’t have life. Rather, Jesus’ point in John 6 is that the manna that fed the Israelites in the time of Moses only sustained them. But this true spiritual food will cause you to never be hungry again. This true spiritual drink will cause you to never thirst again. It is the ultimate, and not the penultimate, of all spiritual food and drink. Nothing else can satisfy but the redemption in Christ by His blood.
This is an issue of atonement. While the blood of goats and bulls might stay the judgment of God for a year, you better be back next year on the Day of Atonement. While your sacrifices might be enough to cause for God to view you as clean before Him, it was not enough to wash and purify the conscience, and thus to change the inward heart. It takes a much better sacrifice – the sacrifice of the one and only Son – to be washed through and through and through as Andrew Murray puts it.
Thus, for Aaron and his sons to allow this sacrifice to just burn upon the altar, it is a rejection of the very atonement that God has provided. Why would Moses not get angry at such a thing? Yet, Aaron’s response caused for Moses to be satisfied. What is it about Aaron’s response that settled the nerves of Moses?
I think for this one we need to go to 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-30, we find Paul expounding to us some of the depths of communion. We read about the night of the Last Supper, and how the bread represents Christ’s broken body. We read about how the cup represents the blood of the new covenant. Paul is quoting Luke’s Gospel here, but Matthew adds the detail that this blood is for the remission of sins. Matthew points out to us that Christ’s sacrifice s more than just the issue of a New Covenant. It is the issue of atonement – which is crucial for someone like me, who isn’t Jewish and certainly didn’t know the Old Testament sacrificial system and prophecies.
Paul goes on by saying, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”
Why did Aaron’s response settle Moses’ anger? Aaron recognized that he wasn’t going to eat it with the correct heart. He examined himself, and knew that to take of that communion would have been, in Paul’s words, sinning against the very body and blood of the Lord. What is the worse sin? To take of the communion wrongfully, or to examine your heart and know you aren’t worthy to take that bread and cup? This is what caused Moses to calm down. He recognized that it is indeed the better and wiser option to just not eat of it this time, and to take of the sacrifice tomorrow when he has been able to repent and enter again into correct standing with God.
But this isn’t the end of Paul’s statement. There are many today who take of the body and blood wrongfully. It is only a sacrament. It is only tradition. It doesn’t actually mean anything. I mean, it’s just a little wafer and some grape juice, right?
“That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” How many are there in your congregation that are weak and sick – especially before ripeness of age has come? How many in your congregation have died prematurely? Is it possible that you have practiced taking the Lord’s body and blood in a cheap fashion, and therefore have been judged for your sin?
We don’t know Paul’s further instructions to the church in Corinth regarding this. My guess would be that he went back to Leviticus, or at least went back to the synonym of Christ’s sacrifice and the sacrifices in Leviticus. My guess is that he expressed to them both the need and the method to discern between the holy and the common. How do we discern between the holy and common? It takes nothing short of the eternal perspective. We absolutely must behold these things in light of eternity. It wasn’t simply that Jesus died for our sins, but He was offered upon the heavenly altar. If God would require this much sobriety when handling the patterned thing, how much more sobriety should we have when handling the heavenly things that the earthly is patterned after?