Nadab and Abihu offer unholy fire unto the Lord and are therefore consumed with holy fire...so begins Leviticus chapter 10. Leviticus chapter 10 is one of those chapters where just when I think I know what's going on, something else confuses me. Chapter 10 takes place during the first week of Aaron and his family's life as priests. During this first week, Aaron and his sons aren't even allowed to leave the Tabernacle because their ordination is not yet complete. They must eat, sleep, and serve there. It's during this first week that the two oldest sons of Aaron are killed for not practicing their roles as priests as God instructed. Remember, leading up to this point Israel has finally been responding to God with obedience rather then complaint. They have built the Tabernacle, everything for the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, and made the priestly robes all as God asked. But now, Nadab and Abihu decide that they're going to do things their own way. As the family chosen by God to represent him to all of Israel and instruct Israel in all the ways of God, I can see why God must make an example of them. That's my read on what Moses says to Aaron after Nadab and Abihu are carried outside the Tabernacle for burial. In my translation (the NRSV) it almost sounds as if Moses tells Aaron that God killed Nadab and Abihu to show how holy he is. If that's true, I understand why so many people despise what they consider the "God of the Old Testament." I think what Moses might might actually been saying is something more along the lines of, "Did you think God was joking when he said he was holy and that your family was expected to reflect that holiness? God takes this seriously and your family better get that through its head right now." Whatever Moses is saying, it puts Aaron in his place. (This seems pretty harsh, but remember, Aaron is the "priest" who was more than happy to make an impromptu cow and call it YHWH. Like father like sons.)
At the end of the chapter, Aarons remaining sons don't eat their portion of the goat sin offering. This has Moses steamed, and he let's Aaron and his sons know about it. This time, however, no one is killed and Aaron finally vents some of his frustration. This is the part of the chapter I can't figure out. What does Aaron mean by saying that his sons have already given their sin and burnt offerings, but catastrophe came anyway. Therefore, would God have been happy had Aaron ate the goat sin offering? Moses takes this as an acceptable response, but I don't get it. I'm sure this dialogue would have made perfect sense a few thousand years ago, and that everyone who heard it would have nodded their heads with a hardy, "Oh yes, quite right," but to me it just seems like a strange story.
Was it okay for Aaron and his family to make mistakes their first week as priests or not? It seems the answer is yes...and no. It all depends on some factor I do not understand. Ah Leviticus, you are a thorn in my side.
Stopping point: Leviticus 10