In the second movement of Leviticus, Aaron and his sons agree to the terms of their covenant with Yahweh, signing up to be the gatekeepers of Heaven and Earth. But then Aaron’s sons offer unholy fire before Yahweh—and then they die. What’s going on here? A seven-day ceremony of consecration and celebration ends with everything going terribly wrong. Join Tim and Jon as they kick off the second movement of Leviticus, discussing the theme of holiness and a very difficult part of the story.
God wants to install a new human representative to steward and care for the Eden spot, the Heaven and Earth spot, right in the center of his people. He gives them everything they need to succeed, and they blow it. … That same fire that came out and ate the offering a few sentences ago comes out from before the presence of the Lord and eats them, and they die in the presence of Yahweh.
In part one (00:00-15:55), Tim and Jon recap the story of Leviticus we’ve covered so far in this series. Leviticus (like the rest of the Bible) is all about God and humanity dwelling together, and here we find the terms Israel must abide by to play host to Yahweh.
For the first time since the garden of Eden, Yahweh is preparing to dwell in physical proximity to humans in the tabernacle. It’s far more limited than the garden—the space itself is limited, and Israel’s means of engaging Yahweh are limited too. However, Israel doesn’t see those limitations as a bad thing; getting to host Yahweh is cause for celebration.
In the first movement of Leviticus, the narrator describes the five offerings Israel regularly made to Yahweh. In this episode, we kick off the second movement of Leviticus, where we’re tracing the theme of holiness. The second movement begins with the seven-day inauguration of the Levitical priesthood and the tabernacle. The eighth day should have been a day of massive celebration, but instead, something goes terribly wrong, re-alienating Israel from Yahweh.
In part two (15:55-23:5), the guys dive into the second movement of Leviticus (Lev. 8-16). Leviticus is already at the center of the Torah, and these chapters are at the center of Leviticus. It’s the center of the center—the heart of the story of the Torah. And this section is all about how God wants to install a new human representative to care for the place where Heaven and Earth meet—in this case, the tabernacle.
Unfortunately, God’s chosen representatives blow it after just seven days, and Yahweh must deal with the fall out. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s supposed to. Here we encounter one of the melodic refrains of the Hebrew Bible: In response to human folly, Yahweh de-creates and then recreates (similar to the first several chapters of Genesis, where human violence results in Yahweh de-creating and purifying his world with a flood). But God always saves a remnant (like Noah and his family) that emerges from de-creation and atones for the sins of the many with a sacrifice. This melody is so prominent in Leviticus 8-16 that even the narrator’s word choice utilizes vocabulary from Genesis 1-9.
In part three (23:52-50:02), Tim and Jon begin discussing Leviticus 8-10, which is connected to Exodus 28-29 (the description of the garments worn by priests). The priestly garments were designed to shine and sparkle, making priests look god-like when they wore them and playing up their role as images of God.
In Leviticus 8, Moses ceremonially purifies the priests and “offers” them to God—a symbol of total devotion and surrender, not unlike the offerings themselves. Moses puts blood on Aaron’s right earlobe, right thumb, and right big toe, representing Aaron’s and his sons’ loyalty to Yahweh in all that they hear and do and how they walk.
After their consecration, Aaron and his sons sit at the doorway of the tent of meeting and feast on consecrated bread. There, all Israel can see them as they momentarily embody the ideal humanity: dwelling and feasting in Yahweh’s presence as gatekeepers of the crossover between Heaven and Earth.
On the eighth day, Aaron and his sons begin their work, and fire from Yahweh consumes their first offerings (Lev. 9:24). It’s a moment of great celebration—Yahweh has accepted their offerings! And the God who was once unapproachable is now approachable.
However, if you’re picking up on the storyline of the Bible, you won’t be surprised to know the celebration doesn’t last long. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, enter Yahweh’s presence with incense and die.
Wait—why did they die? On the heels of Yahweh’s detailed instructions for his own worship, Nadab and Abihu concoct their own liturgy and take up a role that, for now, had been reserved for Aaron.
In part four (50:02-01:03:48), Tim and Jon further explore the death of Nadab and Abihu, which, at first glance, can feel harsh to us.
Leviticus 10:3 Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said, ‘Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’” Aaron remained silent.
Aaron’s sons had agreed to the terms of a covenant. Only a day after signing on to be the highly responsible people who represent Yahweh to the people and the people to Yahweh, they profane Yahweh’s holy space. Aaron’s silence is notable and reminds us of Abraham’s silence when God requests the life of Isaac. Their silence acknowledges God’s justice in his judgment of human sin.
Right after this, Yahweh makes a new rule that the priests are not to get drunk before entering his holy space, implying that Nadab and Abihu’s foolishness was because they were drunk.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Tyler Bailey. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by MacKenzie Buxman and Ashlyn Heise.
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