Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. The eldest sons, as they are mentioned first, Exodus vi. 23. — Censers. On the same evening of their consecration. — Fire. Not taken from the altar of holocausts, chap. vi. 9. Whether they neglected to do so out of respect for the miraculous fire, or out of thoughtlessness and inattention, their fault was severely punished, however venial in itself; (Tirinus) that all might learn to comply exactly with God’s commands, and not dare to explain them away. Thus we must carefully avoid the mixing of falsehood with the word of God. (Theod., q. 9.) (Worthington) — Those in power, like priests, if they be negligent, shall suffer great torments, Wisdom vi. 7. They must expect to be treated with rigour. (St. Augustine, q. 21.) Estius infers, from the command to abstain from wine being given, (ver. 8,) that these priests had been rather intoxicated. Josephus says, they had not offered proper victims; and the Rabbins assert, that they were not clothed with the sacred garments: but the Scripture only condemns them for taking strange fire. Some imagine, that no formal precept had yet been given. But had not God commanded (chap. vi. 9, 12,) that the victims should be burnt with the perpetual fire on the altar, and were not these young priests guilty of rashness in doing any thing of their own head, without positive instructions? Hence some infer that their offence was mortal, and their punishment a prelude of eternal torments; while others piously hope that their sin was only venial, and that it was expiated by their repentance and violent death, in which sense Philo explains they died before the Lord. Hence they were buried honourably.
Ver. 2. Lord. Near the altar of incense, being stricken, as it were with lightning, so that their garments were not injured. (Calmet)
Ver. 3. Spoken, by this exemplary judgment. (Haydock) — We do not find the exact words recorded before: but there are some equivalent, shewing that God requires a particular sanctity in his ministers. (Chap. viii. 35; Exodus xix. 22.) The altar shall be sanctified by my glory; (Exodus xxix. 43,) may be considered as a prediction of what happened on this melancholy occasion. — Peace. Excessive grief requires silence; curę graviores silent. “He was filled with grief.” Septuagint, adoring the judgments of God. The fortitude of Mino and Xenophon, who, upon hearing of the death of their sons, did not desist from sacrificing, is greatly admired. (Calmet)
Ver. 4. Brethren; cousins. These were ordered to bury the priests, as Aaron and his family were employed about the altar, (Haydock) and could not perform the office without contracting a legal uncleanness. (Josephus) (Tirinus)
Ver. 6. Uncover not. Take not off your mitres; (Septuagint) let not your hair grow long, (Chaldean) as the Egyptians do in mourning, nor yet shave your heads, like the priests of Isis. This God forbids, chap. xxi. 5. And Ezechiel, (xliv. 20,) probably with reference to this law, says, Neither shall they shave their heads, nor wear long hair….and no priest shall drink wine when, &c. — Garments, sacred vestments, which were worn only in the tabernacle or temple. (Calmet) — The high priests are forbidden to tear their garments at funerals, (chap. xxi. 10,) as this would betray a want of fortitude. — Perhaps. This does not imply any doubt. (Menochius) See Genesis iii. 3. — Indignation of God, punishing the people, while there is none to entreat for them. — Burning of the two priests.
Ver. 7. On you. So that you cannot now join in the funeral, as there are so few anointed. (Haydock) — On other occasions, priests are allowed to mourn, chap. xxi.
Ver. 9. Drunk. Hebrew shekar; which the Septuagint and Vulgate commonly translate by sicera, any strong liquor, (St. Jerome) particularly palm-wine. (St. Chrysostom in Isai. v. 11.) Jonathan says old wine. Hecateus assures us, that the Jews drink no wine at all in the temple. But the Rabbins admit of some exceptions. This abstinence was prescribed by any other nations to their priests and magistrates in office. (Calmet) — The intent of the law, is to prevent any mistake arising from the fumes of wine, (ver. 10,) as likewise all drowsiness or foolish mirth. As mourning and excessive grief are prohibited on the one hand; so are intoxicating liquors, on the other. (Haydock)
Ver. 12. Sacrifice, of flour or bread. A tent was undoubtedly erected, where the priests might take the necessary refreshments of meat and sleep, during the days of their service.
Ver. 14. Place, at home. The Septuagint translate, “in the holy place;” understanding that these sacrifices for sin were to be eaten in the court of the tabernacle. Malvenda allows, that the children of the priests, and their wives, might come thither to eat the parts of the peace-offerings allotted to them. But of this there is no proof.
Ver. 15. Sons. Samaritan and Septuagint add, “and thy daughters.” The male children were allowed to partake of the sin-offerings: those of peace, were given also to females.
Ver. 16. While, &c. Hebrew, “and Moses sought diligently for,” &c. This goat had been offered the same day, for the sins of the priest and of the people, chap. ix. 15. Aaron had not taken the parts allotted to his family, being too much grieved, and perhaps thinking that they could not eat all. (Calmet) — Therefore, he judged it conformable to God’s command to consume the whole, chap vii. 17. Moses fearing lest the thing had been done through negligence, finds fault with his two sons; but on hearing the remonstrance of Aaron, is satisfied. (Haydock)
Ver. 17. People. Offering the sacrifices of expiation, as mediators between them and God.
Ver. 18. Places. This is not a victim, the blood of which is to be poured out in the holy place, and the flesh consumed with fire. (Calmet) — You ought, or might lawfully have eaten it, chap. vi. 25.
Ver. 19. How, &c. My children are slain. Hebrew, “and if I had eaten the sin-offering to-day, would it have been agreeable to the Lord?” (Haydock)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Nadab and Abiu for offering strange fire, are burnt by fire. Priests are forbidden to drink wine, when they enter into the tabernacle. The law of eating the holy things.
1 And *Nadab and Abiu, **the sons of Aaron, taking their censers, put fire therein, and incense on it, offering before the Lord strange fire: which was not commanded them.
2 And fire coming out from the Lord, destroyed them, and they died before the Lord.
3 And Moses said to Aaron: This is what the Lord hath spoken: I will be sanctified in them that approach to me, and I will be glorified in the sight of all the people. And when Aaron heard this, he held his peace.
4 And Moses called Misael and Elisaphan, the sons of Oziel, the uncle of Aaron, and said to them: Go and take away your brethren from before the sanctuary, and carry them without the camp.
5 And they went forthwith and took them as they lay, vested with linen tunics, and cast them forth, as had been commanded them.
6 And Moses said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons: Uncover not your heads, and rend not your garments, lest perhaps you die, and indignation come upon all the congregation. Let your brethren, and all the house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord has kindled:
7 But you shall not go out of the door of the tabernacle, otherwise you shall perish: for the oil of the holy unction is on you. And they did all things according to the precept of Moses.
8 The Lord also said to Aaron:
9 You shall not drink wine nor any thing that may make drunk, thou nor thy sons, when you enter into the tabernacle of the testimony, lest you die: because it is an everlasting precept through your generations :
10 And that you may have knowledge to discern between holy and unholy, between unclean and clean:
11 And may teach the children of Israel all my ordinances, which the Lord hath spoken to them by the hand of Moses.
12 And Moses spoke to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons, that were left: Take the sacrifice that is remaining of the oblation of the Lord, and eat it without leaven beside the altar, because it is holy of holies.
13 And you shall eat it in a holy place: which is given to thee and thy sons of the oblations of the Lord, as it hath been commanded me.
14 The breast also that is offered, and the shoulder that is separated, you shall eat in a most clean place thou and thy sons, and thy daughters with thee. For they are set aside for thee and thy children, of the victims of peace-offerings of the children of Israel:
15 Because they have elevated before the Lord the shoulder and the breast, and the fat that is burnt on the altar, and they belong to thee, and to thy sons, by a perpetual law, as the Lord hath commanded.
16 *While these things were a doing, when Moses sought for the buck-goat, that had been offered for sin, he found it burnt: and being angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron that were left, he said:
17 Why did you not eat in the holy place the sacrifice for sin, which is most holy, and given to you, that you may bear the iniquity of the people, and may pray for them in the sight of the Lord,
18 Especially whereas none of the blood thereof hath been carried within the holy places, and you ought to have eaten it in the sanctuary, as was commanded me?
19 Aaron answered: This day hath been offered the victim for sin, and the holocaust before the Lord: and to me what thou seest has happened: how could I eat it, or please the Lord in the ceremonies, having a sorrowful heart?
20 Which when Moses had heard he was satisfied.
1: Year of the World 2514. — ** Numbers iii. 4. and xxvi. 61.; 1 Paralipomenon xxiv. 2.
16: 2 Machabees ii. 11.