GOD Will allow you to enter completely into His tabernacle service only after you have spent seven days and nights in your duties at the door," Moses told Aaron and his sons. "Do exactly as you have been told, or you may have to pay with your lives." (Leviticus 8:1-4, 31-36.) A week later the elders were told to bring offerings for the first services in use of the altar. All the people were also told to be present. After the first carcasses were placed on the altar, Moses, Aaron and his sons went out to stand before the people while Moses informed the crowd that God was pleased with the offerings.
A Fire from Israel's God
Suddenly a hissing bolt of fire shot out of the tabernacle, arched upward enough to be seen from outside the curtained fence, and struck the altar! The offering there was quickly consumed by an energy more like lightning than ordinary flames. This close display of God's power so startled the people that they fell forward in awe. (Leviticus 9:22-24.) "This is God's holy fire," Moses told Aaron. "Your sons should never allow it to die." (Leviticus 6:13.) "Twice a day live coals should be taken from the altar and carried in a censer to the holy place to be sprinkled with incense at the golden altar." (Exodus 30:1-9.) From then on the tabernacle was in constant use. Early each morning Aaron's sons came to carry out their preparation duties. Then animals were slaughtered, dressed and offered for all Israel. This was done again in the afternoon, so that an offering was always on the altar. (Leviticus 6:9, 12-13.) The unblemished animals used for burnt offerings typified the Messiah who would later come to die for the sins of the people instead of the people having to die.
Why Animal Sacrifices?
Aaron and his sons had to carry out their duties properly. There were several kinds of offerings planned by God to distinctly remind the Israelites of their sins, and to give them an opportunity to worship Him with a feeling of close contact. THESE OFFERINGS WERE TO TEACH ISRAEL THE HABIT OF OBEYING THEIR GOD. (Galatians 3:24.) THEY ALSO TAUGHT THE NEED FOR THEIR GOD TO COME AS A SAVIOUR TO PAY FOR THE SINS OF THE WORLD. The offerings were not to pay for sin. Salvation never came through animal sacrifices. They were given to Israel until the coming of the Saviour (Galatians 3:19), and were to remind the people that One would come to shed His blood for their sins. (Hebrews 10:3, 4, 18.) There were burnt offerings, food offerings, peace offerings, offerings for sins of ignorance, trespass offerings and others. For each there was a special ceremony outlined by God. (Leviticus 1-5.) For example, if a man wished to make a personal burnt offering as a gift to God or in recognition of the coming Messiah, he was to bring one of three things. It had to be a healthy, unblemished male from his cattle, sheep or goats, or turtledoves or pigeons. There was a ceremony for each kind of creature, some of which were more involved than others, but each ending with the animal's flesh being burned. Most of the people didn't realize their sacrifices pointed to a time when the Being in the cloud would come in human form and would be sacrificed for the sins of all the world's inhabitants. Sacrificial ceremonies included more than animals. Olive oil, flour from grains and incense were used. Some, if to be burned, were used in combinations, such as unleavened breads not sweetened by honey. Whatever the ritual or its necessities, all had to be done exactly according to how God had instructed Moses. Nothing was to be changed, added or omitted.
Two Priests Rebel
Two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, arrived for work one morning to find the altar fire barely alive. In their eagerness to get the flames going, they piled on wood that was moist from the morning dew, burying the last of the live coals. "Our father, Aaron, will be here any minute to get live coals for the altar in the holy place, and now they're under this wet wood," Nadab observed worriedly. "We'll have to pile some of it off." "Why go to that trouble?" Abihu asked, snatching up a censer. "There's a campfire outside the gate where we can get live coals right away!" Knowing that only fire from the large altar was to be used in the holy place, Nadab was about to protest, but said nothing when he thought how much easier it would be to obtain coals at the campfire. Silently he picked up another censer and hurriedly joined his brother. Then the two rushed back with the glowing coals, relieved to find that Aaron still hadn't showed up. After a few minutes they realized the campfire coals were becoming ash-covered. If they weren't used right away, coals would have to be dug out from under the new fuel on the altar after all. Unwisely, they decided to make the delivery of live coals to the holy place, something only Aaron was to do. After leaving the fire in the holy place, a strong uneasiness seized them. They made a frantic rush for the door, but too late. Fingers of fire hissed out of the inner room and struck them lifeless under the curtains of the tabernacle entrance. (Leviticus 10:1-2.) A little later, when Aaron arrived, he was concerned to find nobody in sight, although fire was now beginning to burn vigorously on the altar. Across the court, in the doorway of the tabernacle, he then saw his sons lying motionless. He hurried to reach down to them. "Don't touch them!"
Lesson in Obedience
Aaron glanced up to see Moses approaching and motioning him away from the dead men. "They died because they disobeyed God by bringing strange fire before Him and trying to take over duties that were yours," Moses explained. "God warned them, and He means His warnings." Aaron stood in silent misery, gazing at the flame-blackened bodies. Finally he turned away, realizing that disobedience had to bring punishment. In spite of the shock of his nephews' deaths, Moses lost no time in arranging for burials, and for replacements by Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's two other sons. "Don't mourn because of Nadab and Abihu," Moses warned Aaron and the two other sons. "If you do, it would show that you feel God has dealt unjustly with them." (Leviticus 10:6-7.) People were sobered when they heard Nadab and Abihu had died by the direct hand of God. Even a funeral wasn't to interfere with tabernacle ceremonies. Aaron had to carry on with his duties, and Eleazar and Ithamar had to start with theirs. Their period of service began with a new ruling that priests on duty would have to abstain from wine and strong drink, the excessive use of which could dull one's best judgment. It was possible that such had happened with Nadab and Abihu. Serious events didn't necessarily steer matters smoothly. In one case of a goat being used as a sin offering for the people, Moses happened to go to the holy place to find nobody there. Neither was the goat that was to be eaten (at least in part). Moses then discovered that the goat had been completely burned on the altar. He quickly found Eleazar and Ithamar. "Why was the offering left to burn?" he angrily asked. "Why wasn't it eaten in the holy place, as holy meat to bear the sins of the people?" (Verses 16-18.) Embarrassed and feeling guilty, the brothers were trying to think of reasonable answers when Aaron walked up to explain that he had told his sons not to bring him any meat to eat because his recent losses had left him with little appetite. "Would forcing down food under such circumstances be acceptable to God?" Aaron asked. Moses felt sudden compassion. He realized Aaron had done well to continue his duties under his emotional strain. He knew that God pardons human errors not willfully committed. He put a comforting hand on Aaron's shoulder and said nothing more about the matter. Inasmuch as God gave no indication of displeasure, Aaron obviously was forgiven for breaking a ceremonial rule.