Day 13: The priestly code of ethics.
‘‘Do not drink wine nor strong drink, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations…’’ Lev. 10:9
Additional reading: Gen. 9:21; Prov.20:1; 31:5; Isa. 28:7; Ezek. 44:21; Hos. 4:1; Lk.1:15; Eph. 5:15; 1Tim.3:3; Tit. 1:7
The death of his sons must have been a bitter pill for Aaron to swallow. To my mind, Aaron contemplated resigning for fear of losing all his sons in service. ’’If my service to the LORD, God of Israel whom I believe is merciful, full of grace and compassion would result in the death of my family and in fact my entire lineage, I need no longer continue,’’ he must have thought to himself. Noticing this, Moses by the Spirit arrested the situation to avert further deaths.
Please follow this carefully: (1.) Moses reminded Aaron the high priest of God’s word; ‘‘Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what God meant when he said, To the one who comes near me, I will show myself holy; Before all the people, I will show my glory.’ Aaron was silent.’’ (V. 3 MSG). (2.) Moses then directed two relatives to carry their dead cousins away from the Sanctuary. ‘‘Moses sent for Mishael and Elzaphan, the two sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel. Then he told them, ‘Take these two dead relatives of yours outside the camp far from the entrance to the sacred tent.’ ’’ (V. 4 CEV). (3) Here comes another shocker: ‘‘Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Do not leave your hair uncombed or tear your clothes to show that you are mourning. If you do, you will die, and the LORD will be angry with the whole community. But all the other Israelites are allowed to mourn this death caused by the fire which the LORD sent. Do not leave the entrance of the Tent or you will die, because you have been consecrated by the anointing of the LORD.’ So they did as Moses said.’’ (Vv. 6 – 7 GNB).
Is it possible for a man not to mourn the loss of his children? Well it is clearly stated here that neither Aaron nor Eleazar and Ithamar were to mourn for Nadab and Abihu. I believe that this was to show their total commitment to their calling — that they were not to mingle with other affairs. If you recall, Jesus told a disciple, ‘‘Let the dead bury their dead.’’ (Matt. 8:22). But in the real sense Jesus said this: ‘‘Let those who are spiritually dead bury their physically dead.’’ The spiritually dead is one who is alive physically but because he is without Christ, his spirit man is dead because of sin. But he who is alive spiritually (believers) is one whose dead spirit man was made alive by accepting Jesus and His word. So, He said that let those who are alive physically but dead spiritually (i.e. the unbeliever) bury their physically dead. In other words, because the unbelievers concern themselves with the issues of life, those who are in Him, should be more concern with the issues of the kingdom of God — issues of life and eternity. This is not to say believers should be deliberately ignorant of their social responsibilities. While playing our social roles, we must not be encumbered with the things of life at the expense of those things that of God and are of greater importance. So this was the message to Aaron; that he had a higher calling from God, which was eternal and as such of greater importance, thus, his full dedication to duty was required. ‘‘Jesus refused. ‘First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.’ ’’ (MSG).
Having said all this, God in a show of seriousness personally unveiled His code depicting His standard for moral living amongst the Levitical priests: ‘‘You and your sons are not to enter the Tent of my presence after drinking wine or beer; if you do, you will die. This is a law to be kept by all your descendants. You must distinguish between what belongs to God and what is for general use, between what is ritually clean and what is unclean. You must teach the people of Israel all the laws which I have given to you throw Moses.’’ (Vv. 9 – 11 GNB). If Aaron for any reason had not taken God’s commands given him through Moses seriously, this experience no doubt became the turning point in his life. He soon realised that God was serious about his word and standard for holy living. And as high priest, he had one option, which was total obedience, not by himself alone but the entire community. This he could not afford to risk.
I did say earlier that most scholars believe that Nadab and Abihu were influenced by alcohol when they offered profane fire before God. This view is supported in verse 9: ‘‘You and your sons are not to enter the Tent of my presence after drinking wine or beer; if you do, you will die.’’ Why would God have personally warned Aaron and his sons against drinking wine and beer while in His service if these did not have a role in the disrespectful act of Nadab and Abihu?
It is expedient to take a closer look at this: ‘‘Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations…’’ What is wine, what is strong drink? Why did God warn them against taking them?
‘‘Do not drink wine [yan … from an unused root meaning to effervesce; wine (as fermented); by implication intoxication: – banqueting, wine, winebibber] nor strong drink [sekar … an intoxicant, i.e. intensely alcohol liquor:- strong drink, drunkard, strong wine], thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations…’’
The priests were simply prohibited from taking wine — an intoxicant — fermented drink. An intoxicant is something that makes you drunk. And when any juice from whatever source is allowed to ferment, the sugar content is changed to alcohol. This was the type of intoxicant that made Nadab and Abihu misbehave when they performed profanity in the presence of the LORD. As priests, they were expected to be holy before the LORD; therefore, they could not afford to be influenced by alcohol while serving the LORD. More so, as teachers of the laws of God, they could not do contrary through their lifestyle what they thought the people. Alcohol has one singular and dangerous characteristic, which is its strength to impair wisdom and right sense of judgement.
Against this backdrop, Paul setting out a biblical standard for would be ministers of God wrote to Timothy saying: ‘‘THE SAYING is true and irrefutable: If any man [eagerly] seeks the office of bishop (superintendent, overseer), he desires an excellent task (work). Now a bishop(superintendent, overseer) must give no grounds for accusation but must be approve reproach, the husband of one wife, circumspect and temperate and self – controlled; [he must be] sensible and well behaved and dignified and lead an orderly (disciplined) life; [he must be] hospitable [showing love for and being a friend to the believers, especially strangers or foreigners, and be] a capable and qualified teacher, Not given to wine, not combat but gentle and considerate, not quarrelsome but forbearing and peaceable, and not a lover of money [insatiable for wealth and ready to obtain it by questionable means]’’. 1Tim. 3:1 – 3 AMP. These are the qualifications for anyone that desires to be a servant of the LORD.
Can anyone exercise self – control or be temperate, be orderly and disciplined if he continuously lives under the influence of alcohol? Can a man avoid being quarrelsome or be a sound teacher of God’s word if he lives by alcohol? Please note that Noah feared and worshipped the LORD, yet alcohol reduced him to nothing.
Meditation: Is there something I do that can impair my sense of judgement and hinder my service unto the LORD?
Prayer: I cannot help myself in my weaknesses and limitations. I, therefore, pray You LORD to strengthen and help me through the power of the Holy Spirit to do Your will as You desire.