Leviticus 10 Study Notes

10:1 Nadab was the firstborn of Aaron, and presumably Abihu was his second born (Ex 6:23). Firepan (Hb machtah) describes a hand-held censer used to transport live coals from one place to another (16:12; Nm 16:17-18,46). The incense (Hb qetoreth) may have been from the altar of incense (Ex 30:1-10) or from another unnamed source (Nm 16:6,17-18). The location before the Lord may refer to the bronze altar in the courtyard (1:5) or inside the tent in the holy place (4:4). The word unauthorized (Hb zarah) translates the adjective “strange, foreign,” meaning that the fire came from some place other than the altar of the sanctuary (16:12; Nm 16:46). The crime of Aaron’s sons was not the incense (Ex 30:9) but the fire that came from some place other than the legitimate source.


Hebrew pronunciation [ZARR]
CSB translation strange, foreign, unauthorized
Uses in Leviticus 4
Uses in the OT 70
Focus passage Leviticus 10:1

Zar occurs as a noun (56x) and as an adjective (14x). It describes unauthorized incense or people in the Lord’s sanctuary (Ex 30:9; 29:33). God had not given orders or permission for Nadab and Abihu’s incense burning (Lv 10:1). The noun mostly designates non-Israelite strangers or foreigners (Lm 5:2), who may be seen as foes (Is 29:5) or barbarians (Is 25:5). It implies someone unknown (Pr 11:15) or outside a family (Lv 22:13). Zar suggests someone else (1Kg 3:18). It refers to plants as exotic (Is 17:10), children as illegitimate (Hs 5:7), and behavior as unexpected (Is 28:21) or strange (Hs 8:12). Zar connotes what is forbidden (Pr 5:3). Related zur (6x) means go astray (Ps 58:3). It is “turn from” as abandon (Jb 19:13; Ps 78:30). Passive-reflexives denote be estranged (Ezk 14:5) or turn one’s back (Is 1:4). The causative passive participle means stranger (Ps 69:8).

10:2 The phrase fire came from the Lord and consumed is the same Hebrew expression as that in 9:24 (cp. Nm 16:35) in which the fire that consumed the offerings on the altar came from the Lord himself (the most holy place). It inaugurated the altar’s perpetual fire that was to be maintained indefinitely (Lv 6:12-13) by the priests, making it the legitimate source for all future offerings and the burning of incense.

10:3 God’s immediate lethal response displayed his holiness to those who are near me, the officiating priests. The incident especially illustrates the failure of the priests to distinguish between the “holy” and the “common” (v. 10). Reveal my glory parallels “demonstrate my holiness,” indicating that the display of the fiery glory (9:23-24) exhibited the holy demands of God for proper worship; the objective was to instruct all the people in the holiness of God (v. 11). Aaron’s silence reflected his discernment that mourning rites in the sacred sanctuary were inappropriate (v. 6).

10:4-5 Mishael and Elzaphan were cousins of Aaron and Moses (Ex 6:16-22), making them Levites—and thus responsible for the purity of the sanctuary—but not priests. They could remove the bodies of Nadab and Abihu without offending God (Nm 3:5-10; 18:2-6). Front of the sanctuary describes the courtyard’s altar area (v. 18). The Hebrew term for come here (qarav) echoes the same word describing an illicit offering (“presented” in v. 1 and “approach” in 9:7). The priestly function is described as those who are “near” (Hb qarov) God (10:3).

10:6 Eleazar and Ithamar (Ex 28:1) replaced their deceased brothers (Nm 3:4), and Eleazar later succeeded Aaron as high priest (Dt 10:6). Eleazar’s descendant Zadok ultimately displaced the priestly family of Abiathar, a descendant of Ithamar (1Kg 2:27,35). Disheveled hair and torn clothes (Gn 37:34) were part of mourning rites (Lv 13:45; 21:10). By desecrating the holy sanctuary through mourning, the priests risked death and bringing guilt on the whole community. If the priests compromised the holiness of God and were disqualified to make atonement, the community would not be protected from divine wrath. Although Aaron and his sons could not mourn, the community (brothers) could fulfill their obligation.

10:7 Priests bearing holy anointing oil (cp. 8:12) would defile themselves if they left the holy precinct for mourning rites during the time of their consecration (21:10-12).

10:8 Only here in Leviticus does Aaron alone receive a direct word from the Lord (cp. Ex 4:27; Nm 18:1,8). God usually addressed Aaron and Moses as a team (Lv 13:1).

10:9 Libations accompanied offerings (23:13; Nm 28:7,14), and through tithes wine was provided to the priests (Nm 18:12; Dt 14:23). During their performance of priestly functions, the priests were not allowed to drink wine or beer so they would be clear-headed in making judgments and carrying out their duties in the sanctuary (v. 10). The abuse of alcohol by priests rendered their service useless (Is 28:7).

10:10 The assignment for the priests was cultic—distinguishing between the holy and the ordinary—and pedagogical—instructing the congregation in cultic matters (Ezk 22:26). Distinguish (from Hb badal; “to separate, divide”) meant differentiating the distinctive from the commonplace, such as edible animals from prohibited animals (11:47; 20:25). The holy (Hb qodesh) versus the common (Hb chol) refers to anything or anyone that was dedicated to the Lord and his service as opposed to that which was for normal use. Clean (Hb tahor) and unclean (Hb tame’) refer to matters pertaining to the physical existence of the people, especially foods (chap. 11; Dt 14) and persons (Lv 12-15; Nm 5:2-4).

10:11 The term teach (Hb yarah) means “to instruct,” but it can also mean “to determine” (14:57). The instruction was intended to enable the people to discern the proper conduct in cultic matters and everyday activities. The Levites in general and the priests in particular were to direct the people in the ways commanded by the Lord (Dt 17:9-11; 33:10; Ezk 44:23-24). A statute (Hb choq) was a divine enactment that must be kept (Lv 19:37; 26:46).

10:12 For the portion of the grain offering belonging to the priests, see 2:10; 6:15-18; 7:9-10; 21:22.

10:13 The word portion (Hb choq), meaning that which was owed to him, is the same as “statutes” in v. 11. Moses emphasized that the command came from the Lord, not by his authority.

10:14-15 For the breast and thigh belonging to the priestly families, see 7:31-34; Nm 18:18-19; the priestly portion of the fellowship offerings could be eaten in their homes (Lv 22:10-13; Nm 18:11).

10:16-18 Moses complained that Aaron’s sons had failed to eat the consecration portions of the sin offering as prescribed by the Lord. By their failure to perform the proper ritual ceremony, the guilt of the community remained. The Hebrew phrase translated inquired carefully (darosh darash) reflects the urgency of Moses’s concern for proper observance. For instructions on the priestly consumption of the sin offering, see 6:26,29-30.

10:19 Aaron had to determine whether the desecration by Nadab and Abihu made the sin offering portions inappropriate for priestly consumption. Rather than run the risk of defiling the sanctuary further, Aaron chose to burn up the entire goat.

10:20 A wordplay on acceptable (Hb yatav), which describes the divine approval in v. 19, also describes Moses’s acceptance of the explanation; Moses accepted the determination of Aaron according to v. 10.

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