Theme: As we have read from chapters 8-9, the sons of Aaron had been washed, vested, atoned for, and anointed for their ministry. But they had no more begun their ministry than God gives a dreadful display of the absolute holiness with which He is to be approached.
I. THE SIN IS DESCRIBED (vv. 1-2).
Aaron's two sons engaged in a dreadful act of “will worship”. They sought to come before the God of Israel in a way that they chose rather than in the manner He prescribed. They offered incense (1) at a time when He did not command, (2) in a place that He did not permit, and (3) in a manner that He did not accept. Fire proceeded from out of the Mercy Seat and devoured them.
II. THE CONSECRATION IS PROTECTED (vv. 3-7).
Moses restrained Aaron from violating his consecration before the Lord. He reminded Aaron of the holiness with which God must be approached; then, he called for Aaron's nephews to come and remove the bodies of his sons. He warned Aaron not to mourn in such a way as to violate his consecrated state before God.
III. THE WARNING IS ISSUED (vv. 8-11).
The reason that Nadab and Abihu engaged in such a behavior is probably suggested in the warning to Aaron and his surviving sons not to drink alcohol when serving in the temple. They needed to keep their heads clear so as to (1) distinguish holy from unholy, and (2) properly teach the people.
IV. THE SYMBOL IS MAINTAINED (vv. 12-15).
Moses commanded that the sacrifices be carried through. They were symbolic of the relationship of grace God was offering His people. Though great sin had just occurred, the grace of God still prevailed toward His people.
V. THE NEGLEGENCE IS REBUKED (vv. 16-20).
Certain aspects of the offering had not been carried through as they should have been. Moses was, understandably, concerned that this would result in even greater outbursts of God's holy wrath. Aaron argued that the things he had suffered would have made the offering unacceptable. This may be because they were a part of the peace offering that the two sons had just offered; and clearly, their offering of peace had not been acceptable because they died. Or this may be because Aaron himself was in a state of suffering and grief that would not allow his offering to be properly given from the heart. In any case, Moses heard what Aaron said and was contented by it.