“Your Word Is Truth”
Nadab and Abihu—Warning Examples
THE names of Nadab and Abihu are not among the better known Biblical names. Aside from their being listed in Scriptural genealogies, they are mentioned only in connection with three brief incidents. But these few incidents are sufficient to make the Scriptural record of them meaningful to all who are interested in pleasing Jehovah God and gaining everlasting life.
Nadab and Abihu, together with Eleazar and Ithamar, were sons of Israel’s first high priest, Aaron the brother of the prophet Moses. As sons of Aaron they shared his honor, for they were his priestly assistants. And Nadab, the firstborn, was next in line to be high priest upon the death of his father.—Ex. 28:1.
To begin with, Nadab and Abihu were specially favored in becoming acquainted with Jehovah God in a unique way early in Israel’s wilderness trek. They were included when God invited Moses, Aaron and seventy “older men” of Israel to meet him in Mount Sinai. Then these “distinguished men . . . got a vision of the true God and ate and drank.” So here Nadab and Abihu were honored to be among the much older “distinguished men” of Israel.—Ex. 24:1-11.
The following year Aaron and his four sons were installed in the priesthood, an impressive ceremony that was witnessed by all Israel. This again caused Nadab and Abihu, as well as their brothers and father, to enjoy unusual prominence. Then all five had to remain at the entrance of the tent of meeting for seven days. On the eighth day these began functioning as priests, offering up sacrifices on behalf of Israel.—Lev. 8:1-9:24.
Apparently before that eighth day was over Nadab and Abihu proceeded to act on their own initiative. Were they taking a trifling view of these solemn activities, or had all this prominence gone to their heads, causing them to act with pride and ambition? Presumptuously “Nadab and Abihu took up and brought each one his fire holder and put fire in them and placed incense upon it, and they began offering before Jehovah illegitimate fire, which he had not prescribed for them. At this a fire came out from before Jehovah and consumed them.”—Lev. 10:1, 2.
What a price they paid for failing to appreciate their own position! Evidently they felt like so many young men of today feel, that they know more than their fathers and so do not need to look to them for guidance and instruction and to take the lead. Obviously Nadab and Abihu were also lacking in love and respect for their father, or they would have noticed his reverence for Jehovah’s worship and would never even have thought of offering incense that God had not prescribed for them.
It could well be that contributing to their lack of respect for the serious aspects of priestly service was their drinking wine or other like beverage at the time. This may well have caused them to feel frivolous and to do something so presumptuous and rash as offering illegitimate fire. At least this seems to be implied by Jehovah’s instructions to Aaron shortly after this incident: “Do not drink wine or intoxicating liquor, you and your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, that you may not die. It is a statute to time indefinite for your generations, both in order to make a distinction between the holy thing and the profane and between the unclean thing and the clean, and in order to teach the sons of Israel all the regulations that Jehovah has spoken to them by means of Moses.”—Lev. 10:8-11.
Since the apostle Paul assures us that “these things went on befalling them as examples, and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived,” what can we learn from the course of Nadab and Abihu?—1 Cor. 10:11.
More than one thing. First of all, there might be said to be implied a warning for all firstborn sons not to think too highly of themselves. It is quite likely that Nadab the firstborn took the lead in this matter. Among other firstborn sons who failed to turn out well were Cain, the firstborn of Adam; Esau, the firstborn of Isaac; Reuben, the firstborn of Jacob, and Amnon, the firstborn of King David.
There is also in this record a lesson for all youths to show respect to their elders, to look to them for guidance, especially if such parents are God-fearing. Youths should take care not to let a “generation gap” develop between them and their parents and other elders, for this gap is conducive to their going wrong. Plainly God’s Word counsels: “Honor your father and your mother.” “Observe, O my son, the commandment of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.” Certainly if Nadab and Abihu had had this mental attitude regarding their father they would not have come to grief.—Ex. 20:12; Prov. 6:20.
In this record there also is contained a warning against presumptuousness, for it illustrates the principle: “Has presumptuousness come? Then dishonor will come.” (Prov. 11:2) Should we be favored with special privileges or be given unusual prominence, we must not let this give us too high an opinion of ourselves. Often such persons want to tell their superiors what they should do instead of modestly appreciating the need for direction.
And finally there is the warning of the danger of being unduly influenced by alcoholic beverages. True, the Bible tells us that one of God’s gifts is wine which “makes the heart of mortal man rejoice,” and that we are to give “wine to those who are bitter of soul.” We are also told that a little wine is good for stomach trouble and other ills.—Ps. 104:15; Prov. 31:6; 1 Tim. 5:23.
But is it wise to take wine or any other alcoholic drink when one has serious duties to perform, when one needs to do clear thinking and have firm control of all one’s physical and mental powers? Dr. M. A. Block, an authority on the effect of alcohol on the body, tells that “alcohol lifts one out of the state of reality into a state of mind more pleasant and desirable,” and that “with alcohol in his blood the driver may feel he is doing better when actually he is doing worse.”—Vital Speeches of the Day, September 15, 1969.
Yes, alcoholic beverages stimulate the emotions and depress the mental processes. Not without good reason did wise King Solomon observe: “Wine [used to excess] is a ridiculer, intoxicating liquor is boisterous, and everyone going astray by it is not wise.” Christians therefore must be careful both as to the occasion and the amount they imbibe of such beverages. And it would be the part of discretion not to indulge in such drinks just before or while engaging in the ministry and thus avoid needless offense.—Prov. 20:1.
Truly, there is much to be learned from the warning examples of Nadab and Abihu as found in God’s Word, the Bible.