(A·biʹhu) [He Is Father].
One of Aaron’s four sons by his wife Elisheba; the brother of Nadab, Eleazar, and Ithamar. (Ex 6:23; 1Ch 6:3; 24:1) Born in Egypt, Abihu, as the second son of Aaron, was a mature man by the time of the Exodus, his father then being 83.
As older sons, Nadab and Abihu were permitted by Jehovah to accompany their father and 70 of the older men of Israel in approaching Mount Sinai and there to see from a distance a magnificent vision of God’s glory. (Ex 24:1, 9-11) Jehovah honored Aaron’s sons, appointing them to serve as priests with their father, the high priest, and ordaining that from among them should come Aaron’s eventual successor. They would wear priestly robes and headgears “for glory and beauty.” Moses was to “anoint them and fill their hand with power and sanctify them” for their service to God. (Ex 28:1, 40-43) The priesthood would become theirs “as a statute to time indefinite.”
Thereafter they were continually included in God’s instructions regarding the priesthood and its functions. (Ex 29:10-46; 30:26-38) Also, God emphatically impressed upon them, as well as upon the entire nation, the vital importance of respecting the sanctity of the things related to his worship, including the altar of incense and incidental equipment. Their lives depended upon their respecting the divine regulations.
Now, one year from the start of the Exodus, came the time for setting up of the tabernacle and the installation of the priesthood (1512 B.C.E.). The entire nation assembled before the entrance of the tent of meeting for the installation ceremonies and saw Aaron and Abihu and his brothers, washed and turbaned, receive the anointing as priests of God to represent the nation before Him. Thereafter the newly installed priests remained at the entrance of the tent of meeting for seven days to complete their installation and, as Moses said, “‘to fill your hand with power.’ . . . And Aaron and his sons proceeded to do all the things that Jehovah had commanded by means of Moses.”
On the eighth day Aaron began to officiate, with Abihu and his brothers assisting. (Le 9:1-24) They witnessed the glorious manifestation of God’s presence. But, evidently before the day was over, the account says that “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, so that they died before Jehovah.” (Le 10:1, 2) Their corpses were carried outside the camp by Aaron’s cousins at Moses’ instruction. Their father and remaining brothers were instructed by God to refrain from any display of grief over their being thus cut off from the congregation.
Immediately thereafter God gave Aaron a warning against the use of intoxicating liquor by him or his sons at the time of serving at the tabernacle, “that you may not die.” Commenting on verse 9, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs says: “The Rabbis connected the incident of Nadab and Abihu with this injunction against intoxicating liquors before officiating in the Sanctuary.” (Edited by J. H. Hertz, London, 1972, p. 446) So, the matter of intoxication may have been involved in their grave sin, but the actual cause of their death was the violation of God’s requirement for pure worship by their offering “illegitimate fire, which he had not prescribed for them.”
Abihu enjoyed great honor from God and outstanding prominence before all the nation for a short while; but, whether from ambition, an inflated ego, or due to a trifling attitude toward God’s instructions, his privileges were short-lived, and he died childless.