Parashat Shemini (Eighth)
Vayikra (Leviticus) 9:1–11:47
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 6:1–7:17
In our Parasha portion we read of the incredible account that took place when Aaron offered the sacrifice before the Lord:
Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Then fire went out from the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell face downward.
I can only imagine the magnificence of that moment when the glory of the LORD appeared, and the fire went out from the Lord. I love the fact that when it happened, the people reacted with songs of praise and shouts of joy, and because they could not comprehend the holiness of the LORD, they fell on their faces.
Sadly, what follows this amazing account is a very tragic story:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on the fire and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
While the Scriptures are unclear about why they did what they did, I personally believe that we cannot judge the motives of Nadab and Abihu. Perhaps they desired to do more for God than what He required, or to demonstrate their faith to God. Or perhaps they were rebellious in their hearts and wanted to show they could offer fire to God in their way. Another possibility is that they may have been drunk from wine or strong alcohol since in Leviticus 10:9 we find the instruction, “Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you do not die—it is a permanent statute throughout your generations”. Regardless of the motive, the fact is they did something that God did not require, and did not follow His exact instructions — and they paid a very heavy price for it.
While the Scriptures do not specifically indicate this, I personally believe that after Nadav and Abihu witnessed the powerful account that took place, they tried to recreate it on their own. As I wrote in a previous blog, God will not share His glory with anyone! We have to remember that it is all about Him and for Him, and that those whom He calls to serve Him ought to be thankful for the amazing privilege of partake in His plan and not take matters in our own hands. We find this explained in Leviticus 10:3:
Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the LORD spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.’” So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.
In the Haftarah portion, we encounter yet another tragic account that took place when King David brought God’s holy ark to Jerusalem:
Now David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David departed from Baale-judah, with all the people who were with him, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the LORD of armies who is enthroned above the cherubim. They had mounted the ark of God on a new cart and moved it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart. So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of instruments made of juniper wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, because the oxen nearly overturned it. And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.
2 Samuel 6:1–7
In the midst of what seemed to be a very joyful time, we read of yet another tragic moment. From what we read, one may think that what took place was unfair and, in fact, we see that in verse 8, David was very angry at what happened. While Uzzah’s intention may have been good — he wanted to save the ark from falling — the reality is that Uzzah took matters in his own hands, doing something that God forbid, which was that an unclean man would touch the holy ark, thus defiling the ark.
Could it be that if Uzzah would not have done what he did, God would have supernaturally prevented the Holy Ark from falling? Did his action prevent God from displaying His power and might? Could it also be that in David and the people's desire to bring the ark to Jerusalem, they acted hastily and neglected to give it the proper treatment?
In 2 Samuel 6:13, we read that David's second attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem was much more cautious and respectful; not only did they move slowly, taking small steps and paying close attention to how they walked, but they also offered sacrifices after every six steps. This slowed everything down significantly, but it also gave the people the opportunity to show the respect that the ark required:
And so it was, that when those carrying the ark of the LORD marched six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened steer.
In closing, my dear brothers and sisters, I believe that it is important for us to prayerfully and carefully consider all that we do, walking step by step, in accordance to God’s ways and not our own flesh. His precepts, along with grace and the Holy Spirit's guidance, are all we need to walk in obedience. Let us also not be tempted to take credit for any “good” work or deed, but make sure that God gets all the glory for it (Matthew 5:16).
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