“Faithful to be Holy”

Leviticus 9:1-11:47
2 Samuel 6:1-7:17 (A); 6:1-19 (S)

by Mark Huey

Now that our annual remembrance of Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread have been completed (2012), Shemini continues where Tzav (Leviticus 6:1[8]-8:36) finished, with the completion of the consecration and ordination of Aaron and his sons after seven days of sacrificial offerings. Recall that the final statement in Tzav reminds the reader that obedience to the word of the Lord took place without deviation:

“‘At the doorway of the tent of meeting, moreover, you shall remain day and night for seven days and keep the charge of the LORD, so that you will not die, for so I have been commanded.’ Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses” (Leviticus 8:35-36).

Now as the instructions turn to the first day of the second week, or the eighth day (Leviticus 9:1), our portion focuses more on not only the consequences of taking the Lord’s commands lightly (Leviticus 10), but the imperative for the priesthood—and by extension all of Israel—to be holy by delineating what the Lord considers clean or unclean (Leviticus 11). The Lord was very concerned that Israel be a “holy nation” among the nations of the world (Exodus 19:6). With holiness a theme of this teaching, Moses stated that there was the possibility that the glory of the Lord would appear to Aaron, his sons, and the entire congregation after they followed the Lord’s instructions:

“Now it came about on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel; and he said to Aaron, ‘Take for yourself a calf, a bull, for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without defect, and offer them before the LORD. Then to the sons of Israel you shall speak, saying, “Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both one year old, without defect, for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a grain offering mixed with oil; for today the LORD will appear to you.”’ So they took what Moses had commanded to the front of the tent of meeting, and the whole congregation came near and stood before the LORD. Moses said, ‘This is the thing which the LORD has commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you’” (Leviticus 9:1-6).

While Moses suggested that the presence of the Lord might appear—after completing all of the instructions and blessing the people of Israel—the glory of the Lord actually did appear, and the Lord consumed the offerings with a blazing fire:

“Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 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 came out from before 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 on their faces” (Leviticus 9:22-24).

Nadab and Abihu

The response to the appearance of the glory of the Lord should be noted, as the Ancient Israelites shouted, and then fell on their faces in awe—and perhaps also trepidation—of what they had just witnessed. One would think that observing a consuming fire and the presence of the Lord, would be enough to seriously put the fear of Him in the hearts of all the witnesses. Yet as Shemini continues, we see that Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons who had been close eyewitnesses to the stupefying event, apparently took their responsibilities somewhat cavalierly. At some point after the glory of the Lord had appeared, Nadab and Abihu did not follow the instructions properly, and instead they are recorded to have offered some sort of strange fire to the Lord. This resulted in their being immediately consumed:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it 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. 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. Moses called also to Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, ‘Come forward, carry your relatives away from the front of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp.’ So they came forward and carried them still in their tunics to the outside of the camp, as Moses had said. Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, so that you will not die and that He will not become wrathful against all the congregation. But your kinsmen, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which the LORD has brought about. You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent of meeting, or you will die; for the LORD’s anointing oil is upon you.’ So they did according to the word of Moses. The LORD then spoke to Aaron, saying, ‘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 will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them through Moses’” (Leviticus 10:1-11).

In reading this account and attempting to understand why the Lord consumed Nadab and Abihu with fire, one finds that there have been a variety of conclusions by both Jewish and Christian examiners down through the centuries. There is no doubt that Moses’ initial comment, reminding the people of what the Lord said, was, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (ESV). This indicated that Nadab and Abihu had not been in a proper frame of mind to be presenting anything before Him. Some interpretations surmise a prideful heart attitude of these two, who abused their priestly service, and were performing tasks without proper permission or with trying to subvert the position of their father Aaron. Clearly, the fact that Aaron remained silent after witnessing his two sons’ demise, suggests that he was in shock.

After two cousins carried away the smoldering corpses (Leviticus 10:4), two other sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, were commissioned to replace their brothers (Leviticus 10:6). Moses issued some clarifying statements which would further advocate the importance of taking their priestly responsibilities seriously (Leviticus 10:7). Finally, the Lord spoke directly to Aaron about the need for the Levitical priests to avoid drinking alcohol when they would come to perform their priestly duties—otherwise they would die (Leviticus 10:8-11). This admonition to Aaron, in such close proximity to the preceding events, has drawn many to conclude that Nadab and Abihu were perhaps intoxicated when they offered up the strange fire. This is a logical deduction, especially when it is followed by the requirements to teach God’s people about the distinctions between the holy and profane, and the clean and unclean.

Regardless of what the absolute interpretation of this morbid episode truly is, modern-day followers of the Messiah of Israel should adhere to the admonition to avoid wine or strong drink to the point of intoxication, especially when or if they are involved in the Lord’s service. Several statements by the Apostle Paul in the First Century, regarding the character of elders and deacons, confirm this advice:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the assembly of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the assembly, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Timothy 3:2-10).

“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:7-9).

Following Instructions

After the gruesome expiration of two of Aaron’s sons, and the admonitions about what had been done incorrectly and the priests’ responsibility to teach Israel the differences between the holy and the profane and the clean and the unclean—Moses and Aaron were very concerned about following the Lord’s commands accurately. In fact, after some more specific instructions to Eleazar and Ithamar, there appeared to be a difference of opinion about how to handle the goat sin offering:

“Then Moses spoke to Aaron, and to his surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Take the grain offering that is left over from the LORD’s offerings by fire and eat it unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy.  “You shall eat it, moreover, in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due out of the LORD’s offerings by fire; for thus I have been commanded. The breast of the wave offering, however, and the thigh of the offering you may eat in a clean place, you and your sons and your daughters with you; for they have been given as your due and your sons’ due out of the sacrifices of the peace offerings of the sons of Israel. The thigh offered by lifting up and the breast offered by waving they shall bring along with the offerings by fire of the portions of fat, to present as a wave offering before the LORD; so it shall be a thing perpetually due you and your sons with you, just as the LORD has commanded.’ But Moses searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it had been burned up! So he was angry with Aaron’s surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar, saying, ‘Why did you not eat the sin offering at the holy place? For it is most holy, and He gave it to you to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD. Behold, since its blood had not been brought inside, into the sanctuary, you should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, just as I commanded.’ But Aaron spoke to Moses, ‘Behold, this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD. When things like these happened to me, if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight of the LORD?’ When Moses heard that, it seemed good in his sight” (Leviticus 10:12-20).

Moses and Aaron took their responsibilities seriously. Neither one wanted to offend the Lord, but instead, desired to perform their duties in a manner that would be considered good and proper before Him. This is a great example that each of us, as His people today, needs to seriously be considering! Attention to detail is something that modern-day Believers should all take to serious note, as they work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Be aware of this exhortation from the Apostle Paul to the Colossians, and how with each person’s individual actions with others, one should recognize that all that is done should be unto the Lord:

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Messiah whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality” (Colossians 3:17-25).

What would be Paul’s specific instruction to us, living in the Twenty-First Century? What diverse groups on the social spectrum would he admonish to be working unto the Lord?

Clean and Unclean

Our Torah reading concludes with a lengthy chapter, Leviticus 11, on what are commonly referred to as the kosher dietary laws (cf. Deuteronomy 14). It is from this section where there is a significant amount of commentary seen in Judaism, regarding how they are to be implemented and applied in diverse situations. While the attention of readers to Leviticus ch. 11 will be particularly given to those animals considered clean and edible, or unclean an inedible—it has to be recognized that there are many more discussions to be witnessed in religious history about what kashrut or kosher is. Above and beyond all of the various details about the different domesticated animals, hoofs and cud chewing, fish scales and fins, different birds, or creeping insects—what the Lord desires most is a set-apart people who seek to be holy as He is holy:

“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy. This is the law regarding the animal and the bird, and every living thing that moves in the waters and everything that swarms on the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the edible creature and the creature which is not to be eaten” (Leviticus 11:44-47).

The basis, for understanding the importance of the kosher dietary laws, is in understanding how eating the way God prescribes, is a matter of being a part of His holy people. While violating the dietary laws is surely not as severe as murder or adultery, not allowing the Lord to have a say on what we eat—ignoring His Instruction—can be an offense to Him.

Be Ye Holy…

As we reflect upon Shemini this week, the overwhelming theme of the reading is the Lord’s desire that His faithful followers seek to be holy as His witnesses to the world. Being holy is a critical call placed upon God’s people to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6)—a definite theme that has reached its climax via the arrival of Yeshua the Messiah. However, in order for any of us to be that light to the nations, we must each know the Lord’s instructions to us, keep and obey them, and above all understand their intent. By studying the Torah, today’s Believers can more fully appreciate that the Lord has our best interests in mind, as He wants to see us protected from sin and its devastating consequences (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11).

Modern-day followers of the Messiah, upon examining Shemini, should be better able to understand that the Lord will use what has been preserved in the Torah, to spur His people to truly seek holiness. As the Apostle Peter exhorted First Century Believers,

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY [Leviticus 11:44, 45].’ If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:13-17).

The requirement to seek holiness is not something that has changed. Instead, reminders of how the Lord wants His children to take His instructions seriously, like those commandments seen in Shemini, are found all throughout the remainder of the Bible. The examples of Moses and Aaron wanting to follow the sacrificial system accurately, contrasted to the tragedy of Nadab and Abihu, should make one pause when considering our individual approaches to the Holy One. We might want to specifically recall the recorded testimony in the Book of Acts, about a couple which deceived the Apostles regarding a sale of property:

“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband” (Acts 5:1-10).

This tragic incident should serve as a recollection that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and that He should never be mocked (Galatians 6:7). And so, I pray that this week’s parashah would be a vivid reminder that as faithful children of God we are to seek holiness according to His ways, so that we may urgently accomplish His tasks, and affect a difference in our sin-cursed world.

This teaching has been excerpted from Torahscope, Volume III by William Mark Huey.