The reason why Nadab and Abihu were selected for instant punishment was not necessarily that they had committed a sin more atrocious in itself than that at the same time perpetrated by others of the people, but there were ends to be answered in their case which did not exist in that of other offenders. Nothing could have been better adapted to the impressing both priesthood and people with a sense of the awfulness of instituted ordinances and of the reverence due to every tittle of the law than such a catastrophe as the one before us.
I. Under this crushing trial we read of Aaron one brief sentence, more affecting than the most elaborate description: “And Aaron held his peace.” It appears clear from the remainder of the history that Aaron, though he suppressed the signs of sorrow, was disquieted at heart, and so overpowered and overcome as to be scarcely master of his actions. Not only was he forbidden to mourn; he was required to proceed with the business of a complicated ritual. No wonder that, in his agitation and perplexity, he made mistakes in the performance of his office. Moses found that the goat had been burnt without the tabernacle in place of being eaten according to the law. He expostulated with Aaron, and in the whole range of Scripture there are no more pathetic words than Aaron’s reply: “Such things have befallen me.” God seems to have accepted the excuse, for we read that “Moses was content.”
II. From the contentment of Moses, as expressive of the approval of God, we may gather these lessons: (1) The severity of sorrow is accepted as an excuse for some failure in duty. God is not rigid in exacting His dues when our soul is disquieted and cast down within us. (2) The same holds good under circumstances of sickness. We should never ask how a Christian died, but how he lived. The sick-bed is of all places the most unfitted for beginning religion, and so it is frequently the least favourable to the display of its growth.