Aaron, the first sanctified high priest in the Levitical system lived through some pretty rough days. (Sanctified people do still sin and they do still experience trials.) There was a day when Aaron was a little boy when he was terrorized by a power-hungry Pharaoh who was trying to kill his little brother (Exodus 2). Then I think about how awkward (and scary) it must have been for Aaron that first time he went before the Pharaoh (Exodus 5). The messages were coming from God and Moses, but Aaron was the one who had to look into the eyes of Pharaoh as the mouthpiece and let him know that these lowly slaves were making demands in the name of Jehovah, a God he certainly neither recognized nor revered. It was Aaron’s voice that enraged the terrible demon inside of this powerful ruler. Then I think about the day that he got a “little too big for his britches” in the sight of God and challenged the authority of his younger brother, Moses (numbers 12). That was a pretty bad day at the end of which he had to look at his sister’s flesh, covered with leprosy, and wish he had not been a part of that jealous power play intended to gain positions for himself and his sister.
But the worst day of Aaron’s life has to be the one recorded in Leviticus 10. As a parent, I cannot imagine the nightmare of that day’s events. If Aaron had kept a journal, his entry for that day would have gone something like this:
It’s nightfall and I can hardly bear the weight of this writing instrument as it moves along the parchment. I never saw this coming. This morning, my two impetuous sons, Nadab and Abihu, began their day along with the rest of the family in their white robes in preparation for the sacrifices. They have always been my strong-willed children. But today, they crossed a line. I thought they understood, but I guess they just did not. The first thing I knew I looked around and they had put some funny, strange fire in the censors of the tabernacle and they were burning incense before Jehovah with this unconventional, against-commandment fire! I knew they had to be stopped, but before I could get over to them, the Lord killed them with His fire. They are gone. By the time I got to them they were lying dead on the ground in front of the people who were assembled there. There was no time for repentance…no time for pleading. Then I heard the voice of my brother, Moses, calling for my cousins Mishael and Elzaphan to come and pick up their dead bodies, even yet in their priestly robes, and take them all the way out of the camp and just dispose of them. The bodies of my sons have just been dumped somewhere outside the camp without even a proper funeral and burial.
I wanted to tear my clothes and cover my head with ashes. I wanted to go look for the bodies of my precious sons, but I have learned to listen to Moses and obey him. Moses said I could not tear my clothes or cover my head. Not only did my sons not have funerals, but, I, their own father, could not even take a moment to privately mourn their passing. Their brothers, Ithamar and Eleazar, were not allowed the privilege of mourning because their brothers had been stricken down in rebellion. Moses said that the whole congregation should just mourn the fire that had taken them. He further instructed that we could not drink any wine in the tabernacle. He said that the reason for all of this was so that we could learn the difference between the holy and the unholy, between the clean and the unclean.
Never have I wanted so badly to just sit down in my chamber and weep. But Moses was insistent that we should continue on with the sacrifices–the heave shoulder and the wave offering. So we did.
Then came the terrible end of the whole day in the tabernacle. Moses started looking for the goat…the goat of the sin offering. He became very angry when we finally confessed to him that we had burnt it–all of it. We knew it was not supposed to be burnt up. We knew that the goat was for a our priestly feast. We knew that our family was supposed to be enjoying the savory meat after the sin offering was finished. But who among us could have been hungry after what we had just watched? How could we have eaten that goat without regurgitating it? I asked Moses, “Would God have accepted my feasting after all that has befallen me today?”
One thing I will never forget: Though my sons did not have a funeral, God said some words over them. They will be my mantra as I act as his high priest. I will never allow my remaining sons to forget them. They are these:
I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people, I will be glorified.”
As darkness falls over my people and over the bodies of my dead sons outside the camp, one thought is paramount in the minds of all the camp. God does not consider His sanctification a thing to be mocked. He will be sanctified. He will be glorified.