Scripture: And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying, “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.” Leviticus 10:8-11 ESV
Observation: As discussed in yesterday’s Daily Focus, Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, disregarded the sacred protocol for offering fire on the altar and consequently died from flames that sparked from the Lord (10:1-3). Moses then directed two of Aaron’s cousins to carry his sons out of the camp for burial (10:4-6). Additionally, he cautioned Aaron and his two surviving sons, Eleazer and Ithamar, to maintain decorum and not change their appearance to demonstrate their grief but stay put in the tent of meeting while allowing the nation to mourn the “burning the Lord has kindled” (10:6).
Finally, as the above verses indicate, Yahweh spoke directly to Aaron and commanded him and his sons to abstain from wine and “strong drink” before going into the tent of meeting, lest they die (implying that Nadab and Abihu were intoxicated when they offered unauthorized fire). For such egregious behavior would otherwise blur the boundaries between the holy and the common, the clean and the unclean. Instead, they must teach Israel (and reinforce by example) the sacred aspects of life in worshiping their God.
Takeaway: There are a couple of teaching points from this passage. First, grieving does not mean that we shut down on life or make a show of our sorrow. In the Ancient Near East, commonly, a mourner would rend their clothes and dishevel their appearance. By the time of Christ, a show of mourning escalated to hiring people to wail for lost loved ones (signaling the deceased’s status in the community). As for shutting down, Solomon poetically waxes in his Ecclesiastical writings that there is a season for everything, a time to mourn, and a time to dance (3:4). While this was not a time to dance, Aaron and his sons would have to postpone the memorial observance of their lost loved ones to carry on with pressing needs.
Secondly, there is no tolerance in God’s economy for church leaders to consume quantities of alcohol (or any other drugs) that would alter their state of mind and diminish godly behavior. The flock is watching and will follow their lead. But first and foremost, those who imbibe to excess are sinning against God. They defile that which is sacred (their bodies as temples of the Lord) and blur boundaries between that which is “holy” (the sacrificial love of Christians) and “common” (the self-indulgent ways of the world). And as Paul warns the church, this matter applies to all who claim to be followers of Jesus (Romans 13:13), for our world desperately needs to see distinctive image-bearers who present a message of hope.
(As a pastoral note, God’s grace abounds for those who struggle to maintain sobriety, but please seek help.)
Prayer: Father God, thank you for rescuing us from the “common” to that of “holy” image-bearers of your Son. Would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit in rising above self-indulgence to a sacred life of prudence and sacrificial love for you and our neighbors? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling