Then the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your descendants must never drink wine or any other alcoholic drink before going into the Tabernacle. If you do, you will die. This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed from generation to generation. You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common, between what is ceremonially unclean and what is clean. And you must teach the Israelites all the decrees that the Lord has given them through Moses.” . . .
Moses then asked them what had happened to the goat of the sin offering. When he discovered it had been burned up, he became very angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s remaining sons. “Why didn’t you eat the sin offering in the sacred area?” he demanded. “It is a holy offering! The Lord has given it to you to remove the guilt of the community and to purify the people, making them right with the Lord. Since the animal’s blood was not brought into the Holy Place, you should have eaten the meat in the sacred area as I ordered you.”
Then Aaron answered Moses, “Today my sons presented both their sin offering and their burnt offering to the Lord. And yet this tragedy has happened to me. If I had eaten the people’s sin offering on such a tragic day as this, would the Lord have been pleased?” And when Moses heard this, he was satisfied.
(Leviticus 10:8-11, 16-20)
The priests were not to drink wine or other alcoholic beverages before going into the Tabernacle. If their senses were dulled by alcohol, they might repeat Nadab and Abihu’s sin and bring something unholy into the worship ceremony. In addition, drinking would disqualify them to teach the people God’s requirements of self-discipline. Drunkenness was associated with pagan religious practices, and the Jewish priests were to be distinctively different.
This passage (along with Leviticus 19:1-2) shows the focus of Leviticus. The Ten Commandments recorded in Exodus 20 were God’s fundamental laws. Leviticus explained and supplemented those laws with many other guidelines and principles that helped the Israelites put them into practice. The purpose of God’s laws was to teach people how to distinguish right from wrong and to honor what was holy. The nation who lived by God’s laws would obviously be set apart, dedicated to his service.
The priest who conducted the sin offering was supposed to eat a portion of the animal and then burn the rest (Leviticus 6:24-30). Moses was angry because Eleazar and Ithamar burned the sin offering but did not eat any of it. Aaron explained to Moses that his two sons did not feel it appropriate to eat the sacrifice after their two brothers, Nadab and Abihu, had just been killed for sacrificing wrongly. Moses then understood that Eleazar and Ithamar were not trying to disobey God. Rather, they were afraid and upset over what had just happened to their brothers.
God regards sin and holiness seriously. When we live holy lives, we participate in God’s work in the world. We become part of what God made the world to be. How do your values and lifestyle set you apart as holy?