The glory of God is a hard notion for us. The word often translated “glory” means essentially heaviness or weight. The Eternal One uniquely is the most substantial and most significant being in the cosmos. Only God is eternal. Only God has true substance. Creation runs out, wears out, and peters out eventually. In the Scriptures the term “glory” is used often for those unique times and places when God manifests Himself in some visible way. It is His epiphany, or manifestation, one might say. To see God’s glory is a fearsome thing. That’s why people fall on their faces and call out for mercy. Not many people have seen God’s glory, but those who do never forget it.
10 Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons, took censers and filled them with embers; then they put incense on top of the fire and presented it to the Eternal One. This was a strange and unauthorized fire that the Eternal did not command them. 2 Flames erupted from before the Eternal and burned up Nadab and Abihu. They both died in the presence of the Eternal One.
Moses (to Aaron): 3 This is what the Eternal One was talking about when He said,
By those authorized to come near,
I will be treated as sacred.
In the eyes of all the people,
I will be honored.
Aaron remained silent.
4 Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel.
Moses: Make your way forward. Gather the dead bodies of your relatives from the front of the sanctuary, and carry them outside the camp.
5 So Mishael and Elzaphan did as Moses instructed; they came forward, picked them up—while they were still wearing their priestly tunics—and carried them outside the camp. 6 Moses spoke to Aaron and his sons, Eleazar and Ithamar.
Moses: Do not let your hair go unkempt or rip your garments in customary acts of mourning, or else you will die. Follow this instruction so that the Eternal One does not grow angry toward the entire community. Everyone else—our relatives, the entire community of Israel—can lament the great fire the Eternal One has produced that killed your sons. 7 Do not go beyond the entrance of the congregation tent. If you do, you will meet a quick death, for the Eternal’s anointing oil covers you.
Aaron and his sons followed Moses’ instructions.
8 The Eternal One addressed Aaron.
Eternal One: 9 You and your sons must not drink wine or any alcoholic drink before entering the congregation tent, lest you die. This directive stands for all time throughout your generations. 10 You must know the difference between the sacred and the profane, the ritually pure and the impure, 11 and teach the people of Israel the directives, which I have revealed to them through Moses.
God demanded that the priests stay entirely sober while performing their ritual duties to ensure good judgment and orderly worship.
Moses (to Aaron and his surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar): 12 You may take whatever grain is left from the fire-offerings devoted to the Eternal and eat it unleavened next to the altar; this is most sacred. 13 You are to eat it in a sacred space; it is your and your sons’ portion of the Eternal One’s fire-offerings, according to the commands I have given. 14 You, your sons, and your daughters may eat the breast of the wave offering and the thigh presented to God in some ritually pure place. The breast and thigh are your portion and your children’s portion from the sacrifices of the peace offerings brought by the people of Israel. 15 Have them bring the thigh that is contributed and the breast that is waved, along with the fire-offerings of fat, to present as a wave offering before the Eternal One. This will be your and your children’s portion for all time; it is your due as the Eternal has commanded.
16 Moses began asking for the goat for the purification offering, but he discovered that it had already been burned up. He was furious with Eleazar and Ithamar (Aaron’s surviving sons).
Moses (to Aaron’s sons): 17 Why did you disobey my instructions and not eat the purification offering in the area of the sanctuary? It is most sacred. God has given it to you so that you can take on the guilt of the community and cover their wrongs before the Eternal. 18 Look, its blood was never taken inside the sanctuary; therefore the rightful place for you to eat it was in the sanctuary as I commanded.
Aaron (to Moses): 19 Look, my sons offered their purification offering and their burnt offering to the Eternal One today. But think of all that has happened to me. Given the tragedy I have seen, would the Eternal have approved if I had eaten a purification offering today?
20 After Moses listened to what Aaron had to say, he was satisfied.