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“Immediately after the judgment of Nadab and Abihu, we read that God gave instructions to Aaron concerning the service of the house in the tabernacle. It is noteworthy that here God speaks directly to Aaron, where in most every other case He speaks to Aaron through Moses. The commandment given, therefore, especially concerned Aaron’s administration in worship and was to be heard by him directly from the mouth of God.

The thrust of the statute was that Aaron and his sons were forbidden from drinking wine and strong drink while they were active in the functions of their office…Further, the larger context shows that what was of the greatest concern here was that the judgment of the priests was not to be clouded in any way while they were carrying out the prescribed worship of the Lord. The reason given is two-fold.

First, they must be sober minded so that they can rightly ‘distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.’ The word translated ‘distinguish’ is the Hebrew word for ‘divide.’ It is the same word used throughout the creation account of Genesis 1, when God ‘divided’ light from darkness (vs.4), the waters from the waters (vss. 6-7), and day from night (vs.14). The same word is used of the veil of the tabernacle, which formed a ‘divider’ between the holy place and the most holy place. It is a word that has to do with separation. The task of Aaron and his sons was to carefully separate, divide, and distinguish between what was holy and what was profane.

We have already seen throughout our study on worship up to this point that God defines what is ‘holy’ as that which He has commanded and
what is ‘profane’ as that which is introduced by the caprice of men apart from divine warrant. Distinguishing between the holy and the profane is precisely what Nadab and Abihu had failed to do, and thus the necessity for this command.

It is not necessary to conclude, as some have done, that Nadab and Abihu committed their particular sin under the influence of wine or strong drink. This may or may not have been the case. What is clear is that this raised an issue of sound judgment, and God immediately introduced this law as a safeguard.

Second, the priests must be sober minded so that they ‘may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by the hand of Moses’ with clarity. Strong drink would dull the senses, and put them in jeopardy of misrepresenting God's commands to His people.

From this command and its immediate context we learn that God charges His appointed ministers with the awesome task of instructing His people in the requirements of His law regarding worship, and exercising careful judgment over what they present to Him in their assemblies. This is the principle of accountability: God holds most accountable those whom He has appointed as stewards of His truth. When worship is corrupted, through a failure to distinguish between the holy and the profane, God lays it to the charge of the ministers of His house. Likewise, if the people are ignorant of His commands, and are thus permitted, or even encouraged to offer profane worship, it is the minister who is culpable. ‘My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.’ (James,3:1)

When God announced His impending judgment upon Israel through the prophet Ezekiel, it was precisely on these grounds that He testified against them: ‘ Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths so, that I am profaned among them. (Ezekiel 22:26)” (Comin, 30-32)

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