The Sin of Nadab & Abihu

Verse: (Lev. 10:1) And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron took
either of them his censer, and put fire therin, and put incense
thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he
commanded them not. (King James)

The Sin of Nadab & Abihu:
An Exegesis

There is no clear consensus as to what sin Nadab and Abihu committed as
detailed in verse 10:1 of the book Leviticus, in the Hebrew bible. Some
commentators like to take into consideration material previously mentioned, some
like the literal view of the story, others try to narrow the possibilities to come to a
conclusion, while still more understand it all as simply a figurative tale. But in
truth, few if any of the explanations this exegesist looked through seemed
satisfactory, but blended together, and analyzed individually, they did form a far
more satisfactory intrepretation of my own. The story is that Aaron, the newly
consecrated Israelite High Priest had two sons, Nadab and Abihu, who were
consumed by God for offering 'strange fire' before him. This occruance took place
during the Octave-day celebrations which were taking place for the opening of the
just completed Tent Of Meeting, or Tabernacle. Sacrifices, and prayers were to
take place each day with special ritualistic rules in the preparation and
performance of each. The priests were chiefly responsible for the running of
events, and as most scholars agree Nadab and Abihu at the time of their death were
priests, and so were presumably performing their priestly duties. Where the break
in agreement occurs is with the question that naturally arises: What did Nadab and
Abihu do wrong? The answer to this question lies in the context of the verse, the
bigger picture involved. This does not, however, mean that it is clear enough so
one can realize it with a read through or two.
To best comprehend the situation, an understanding of the verse must be
realized. The realization in this case is best accompolished through a translation
of the verse from the original Hebrew that can put a clear picture of the
happenings taking place. Unfortunately such a translation is not available. The
King James is to poetic to be vivid, and the RSV changes the true meanings of
words too much to be respected. Similar arguments could be put for the other
translations out there. Faced with such a dillema, one must undertake the
translating upon himself: "Then took Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each
his censer and placed in them fiery coals, and put on them incense and sacrificed
before the Lord with strange fire, which he had not commanded them." With this
translation it is clear that the action is taking place with a specific sequence, in an
event that has to be taken into consideration. Furthermore, it clarifies the problem
with the 'strange fire' to explain that the fire was strange because it wasn't what
God had commanded to be done. It is admitted, however, that this translation does
not answer any questions beyond what any sentence can at any time answer. It is
just a tale of events, and as any sentence studied individually would be, is a bit
obscure. The whole picture must be taken into consideration. As for some
explanation of the terms used: A censer is a pan used to carry coals. It has
practical used even today in the middle east. The incense was a mixture of sweet
herbs and spices as prescribed in Exodus 30:34. The one phrase that needs to be
further developed is the hebrew 'esh zara' or 'strange fire'. The word esh as used
here refers to fiery coals, but it has nevertheless compelled many scholars try to
interpret it, mostly to fit their own theoretical views. In its present form esh zara,
simply means a fire taken from an unauthorized source. This is what had made it
strange and unholy for use in the Tent of Meeting. The use of the word zara
which means strange, is a bit puzzling. Only a handful of times has the this form
of strange been used in the Torah. Three other places other than Lev. 10:1 it's
been used to retell the reason Nadab and Abihu were consumed, one it has been
used as ketoret zara or strange incense in Ex. 30:9, and once it has been used to
explain how