Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.
Nadab and Abihu have been riding their father’s priestly coattails all the way from Egypt, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t embraced their own divine calling in good faith. I’d like to think they love God too. Maybe they really did develop a desire to see God’s glory and follow in their father’s footsteps, but they made the wrong move at the wrong time in the wrong way. I think of that priest during David’s era who reached out to stop the arc of the covenant from toppling over and was immediately struck dead by God. It’s not that he harbored some ill-will in his heart. In fact, his reaching out was probably just instinctual, more an instantaneous reflex of his muscle than a premeditated act of will, but the touch was still unceremonious. So maybe Nadab and Abihu haven’t been dabbling in black magic at all; they’ve just been playing with fire in their downtime. But to play with fire on a holy altar in the holy tabernacle while wearing the holy garments of priesthood is a death sentence.
Whatever the case, I’m genuinely awestruck by Aaron’s reaction here. I can’t imagine the anger that must be filling his heart as he hears the news: anger at his sons’ foolishness and anger at himself for not being more proactive and angry at God for being so harsh. And that says nothing of the sorrow he’s also enduring at the same time: sorrow that his own golden-calf debauchery set the tone for their unruliness and sorrow that God hadn’t just taken him instead. No doubt he grieves and moans and wails before the LORD in the quiet of his room on this day, but that’s not what Moses wants us to remember. Moses wants us to know that amidst Aaron’s unspeakable grief, in spite of the shame and anger he feels, he still holds his peace. I’ll go a step further. Aaron doesn’t even shatter testimonial stones on the tabernacle floor like a certain someone else might’ve done!
Friend, if an imperfect man like Aaron can hold his peace amidst the most heart-rending moment of his life, we can too.