Bible Difficulties: Leviticus 10:16-20: Moses and Aaron Disagree

One of the places in the Old Testament that many people have difficulty with, cannot be understood at first glance, by simply reading the texts of Leviticus 10:16-20. Here in these scriptures there is an apparent disagreement between Moses and Aaron concerning the correct procedure that Eleazar and Ithamar made in the purification offering:

Leviticus 10:16-20 Then Moses made careful inquiry about the goat of the sin offering, and there it was—burned up. And he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron who were left, saying, 17 “Why have you not eaten the sin offering in a holy place, since it is most holy, and God has given it to you to bear the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD? 18 See! Its blood was not brought inside the holy place; indeed you should have eaten it in a holy place, as I commanded.” 19 And Aaron said to Moses, “Look, this day they have offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD, and such things have befallen me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been accepted in the sight of the LORD?” 20 So when Moses heard that, he was content.

Moses is concerned that the priests have not followed the correct procedure in their offerings to the Lord. As with Nadab and Abihu, there appears to Moses that a repeated offense took place regarding the offering of the goat that was a purification offering (sin offering 9:15).

In this case the offering should have been eaten by the priests. Moses believed that the offering had been burned and not eaten, as the Lord directed. This took place at the direction of Eleazar and Ithamar.

When Moses found out what had taken place he was angry that these two sons of Aaron had seemingly repeated the same type of offense their brothers, Nadab and Abihu had made when they also disobeyed the Lord’s commands.

Moses restates verses 12-15, that the priests were instructed to eat the most holy offering, the purification offering, in a holy place—the sanctuary area. Moses believed that this had not taken place according to all that the Lord had instructed, making these offerings to the Lord unacceptable (7:18).

Under the provisions of this offering, there was extreme importance place upon the procedure because this purification offering was to be made by the priests so that the guilt of the community of Israel would be removed. This was the reason that the correct procedure was so important.

The sacrifice that Moses was focused on was for the purpose of making atonement for Israel, and therefore extremely important.

In verses 19-20, it is difficult to understand what the problem is between Moses and Aaron, until we understand that Moses was primarily concerned that the procedure required for this sacrifice, was not followed.

The priests were making the purification offering before the Lord, for the people, and the priests were required to eat the meat, as in 6:24-29). If, however, they were offering this for themselves, also, they could not eat the meat, as described in 4:3-5, in context with 6:30.

Moses had assumed that Eleazar and Ithamar had offered this only on behalf of the people, and should have eaten the meat themselves. Aaron believed that Eleazar and Ithamar had also offered this sacrifice for themselves, requiring them to burn the sacrifice.

We cannot discern from the texts themselves, why Aaron made this assumption.

The concern for Moses was that Eleazar and Ithamar had made the same mistake that their brothers, Nadab and Abihu had committed, perhaps because they were brothers, but nevertheless, Moses perhaps acted hastily in his judgment.

The priests had a primary responsibility to guard the tabernacle so that procedure in honoring and respecting the Lord, took place (Numbers 18:1). If sin had been committed by these two priests of the Lord, after they had made their own atoning sacrifice, as in 9:12-14, they may have applied the sacrifice made for the people, as for their own sins. This would have rendered the sacrifice inappropriate for them to eat the meat.

Aaron’s position before Moses was that his sons had correctly followed the procedure the Lord required, by not eating the meat. It appears that Moses agrees with Aaron’s explanation, in verse 20.

This is important in light of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu who had shown disrespect to the Lord in the manner they made their offering.

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