Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The events recorded in this chapter must have occurred immediately after the offering of the sacrifices of inauguration, in the evening of the same day. See Lev 10:19.
Nadab and Abihu - The two elder sons of Aaron Exo 6:23; Num 3:2, who were among those invited to accompany Moses when he was going up Mount Sinai, but who were "to worship afar off," and not "come near the Lord." Exo 24:1-2.
Censer - See Exo 25:38 note.
Strange fire - The point of their offence is evidently expressed in this term. This may very probably mean that the incense was lighted at an unauthorized time. And we may reasonably unite with this the supposition that they were intoxicated (compare Lev 10:9), as well as another conjecture, that they made their offering of incense an accompaniment to the exultation of the people on the manifestation of the glory of the Lord Lev 9:24. As they perished not within the tabernacle, but in front of it, it seems likely that they may have been making an ostentatious and irreverent display of their ministration to accompany the shouts of the people on their way toward the tabernacle. The offence for which they were immediately visited with outward punishment was thus a flagrant outrage on the solemn order of the divine service, while the cause of their offence may have been their guilty excess.
The fire which had just before sanctified the ministry of Aaron as well pleasing to God, now brought to destruction his two eldest sons because they did not sanctify Yahweh in their hearts, but dared to perform a self-willed act of worship; just as the same Gospel is to one a savor of life unto life, and to another a savor of death unto death Co2 2:16.
Rather, I will sanctify myself in them that come near to me (i. e. the priests), and I will glorify myself before all the people. The words used by Moses on this occasion are not found elsewhere in the Pentateuch. But the sense is implied in such passages as Exo 19:22; Exo 28:41; Exo 29:1, Exo 29:44.
Aaron's silence (compare Psa 39:9) on this occasion may be compared with his reasonable and natural expostulation with Moses when his surviving sons were rebuked for not having eaten the flesh of the sin-offering Lev 10:19.
The first cousins of Aaron Exo 6:22 are selected by Moses to convey the bodies of Nadab and Abihu out of the camp and bury them, probably because they were the nearest relations who were not priests. See Num 9:6.
Coats - See Exo 28:39. Life had been extinguished as if by a flash of lightning, but neither the bodies nor the dresses were destroyed.
Aaron and his two surviving sons are forbidden to show the accustomed signs of mourning, or to leave the court of the tabernacle in order to attend the funeral, because, from their office, they were especially concerned as consecrated priests in outwardly maintaining the honor of Yahweh. They were to bear visible testimony to the righteousness of the punishment of Nadab and Abihu. The people, on the other hand, as not formally standing so near to Yahweh, were permitted to "bewail" as an acknowledgment that the nation had a share in the sin of its priests. (Compare Co1 12:26.)
Uncover not your heads - Or, "set free ... let go loose." It was a custom to let the hair grow long and fall loosely over the head and face Lev 13:45; Sa2 15:30; Sa2 19:4; and the substance of the command would thus be that they should not let the hair go disheveled. Ripping the clothes in front so as to lay open the breast was one of the most common manifestations of grief (see Gen 37:29; Gen 44:13; Sa2 1:11; Job 1:20; Joe 2:13, etc.). The garments as well as the persons of the priests were consecrated; this appears to be the reason of the prohibition of these ordinary signs of mourning. Compare Lev 20:10.
Lest ye die - See Exo 28:35 note.
The anointing oil ... is upon you - See Lev 8:12, Lev 8:30. The holy oil, as the symbol of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Life and immortality and joy, was the sign of the priests being brought near to Yahweh. It was therefore by its meaning connected both with the general law which forbade the high priest ever to put on signs of mourning on account of death Lev 21:10-12, and with the special reason for the prohibition on this occasion.
When the priest was on duty he was to abstain from wine and strong drink, lest he should commit excess (see Lev 10:1), and so become disqualified for carrying out the precepts of the ceremonial Law.
Strong drink - The Hebrew word is employed here to denote strong drinks of any kind except wine made from the grape.
Unholy ... unclean - Common, as not consecrated; and what would occasion defilement by being touched or eaten. Compare Act 10:14.
That is, "that you may, by your example in your ministrations, preserve the minds of the Israelites from confusion in regard to the distinctions made by the divine Law."
The argument is, that as such meals were appointed in honor of Yahweh Himself, they ought to be conducted with due reverence and discretion.
Beside the altar - What is called "the holy place" in Lev 10:13, Lev 10:17 : it should be rather, a holy place, any part of the holy precinct, as distinguished from a merely "clean place" Lev 10:14, either within or without the court of the tabernacle.
Wave breast and heave shoulder - See Lev 7:30 note.
The Law on the point in question was clear. See Lev 2:3, note; Lev 4:5, note; Lev 4:15 note. But on this occasion, though the sin-offering which had been offered by Aaron was for the people Lev 9:15, its blood was not carried into the tabernacle. The priests might therefore have too readily supposed that their eating the flesh, or burning it, was a matter of indifference. Hence, Moses explains that the appropriation of the flesh by the priests is an essential part of the act of atonement Lev 10:17.
It was burnt - It was consumed by fire in an ordinary way, not; in the fire of the altar. See Lev 1:9.
To bear the iniquity - See Exo 28:38 note.
"The holy place," as it is called in our version, within the tabernacle (see Exo 26:33; Exo 28:29, etc.) into which the blood was carried, is regularly called in Hebrew, simply, "the holy" (as the innermost chamber is called "the holy of holies"), the adjective being used substantively; while the precinct in which the flesh of the sin-offering was eaten is generally called in full the holy place, the substantive being expressed Lev 10:13.
That is: "Behold this very day, in which we have done our part in sacrificing sin-offerings and burnt-offerings to the Lord, this great calamity has befallen me. Could it have been well-pleasing to the Lord if those who have been so humbled as I and my sons have been by the sin of our relations and the divine judgment, had feasted on the most holy flesh of the sin-offering?"