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This article is about Nadab, son of Aaron. You may be looking for Nadab (king).
Nadab was one of the sons of Aaron. Along with his three brothers he was consecrated to the office of priest. With his father and elder brother he accompanied the seventy elders part of the way up Mount Sinai with Moses.
He and his brother Abihu offered incense in their censers filled with "strange" fire, rather than with fire taken from the great brazen altar. For this the Lord struck them dead, directing his family to bury them outside the camp.
Nadab was the firstborn son of Aaron and Elisheba, having been born in Egypt soon after his uncle, Moses, had escaped execution for the murder of a slave driver. During his youth, he would have suffered under an Egyptian Pharaoh that hated any relative of the rebel prince.
As the firstborn, he was threatened by the plague sent by God that would finally convince the Pharaoh to let the Hebrews out of their bondage. His father Aaron had instructed him and the others of his household to come inside a home that had lamb's blood splattered upon doorposts. He knew the blessing of obeying God's commands.
Service as priest
Exempt from the military census, which numbered just those men twenty and older of the other tribes, male Levites were counted in a ritual of redemption for the firstborn males that had been saved during the passover of the death angel. As a result, the exact number of male descendants of Levi, son of Jacob, was counted to be exactly 22,000. In this way, Nadab, oldest of four brothers, was set apart for service to God at around age 35.
The family of Aaron had been set apart to be priests, spokesman for God and intercessors for the people. His sons would inherit the role of "high priest" over all others. The responsibility was not one to be taken lightly. Soon after the giving of the Law, having been anointed into the priesthood along with his father and brothers, Nadab and his brother Abihu chose to improvise in their worship of the Lord.
The Law had provided a way for a perpetual fire to be burning upon the altar in the tabernacle (and later, the temple). After the first offering had been laid upon the altar, the Lord Himself had sent fire from His presence (the "glory cloud"). These coals left behind were to be perpetual stoked with new fuel. No other source besides God was needed to light any incense (itself of a special blend) used in prayer before the altar of God.
Death and Burial
Disregarding this fact, the brothers had used some other source to light their incense. When they approached the presence of the Lord, they met with swift judgment. They had thought that their man-made fire was on par with an obvious manifestation of God's provision. As an example to the priesthood—and to people in all walks of life—God acted, again sending out fire from his presence.
No funeral, or even a time of mourning, was allowed to these men. With instructions to very carefully handle the bodies as to not defile the attendants, these two men were carried outside the assembled multitudes to be buried in an unmarked grave in the desert. Their legacy, for neither one had children, would be a lesson in the consequences of improvisation when sacred instructions are plainly given.