Arron and his two remaining sons were in the process of grieving over the deaths of Nadab and Abihu. In their present state of consecration, they were not permitted to even uncover their heads, nor were they permitted to tear their cloths according to the traditional expressions of the mourner. These were holy garments. They were not even permitted to attend the funerals because they were still in the process of consecration. To do so would have meant leaving the tent of meeting before the seven days of consecration had been completed. Under normal situations, they would have been permitted to mourn in this way but, this was not a normal situation.
This seems to have been well understood by Aaron when he and his two remaining sons abstained from eating the sin offering of the people as the ritual of that particular sin offering demanded.
Moses searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering, and
behold, it had been burned up! So, he was angry with Aaron’s surviving
sons Eleazar and Ithamar, saying, ‘Why did you not eat the sin
offering at the holy place? For it is most holy, and He gave it to you
to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them
before the Lord. Behold, since its blood had not been brought inside,
into the sanctuary, you should certainly have eaten it in the
sanctuary, just as I commanded.’ But Aaron spoke to Moses, ‘Behold,
this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt
offering before the Lord. When things like these happened to me, if I
had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight
of the Lord?’ When Moses heard that, it seemed good in his sight, 16-20.
In Deuteronomy 12:6-7, the Lord has this to say about the eating of the sacrifices.
There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your
tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your
freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.
There also you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God
and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has
Since Aaron had just suffered the sudden loss of his two oldest sons, this was a proper time of sorrow and feasting. The eating of the sin offering was to be celebrated with joy. This would have created a conflict of interest. The two are incompatible. It would have been improper for Aaron and his sons to eat of the sacrifice while in a state of grief and mourning over their loss; And “When Moses heard that, it seemed good in his sight.”
This practice even became a Levitical statute during the second temple. According to Ellicott,
In consequence of this declaration, the rule obtained during the
second Temple, that when an ordinary priest heard of the death of a
relative while on duty in the sanctuary, he had to cease from service,
though he could not leave the precincts of the Temple otherwise he
defiled the sacrifice; while the high priest, who could continue his
sacred ministrations, was not allowed to partake of the sacrificial
If Aaron had eaten the sin offering, this would have been a violation of the command because he could not have eaten it with rejoicing because he was in mourning. This principle
also show up in Mark 2:18-20.
John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and
said to Him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the
Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to
them, ‘While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the
bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom
with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the
bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that
Both mourning and celebration are profitable in their proper contexts but when they are joined together, they represent a contradiction that destroys the significance of both the mourning and the joy. While Jesus was with them, it was time for joy and celebration which was to be joined with feasting. When he was taken away, then would be the proper time for sorrow which is accompanied by fasting.