The Bible is describing the climax of the seven days of the Consecration of the Sanctuary, the great celebration inaugurating Aaron the High Priest and his priestly sons into the exalted positions of religious, sacramental and dynastic leadership. A fire of Divine acceptance descends, consuming the sacrificial offerings; the ecstatic nation joyously breaks out in exultant song, falling on their faces in submission to the Lord. And the sons of Aaron, apparently caught up in the ecstasy of the moment, respond to God’s fire by bringing their own fire offering, two fire-pans of incense before the Lord. But alas, the Lord sends down another fire which consumes the two young men, shattering the celebrations.

The biblical commentaries attempt to identify the precise crime which merited such an extreme punishment.

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