Two of Aaron’s sons improvise their own sacrifice. They take incense in their own burner into the holy of holies, and are there struck dead.
Its harsh, but their plan involved the profoundest of sins, rebellion against god, placing their own judgement higher than him. The mystery is not that they were killed, the mystery is that any of us are alive. Death is the consequence of rejecting the author of life, of saying “I’ll author my own life thanks”.
Well it doesn’t work that way. We can’t, and every fibre of our being hates that we can’t. Humans hate the fact that we are created (though we love babies). We live rebelling against it, acting like masters of our own destiny. And we all die, sooner or later. And how we hate that too.
In the leviticus narrative the aftermath is horrible too. Aaron and his remaining sons have to continue through the rituals, not stop and mourn their brothers/ sons. Should have freeze framed at the last chapter, its suddenly all an emotionally gruelling obedience that they are called to, not a joyous one.
There is a glimmer of mercy at the end, they simply can’t feast on all the food as they are supposed to, Aaron has no stomach for it, and Moses accepts that they can not.
Plus of course, God is a god of love. I guess that he did love Aaron’s son’s despite their pride on perhaps the one day people fully understood God’s holiness. God is the god of second chances. Paul would write “Death has been swallowed up in victory: ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law”.
We can’t understand love without understanding god’s holiness by virtue of being our creator.