Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed
incense upon it, and they brought before the L‑rd foreign fire, which He had
not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the L‑rd and consumed
them, and they died before the L‑rd. (Leviticus 10:1-2)
A "fire of
favor" came down consuming the offering on the altar on the eighth day of
the inauguration of the desert sanctuary, and the people "sang glad
song". In stark contrast to this joyous event, is the "unauthorized
fire" of the sons of Aaron, the High Priest, who, in their spiritual
frenzy, are consumed in a "counter-fire" from heaven.
In the painting, this tension of conflicting energies is reflected in
the opposing colors. In contrast to striking greenish hues, the color of nature
and of life, the strong reds and oranges suggest passion and life as they burn.
As Nadav and Avihu offer their "strange" fire, a divine fire consumes
them. The abstract suggestive figures are separate individuals, yet energetic
lines pull them together; they become one with the fire rising upward as the
flames dance between life and death in this continuum.