by Jeff Hagan
Leviticus 10:1-3, "Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, 'This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace."
In our Leviticus passage two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, offered up an incense fire that is called "unauthorized" and in some translations "strange." I discovered the word used here can also mean foreign or even profane. Well, God not only rejected their sacrifice, He found it so repugnant that He burned the two men with fire.
What exactly caused their sacrifice to be polluted, a stench to God, we are not told. However, in judging them for their unauthorized fire God was drastically making a point to all of the priests who would serve in His tabernacle - and later in His temple - and really to us as well. Keep in mind this was the first time sacrifices were being offered on the altar and during this period Israel was getting better acquainted with the living God, and right at this point is when Nadab and Abihu were disobedient in their actions. As a result, God made it abundantly clear he was not pleased with them. I believe God was making it clear that He was setting a precedent for those who would have disregard for His law in the future. He was, in no uncertain terms, letting the people know the significance of obedience. In this case in particular regarding worship.
God knows us inside and out, He knows our minds as well as our heart's intent. We can't offer up to him prideful sacrifices, or disobedient worship, that are unworthy to Him. We need to approach Him humbly but confidently, laying our very pride down on the altar, repentant and grieving because of our sin.
Now of course God is abundant in grace, mercy, and forgiveness for those whom He has elected. But clearly, our passage shows how serious He is when it comes to His glory and honor. If there is repeated willful disobedience in our lives then God will discipline us out of His great love for us (see Hebrews 12:7-11). If this type of disobedience continues to carry on God may, sometimes, become harsher as He opens our eyes to the reality we are disappointing Him. If we persist in disobedience, well, of course, our Creator has every right to wipe us off the face of the earth (see 1 Corinthians 11:29-30). But praise Him for the grace of the gospel.
Perhaps some lessons we could learn from this incident would be a good way to close this out.
First, God holds each of us accountable. Got required Nadab and Abihu to be obedient to the law governing sacrifices.
Second, God has the right to set parameters on the type of worship we give to Him. God has always articulated the kind of worship He would approve and accept.
Third, we need to have biblical authority in all that we do, especially in our worship to God.
Fourth, God's silence on a matter does not equate to permission (nor something forbidden for that matter). We find nothing in our passage regarding the type of fire they could not use, but they were instructed on the type they were to use. The key is obedience.
Fifth, we should not neglect God's wrath. "God is love," "God forgives," these are the cliches so prevalent today. While they are indeed true, God has many attributes and none should be emphasized at the expense of the others.
Sixth, and last for our purposes, these two men provide us with an example that the only way we can treat God as holy and give Him the glory He is due is by "abiding in His authority." We cannot bring glory to God by doing something contrary to His specific instructions when they are available for us.