“They disobeyed the Lord by burning before him the wrong kind of fire, different than he had commanded.” (Leviticus 8:22-24 NLT)
Honestly, it’s a tough passage today. Yesterday was rockin’—the majestic ordination of the priests and the reminder that we, too, have been made “a kingdom and priests to serve our God” (cf Rev 5:6-10).
And today starts strong—with the presentation of sin offerings, burnt offerings, peace offerings, and grain offerings. The Bible says “…the glory of the Lord appeared to the whole community. Fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar” (Lev 9:23-24 NLT).
But then Nadab and Abihu get stupid. “They disobeyed the Lord,” the Bible says, “by burning before him the wrong kind of fire, different than he had commanded. So fire blazed forth from the Lords presence and burned them up, and they died there before the Lord” (Lev 10:1-2 NLT).
Bummer. I mean, that’ll put a damper on your celebration service. And on the surface, some might argue that God seems really uptight here—one false move and the smackdown is on! Who’d want to serve a God like that? Talk about living life on pins and needles!
But I return to what I wrote on February 6th about Exodus 19:4-6:
“What’s so easy to forget when we read the Old Testament laws is that God delivered Israel from Egypt as an unequaled king, and then offered them a covenant agreement allowing them to be His people. [This covenant with its regulations is] an agreement between a powerful king and the people whom He has rescued from oppression, a king who offers continued covering in return for continued loyalty.”
That means He’s the boss, and can expect to have His decrees followed to the letter. What’s at stake here is Israel’s understanding the absolute holiness and unequaled authority of this awesome, consuming God who had—by that very awesomeness—delivered them from unspeakably brutal oppression.
Apparently, the very priests who presented the sacrifices failed to understand that and considered the holiness of God a not-so-significant thing. The prohibition against alcohol in Leviticus 10:9 suggests that Nadab and Abihu may have even been drunk on duty. I’m not sure which is worse—ignoring the direct commands of God with a clear mind, or approaching the altar of a holy God in a drunken stupor! Either way, I’ve got no legitimate complaint to lodge against the swift response of Israel’s Redeemer-King.
What I need is a fresh appreciation for the awesomeness of the God I serve. I don’t have to walk on pins and needles. God’s not just waiting for me to screw up so He can pounce. The grace of God expressed to me in Christ Jesus assures me of that. But I do need a living knowledge of the holiness of my King, and to live myself in a way that reflects that awareness.