This Week’s Reading: Leviticus 1-11
Then Aaron lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them, and came down from offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.(Leviticus 9:22-25)
Talk about a holy offering! Wouldn’t you freak out, when you stood watching this bloody offering laid upon the golden altar and then suddenly, “fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the offering”? No wonder people shouted loud for joy and fell down hard in prostrated worship.
But then something really horrible happened.
Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord (10:1-2).
After seven days of consecration to the Lord, after being anointed, feted and feasted, on the eighth day, Nadab and Abihu died on the spot with their independent fire offering. God had just powerfully consumed the sacrifices for the nation in a dramatic and awesome manner. These two men then boldly took fire in their own censers and the incense ordained as holy to the Lord (and not theirs to use) and offered profane fire before all the nation of Israel. Immediately these heirs of the high priesthood were slain before Israel, consumed by judgment fire from heaven, when only moments earlier, the nations’ sin, burnt and peace offerings had been consumed by fire from heaven as an acceptable sacrifice for the Lord.
How painful for everyone, including God.
As the nation watched in horror, Moses explained, “This is what the Lord spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified” (10:3). God had just expectations for those who minister to Him: in the intimacy of the tabernacle, God must be kept holy and before His people, God must be honoured.
Nadab and Abihu didn’t follow protocol. Perhaps they tried to take either the glory or the high priesthood for themselves. The commentaries are all divided on what happened. It could be they were drunk (see Lev. 9:9). Maybe they entered the holy of holies without permission (see Lev 16:1-2). The bottom line is these men offered something profane in the most holy place of worship. They performed something carnal and idolatrous as priests of God and paid with their lives.
This passage is not exactly a billboard for ministry recruitment.
Even in this disastrous scene, I am entirely persuaded that the character of God does not change. The hesed of God (Hebrew for God’s everlasting love for us) defines His love as both kind and merciful. I know God didn’t sin in His judgment since it is impossible for God to sin. Therefore, I must draw one strong conclusion: those priests blew it bigtime. They moved in rebellion against what God had asked and died for their foolishness.
As believers, we are described in both Peter and Revelations as the “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) and “kings and priests unto God” (Rev. 1:6, 5:10). How do we avoid this sin? Was pride at the heart of their choices? Did they try to grab fame for themselves in vain ambition? Why did they perform a carnal act in a holy place? Why did they not have fear of the Lord, the beginning of all wisdom? Why did God have to execute these men before all of Israel on this absolutely triumphant day for Israel? What did Aaron know, that when they died at the hand of God, he held his peace?
What is does reveal is that Aaron, this same Aaron who had molded the golden calf, was not only forgiven but now consecrated and ordained as high priest for the nation of Israel. Aaron held his peace. He chose rest, not reaction and kept alive to serve as priest unto God.
Tough lesson. It’s thorn rough, this awesome consecration of the tabernacle and establishment of the priesthood and then a brutal object lesson of the consequences of not living holy. We should all take it to heart.
Moses, the leader who had jogged up the mountain to meet God a second time with new tablets under his arm, knew that God would never judge anyone without complete justice. After the calf worship fiasco, God scribed new tablets in mercy to Israel. There in the place of redemption, of second chances, of the sweet hesed of God, Moses encountered even more of God. Lord Jehoveh revealed even more of Himself, proclaiming His name to Moses, a gift of revelation that we are enjoying even today. Just as He proclaimed to Moses, God is merciful, gracious, longsuffering, but God will not tolerate sin.
Lord Jesus, when asked to teach prayer, prioritized holiness as the starting place in our worship, second only after our relationship to heavenly Father was established. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed is Your Name”(Matthew 6:9).
With the death of Nadab and Abihu, it was firmly established to Israel that above all else, our Father God is Holy. He is perfect and set apart, no ordinary idol, but the Living All Powerful God, set apart to be revered, adored, worshipped. Hallowed.
How unfortunate that Nadab and Abihu missed this crucial delineation as they offered profane fire before God and an audience of a million Jews. Judgment was the only option. God knew it. Aaron knew it. Moses knew it. All of Israel now knew that God was holy and to be worshiped with holiness. I bet no one was going to forget it either, as the cousins pulled the dead bodies away by their tunics while no one budged from their post with fear and trembling.
Don’t you hate when you plan a party and someone wrecks it with their woundedness or addiction? I feel so sorry for God, that after preparation of the tabernacle and the priesthood, His special homecoming party on earth with His chosen people was wrecked by His own priests, those standing in the gap for God before the nation of Israel. I wonder how many times I should have faced fire, but instead, was given mercy because of my timely position on this side of the cross? I wonder how many God-parties I have blown by my ego, pride, lust for recognition and ambition along this journey as priest before God? I wonder how many times God’s mercy of the cross has spared me from God’s justice?
My friend Mary says, “Our worship and obedience of God must not be limited by our understanding.” Certainly, this chapter in Israel worship requires illumination by the Holy Spirit. May He would lead us into greater understanding of holiness, even as we worship and obey the call to live as priests and kings unto God. May we consider the grave consequences of walking in the flesh instead of the Spirit when we read this event and shift, dramatically, into a holy walk that glorifies our Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let’s pray: Father God, may we revere You and worship You as Holy without our limited perceptions getting in the way. By Your Grace, may we worship You in spirit and in truth. Holy Spirit, you specialize in holiness. Help us walk in reverence before the Lord. Help us obey the Word and not compromise. Keep false reverence and carnal desires far from our hearts, that our heavenly Father would be glorified in all our ways. Above all, thank You for the cross, Lord Jesus, that we are not consumed by judgment, but forgiven. O Jesus, what love that You became sin, so we might become righteous before God! What a gracious place we live in and what a loving and wonderful God You truly are. Amen.
1. Have you worshiped God and experienced a dramatic encounter like the Israelites in Leviticus 9?
2. Why were the requirements so carefully explained to Moses about the priesthood, sacrifices, and worship culture in Israel? What was God giving to His people? What does the Word give to you?
3. Have you ever blown it in worship or ministry? How did you recover? What were the consequences? What did you discover about God through this?
4. As a father, it must have been so devastating to Aaron to see his sons killed by fire, yet he held his peace and did not rage against God. How do you handle unexpected crisis and sorrow with God? Did Aaron’s position as high priest trump his relationship as father or was there more to this story? Does this story make you uneasy? Can you still see redemption in its frame?
5. Why is holiness a huge part of our walk as Christians? What are we saying about God in our life choices today?
Next Week’s Reading: Leviticus 12 – 19
Hey Beloved Readers! I hope you enjoyed pictures of our farm in cold cold winter here in Southern Ontario! If you are tracking with this reading plan, let me know how you are enjoying it! You have finished two of the most holy books of the Bible in Hebrew tradition and are heading into the halfway mark of the Pentateuch, the foundations of the Jewish faith! Congratulations!!! – Jenny