“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[a] fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 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.” Leviticus 10: 1-3
For those of us who have been to many different churches, camps, or conferences, we can attest to the fact that there are many different types of worship. However, sometimes things just don’t feel right, and while the problem can often stem from our own spiritual problems, I believe other times it comes from much more.
I’ve noticed over the last few years, that I have a preference as to the style of worship I partake in. I believe we all do to some extent. Certain songs done certain ways in certain settings are the most comfortable to us, and it usually has a lot to do with how we were raised. When I hear worship music done “my way,” I certainly feel as if I can bow before the cross more naturally, however I’ve been at services where the music was not my style, yet I still managed to worship with all my heart. Style is simply not the issue, and it was not the issue in Leviticus 10. When wielded properly, style only enhances worship by emphasizing the theological truths we sing on a mind, soul, and body level. For example, a dimly lit room can help us worship in spirit and in truth, without the distraction of what we might worry others can see. Style is really not what causes an unsettling “worship” service, so lets explore Leviticus 10 to find out what does.
Verse one begins by explaining that Nadab and Abihu were the sons of Aaron. While Aaron did establish the priesthood in the days of Moses, that did not mean that his sons were golden. Scripture tells us that the sons of priests or prophets were often far from practicing lifestyles of righteousness; Eli’s sons were also put to death by God (1 Samuel 2: 12-36). God goes on in verse one to say that Nadab and Abihu mixed fire and incense and “offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.” In order to properly understand the depth of this verse, it helps to read Leviticus 9, in which God gave Moses and Arron specific instructions as to how they were to go about worshipping God in a specific situation. When they had finished worshipping how God had requested, God also sent a consuming fire, but this time it engulfed the sacrifice as a display of God’s glory. So what made God’s fire so drastically different in the two situations? The difference is that the worship of Moses and Arron was a response to what God had said, while the worship of Nadab and Abihu was an attempt to conjure up what God had never said. Thankfully, we are given more information in verse three as to what made their worship unacceptable to God.
In the beginning of verse three we see that Moses is about to speak to Arron. Considering the fact that Arron’s sons were just consumed in fire, it logically follows that God would speak through Moses to Arron considering the grave loss it must have been. Within God’s words He says the He will be sanctified by those that are “near Him.” Given the context, I believe this implies that Nadab and Abihu were not close to God, and that that was a factor in God’s display of justice. I believe they tried to “worship” Him when their hearts were far from him, and we can certainly see that theme throughout the rest of the Bible (Matthew 5:8, Isaiah 29:13). In addition, the fact that Nadab and Abihu were not close to God has a causal relationship with their attempt to manufacture worship without any instructions to do so from God. The farther we are from God, the less we can hear from Him. As we hear God less and less, the more prone we are to try to speak or act for God ourselves.
By the end of verse three there is one last point that God emphasizes concerning worship; He says that before “all the people” He will be glorified. This is not to say that there is not a time and place to worship alone under the New Covenant. Jesus said that we now live in a time in which we don’t need to go to the temple to worship, because we are the new temple. He said, “The true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23). I think that what this does point to is a pride issue on the part of Nadab and Abihu. In chapter 9, their father had just led an extremely powerful time of worship before the people of God. Leviticus 9:24 literally says the people shouted and fell on their faces. The glory of the Lord was truly shown. Rather than paying attention to the humility of all the people, I believe Nadab and Abihu sought after the fame, power, and position their father must have had to be the leader of such an extraordinary event. This is what led them to try a little worship out for themselves. They did not see or understand that the ultimate purpose of worship is to bring God worth and glory among all of God’s people.
So, how can we identify “strange fire” when it is in our midst? We need to look for three characteristics. 1. Strange fire is not a response to what God has said and done, but it is an attempt to manufacture true worship. 2. Strange fire is led by those who appear to be near to God, but are far from Him in their hearts. 3. Strange fire is ultimately self-gratifying, and does not accomplish the purpose of bringing God’s glory before His people. The issue is that we all have probably done this at one point or another, we’ve brought an offering before the Lord that was unacceptable because of the condition of our hearts. Thankfully, Jesus died and rose again so that we could be forgiven of so great a sin. However, let us not trample on the grace of Christ, let us learn from the example of Nadab and Abihu, and let us seek to worship the Lord His way; not ours (Hebrews 10:29).