Key verse: Leviticus 10:3
Big idea: God will not tolerate being treated as anything less than holy.
God is not an idolator.
That may seem like a strange sentence but it has profound implications. God will not put anything or anyone in the place that He is rightfully entitled to. This is not conceit; it is wisdom. God behaves as if He is the purpose and source of all existance. If you and I behave that way, it is arrogance and sin. God behaves that way because it is true. This plays out in many ways throughout the Bible and perhaps nowhere more graphically than the execution of Nadab and Abihu.
At the end of chapter 9, God provided fire from Heaven to burn on the altar. Perhaps lightning struck the exact location, or perhaps a literal flame danced down from the sky. Either way, at the consecration of the Tabernacle (the tent where the Israelites worshipped before the construction of the Temple centuries later), God showed that He accepted their worship by providing the fire that accepted the sacrifice. They were truly able to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the very next chapter, two of Aaron's sons (Moses' nephews) grow cavalier. Even the holiest and most precious things become routine to us when we are around them day after day, if we are not careful. How many things were once precious to you that now you treat lightly? Lots of people have strict rules about what they will allow in their car when it is new that fade over time. An expensive gift might be cherished and put back in its original packaging for a while, but probably not forever. Many wives could verify that their husbands showed a lot more care and concern before they were their husbands! Unfortunately, we treat God the same way. Yesterday's answered prayers, last week's forgiveness, and all of the ways we have been privileged to see God work become more and more ordinary.
Nadab and Abihu offer "strange fire" to God. I suspect that this was as simple as kindling their own fire instead of going to the altar of incense to get the flame to burn the offering. It seems likely that this was not an act of wickedness but laziness. Maybe they wanted to get their work done a little more quickly or maybe they just didn't think it mattered. Either way, they deviated from the specific plan of God's worship, and God sent fire once again: not on the altar this time, but on them: killing them in the Holy Place. God told Aaron: "I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified." No one would come to God without treating Him as holy.
If the penalty seems harsh, maybe it is because we underestimate the holiness of God. Also, of course, at the beginning of this new era in salvation history, God needed to set the bar which would be the baseline from then on. But the news gets even worse! "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God," Romans 3:23 says. Every person has been guilty of not giving God the proper honor He deserves, and the penalty that we earn is far worse than fire that kills in an instant. God has a remedy, but it is equally specific and tolerates no "strange fire." Whoever has the Son has life. If we place our trust in Jesus, we will be forgiven and will enter into eternal joy with Him. If we reject Him, our worship is unacceptable and we can only expect condemnation.
Discussion idea: Why did God respond so drastically to the sin of Aaron's sons? How does God respond when people worship Him in a sinful way today?
Prayer focus: Ask God to keep your heart from growing hard, so that you can continue to set His name apart as holy.