Strange Fire and Obedience

I want you to think back to the Garden of Eden. There, Adam and Eve rebelled against the Lord when they ate the fruit of a particular tree. That act brought the curse of God on the world. That act brought death and destruction. That act introduced sin to humanity.

What was the big problem? Was the fall of man in the garden about the particular fruit? Was God particularly angry at the loss of a fruit that he treasured? I really do not think that is the core issue. Instead, the issue is one of obedience and authority. Adam and Eve knew the command of God, decided their way was better, and rebelled.

We see a similar type of rebellion in Leviticus, a rebellion that caused the death of Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron.

Leviticus 10:1-3 – 1 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. 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.

On this particular day, the presence of God was noticeable at the tabernacle. It was a glorious sight. The people were awestruck. And Nadab and Abihu got so excited that they offered unauthorized fire, another translation says “strange fire,” before the Lord. And Nadab and Abihu died for their hubris.

What was the problem? Was a particular kind of fire, a particular kind of incense, a particular smell that offensive? Or, as I suggested in the account of the garden, is the issue here one of obedience? Look at the words of God. The Lord does not say, “That kind of fire really offends me.” Instead, God tells the people through Moses, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.” God saw that, in this instance, the sons of Aaron did not treat him as holy.

What does it mean that God is holy? In this instance, the issue is one of treating God as far greater, higher, above and beyond us. Nadab and Abihu acted as if God were like them, just another guy. Nadab and Abihu thought that their idea of what fire to offer was just as good as what God had commanded. They assumed that their ideas were equally valid as those of God. They did not glorify God. They did not sanctify God. They did not treat him as holy by meticulously obeying his commands for how he would be worshipped.

Consider now our world. The God we worship is the same God who flashed forth fire to consume Nadab and Abihu because those men did not treat him as holy. Do we? When your church gathers to worship, are you careful to do what the Lord has commanded. Many a church has introduced things to the service of worship that have nothing to do with the commands of God. I’m not here discussing equipment or instrumentation, lighting or visual design. But there are many churches that include practices of things that God has not commanded. Or, even worse, there are many who participate in practices that the Lord has forbidden.

We should be thankful that, because of the grace of the Lord Jesus, we are not experiencing what Nadab and Abihu experienced. We should be grateful to God that many of us have not been consumed by the holy wrath of God for approaching him in a way inconsistent with treating him as holy. And we should be driven to worship the Lord in loving obedience to his word.

With all that said, the New Testament does not tell us exactly how to order the worship service. We see a great deal of instruction about how sacrifices were made in the Old Testament. WE see God setting up things that point to Christ with great detail. But in the New Testament, we have fewer step-by-step directions. WE know that we are to pray, to sing, to read the word, to preach, to participate in ordinances like Lord’s Supper, to give, and to do all this to the glory of God and in a spirit of love and fellowship. WE also know that things are forbidden. God has said who is allowed to teach and who is not allowed to teach. God has warned against the fleshly indulgences of the world and the temptation to bring them into his worship.

So, let me simply call us to be careful. We gather as the family of God. Thus, familial love, joy, kindness, and caring are all part of our gatherings. We gather to worship the Holy One, and thus what we do must be fully in keeping with his commands. WE dare not violate his commands and treat him as less than holy, pretending our ways are superior to his. We dare not hijack the purpose of the service of worship, making it more about connecting to those who do not know the Lord than about honoring the Lord we are supposed to be there to worship.

Nadab and Abihu died because they failed to treat the Lord and his ways as holy. Adam and Eve fell when they refused to treat the simple command of God as holy. Jesus died to pay for the sins of people who have, in their past, refused to treat God as holy. May we, in our services of worship, be sure that we treat the Lord and his commands as holy.