Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28–29.
Yahweh’s spectacular rescue mission on behalf of Israel could have produced a sense of national complacency. He watched over them, opened the Red sea for them, provided for them, protected them, judged them and brought them to the desert of Sinai. That sense of smugness changed at Mount Sinai. His dramatic ‘appearance’ in thunder, lightning, with thick cloud covering and fire created fear. A realisation of God’s glory and holiness made them tremble. The Lord God who redeemed was to be obeyed not played with.
When the Tabernacle and Priesthood were being instituted the family of Aaron was given the Priesthood. At the outset it was stressed such a venue and ministry was unique. It was set apart from the everyday and linked to the very character of Yahweh. The ordination for the Priesthood begins in Leviticus 8 and 9 in a very impressive and symbolic manner. Aaron and his four sons had detailed instructions to follow. Something possessed Nadab and Abihu, to imagine they had a better way than that which Yahweh had outlined. They along with Eleazar and Ithamar had just experienced the wonder of ordination to ministry. This was the culmination of an encounter with God on Mount Horeb. Had it been too much for Nadab and Abihu’s egos? Leviticus 10:1 says they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord. Their self will changed celebration into lamentations. God struck them down.
Leviticus 10:9 sees the Lord add to the ordination requirement, ‘you and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die.’ Does this give us a clue to what caused Nadab and Abihu to act so irresponsibly? The Lord requires those who worship Him and, more so those who minister before Him, to be clear headed and self controlled. It is interesting to note that the kings of Israel had similar obligations. (Proverbs31:4–5) If we consider ourselves as ‘kings and priests’ of the Lord God do such restrictions apply today?
It would appear as though they had chosen to enter into the precincts of the Tabernacle to do their own thing. They would worship or serve God as they thought best. Here was a serious breach of trust, an act of disrespect and a challenge to the authority of the Lord. They had been redeemed and commissioned for His purposes. Their death was to be a testimony to the danger of abusing the grace and glory of God. Why? ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.’ Exodus 20:7
Leviticus 10:10–11: ‘You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.’ The history of Israel details the conflict between His holiness and the tendency of the nation to drag it down. Leviticus 21:6.says, ‘They (priests) must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Because they present the offerings made to the Lord by fire, the food of their God, they are to be holy.’ Malachi’s account of the moral and religious attitude of the priests and people of his day makes depressing reading. ‘You profane it (God’s Name) by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled’, and of its food, ‘it is contemptible.’ And you say,’ What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously.’ Malachi 1:12–13.
As ministers of the Gospel we are to uphold the holiness of the Eternal God, the integrity of the Cross and the uniqueness of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Familiarity can breed contempt or coarseness with sacred things. A healthy fear of our Lord will be our safeguard. In our presentations we have latitude of method but we have no room to move in regards to the message. Culture has its challenges to making the Bible relevant. Regardless of the cultural environment Christ Jesus’ servants live in the Gospel and the Glory of God must remain unchanged. Hebrews 12:10: ‘Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no-one will see the Lord.’
Reflection: What is the quality of the ‘fire’ that burns within my being? Is what I’m saying, doing and living acceptable to the Lord God I am called upon to honour and proclaim?