Strange Fire (Leviticus 10:1-3)
Worshiping in error is a big problem. You go to many churches, and you will find worship that does not fit New Testament teaching.
Jesus knew that improper worship would be a problem:
- John 4:23-24. Jesus here speaks of the two dimensions of proper worship. “In spirit” means “right attitude”: “In truth” means “right action.”
- Matthew 15:8-9.
Improper worship has been a problem since man has walked the earth. Cain’s offering did not please the Lord (Gen 4:5). In this morning’s text, Nadab and Abihu offer “strange fire” before the LORD.
This morning, we wish to explore the episode of Nadab and Abihu to learn an important lesson: “God deserves to be honored in worship.”
Scripture (Leviticus 10:1-3)
Nadab and Abihu were the oldest two of Aaron’s four sons. These two sons have been consecrated as priests (Ex 29:9). They had great potential to serve God.
Each took his censer, put fire in it and put incense on it. In so doing, they offered “strange fire” before the LORD.
What did Nadab and Abihu do wrong? Nadab and Abihu did not get their fire from the altar of burnt offering (Lev 16:12). Nadab and Abihu appear to have entered the Holy Place at the wrong time (Lev 16:1-2). God tells Aaron not to drink wine or strong drink when they minister in the tabernacle lest they die (Lev 10:8-11). Why would God-immediately after the death of Nadab and Abihu-tell Aaron not to minister when he’s drunk lest he die unless Nadab and Abihu were drunk? It’s my conviction that Nadab and Abihu were drunk when they offered profane fire before the LORD. It is likely that all three of these reasons came together to lead to the sin of Nadab and Abihu.
Whatever the specific sin of Nadab and Abihu, the important thing is: They “offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.” The English Standard Version translates this: They “offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.” That is very much the idea. Nadab and Abihu offered fire before the presence of the Lord that He had not commanded them. They worshiped in a way God had not commanded them.
Nadab and Abihu likely never knew what hit them.
Fire came from the presence of the LORD, devoured the priests, and they died in the presence of the LORD. I find it interesting that in the verse immediately preceding Nadab and Abihu, you have fire coming from the presence of the LORD: “There came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces” (Lev 9:24).
Both are fires of “judgment.” With the burnt offering, God is showing pleasure with the way that Aaron and his sons worshiped. With Nadab and Abihu, God is showing displeasure with the way that Aaron’s sons worshiped.
We can go from proper worship to improper worship in the blink of an eye-Nadab and Abihu did. We don’t know how long there was between the burnt offering and Nadab and Abihu; it could have been considerable. Yet, I think these two episodes are placed side by side to demonstrate that just because we honor God at one time doesn’t mean we’ll honor Him at another time.
At first glance, Moses’ response to the killing of his nephews sounds strange.
But, he says something important: “God deserves to be honored in worship.” Those who come near to God-Levitical priests in this context-had better come before God appropriately. They dare not come before God just any way. God will be sanctified by those priests who come near Him. If that means He kills them for disregarding His holiness, He’ll do that.
Before the people, God will be glorified-God will not simply allow Himself to be disrespected before the people.
Aaron held his peace-There was nothing else to be said.
“God deserves to be honored in worship.” How is our honor of God in worship?
We need to make sure that our worship is always authorized.
Nadab and Abihu ran into trouble, because-for whatever reason-they did not do precisely what God had said.
We need to examine the Scriptures quite carefully to make sure that we do exactly what God wants in worship. Many congregations have gone astray because they have failed to examine the Scriptures carefully vis-à-vis worship. All too often that sacrifice what is right upon the altar of what feels good, what draws a crowd, what’s pleasing to the eyes/ears, etc. Let us make sure that this congregation always examines what we do carefully, lest we incur the judgment of God!
Make sure that you study the Word of God for yourself so that you know you are worshiping appropriately. You are going to be held accountable to God for how you have worshiped-Nadab and Abihu teach us that. If there’s something you don’t understand, please feel free to ask questions.
We need to make sure our hearts honor God in worship.
Nadab and Abihu clearly did not have hearts intent on worship. If, as I surmise, they were drunk, it would not have been possible to have their hearts in the right place. In getting fire from the wrong place and in entering the Holy Place at the wrong time, they weren’t trying to serve God.
There are many who worship wrongly because they have been taught wrong-these folks want to do right, but they are caught up in error.
Not so Nadab and Abihu! They have been informed of the will of God, but they still worship in error. We can’t be sure why they continued to worship wrongly. Was it just a case where alcohol clouded their judgment? Was it a case that they didn’t think it mattered where they got the fire? Did they believe God wasn’t concerned about exactly when they entered the Holy Place? They had a serious heart issue-they put themselves in the place of God!
I’m afraid that when we worship, we sometimes have serious heart issues. I’m afraid that sometimes that the heart is simply absent from worship altogether. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matt 15:8). A heart that is far away does not honor God.
Where is your heart this morning? Do you have a heart that is clouded by sin? Do you have a heart that is clouded by hatred for your fellow man? Do you have a heart that is a million miles away-thinking about the weather, about lunch, about this afternoon?
“God deserves to be honored in worship.” Are you truly honoring Him in worship?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.