While reading the other day, I was meditating on the account of Nadab and Abihu. My thoughts were along the lines of, “what were they thinking?”, and pondering about why their punishment for offering strange fire on the altar of incense was punished so quickly and severely. So I looked in my search function to find out more about these two sons of Aaron and came across a surprising passage that made me even more mystified by their actions.
The Nation of Israel was at Sinai, when these two were given an awesome privilege recorded in Exodus 24.

“Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:
And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.” – Exodus 24:9-10

Both Nadab and Abihu had been given the awesome privilege of seeing a vision of Jehovah God on the mountain. In verse 11 it even says they ate with Him! This encounter should have instilled in them a reverence and awe for the power and reality of their God that would change their lives forever. And perhaps, for awhile at least, it did just that.

There is a popular adage that says, “familiarity breeds contempt.” But is that possible in our relationship with God? Is it possible that continued miraculous encounters with God could make someone take God LESS seriously? If pride enters in, it certainly can do just that. Nadab and Abihu began to assume that this event on the mountain made them special, or even worse, made them better than others who were not there. After all, we must be somebody special if God shows up and has a meal with us, right?

Well that is exactly what happened to them. Nadab and Abihu forgot about the nature of the God they were serving. Instead of this vision driving them toward a thirst for an ever more intimate relationship with God, it puffed them up with pride about the special revelation they had been given. After all, God was their buddy and pal who liked to have lunch with them. They must be something pretty special.

But our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 13) who will share His glory with no man(Isaiah 42:8) and will not be mocked ( Galatians 6:7). Fast forward a little while to the sacrifices being offered in the tabernacle. Moses and Aaron had offered a sacrifice, just as God had instructed them, and fire came down from God and consumed it.

“And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people.
And 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.” – Leviticus 9:23-24

Right after this spiritually charged and miraculous manifestation of the power of God, Nadab and Abihu take it upon themselves to cut corners with God and offer something unholy and profane in place of that which was sanctified for worship of God. And just like in the previous chapter God answered with fire.

‚Äč”And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.
And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.
Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.” – Leviticus 10:1-3

What made this judgment come so swiftly? Perhaps it was because, as ones who had been with Moses and Aaron on the mountain, they should have realized the awesome majesty and power of their God and given Him the respect and fear that was due Him. In context, verses 8 – 9 could indicate that they were drunk. What it boiled down to was a lack of the fear of The Lord.

In our day, in the churches of America, don’t we sometimes do the same thing? How often are things from the world offered up to God in worship? We bring in the world’s philosophy, marketing, music, and lifestyles and offer them up to God and expect Him to be pleased with our worship. How often have we shown up for worship when just an hour before we were watching a show or listening to music that God absolutely hates? Where is the reverential awe and fear of The Lord? We have gotten so familiar with the Jesus who is our co-pilot and best buddy that we forget who we are serving (or who is the one being served) and offer up the unholy because hey, we are under grace and it doesn’t matter what we do any more. God’s got us covered!
The lesson of Nadab and Abihu is clear. God even told us what it was a few verses later in Leviticus 10:10.
“And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;”

And lest you think this principle doesn’t apply to us today because of grace, listen to the Spirit speaking in the Letter to the Hebrews:

Hebrews 12:28-29
“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”

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