Quite a sobering portrait is depicted in Leviticus 10:1-10; it is the account of the sons of Aaron going into the Tabernacle in the course of their priestly responsibilities.
“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD”(Leviticus 10:1-2).
Leviticus 16:12 commands that the priests “…shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bringitinside the veil.” The hand-held censor was to contain fragrant incense burned specifically by the coals obtained from the main altar. The ascending smoke from the incense represented the prayers of the people the rising up to the nostrils of God.
The passage indicates that the pair offered up “strange” fire, or “unauthorized” fire in the firepans. For some unknown reason it appears that the two obtained fire, or coals from an inappropriate source. They did not go through the proper procedures as prescribed by God. It could have been intentional, or out of ignorance, but their actions were seemingly done in a posture of casualness. Had they desired to take a short-cut in carrying out their appointed duties? Had they been indifferent in their devotion? God makes it clear; there are no shortcuts to worshipping Him.
Their act of worship is defiled, a sacrifice of fools, and as a consequence, they are incinerated. Divinely directed fire bursts forth, acting as a purging, purifying agent.
In spite of the brutal scene, Moses cautions Aaron not to mourn, and informs Aaron of the level of the infraction; he quotes God, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored” (Leviticus 10:3). Nadab and Abihu had failed in the worst of ways in the execution of their duties; they had not treated God as holy–they had jointly dishonored the One they were to have been exalting.
Moses commands, “Come forward, carry your relatives away from the front of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp” (Leviticus 10:4). The two lifeless smoldering bodies wrapped in the charred remains of priestly garb are removed from the sanctuary and taken outside the camp–the ignominious ending to two called to serve the Lord in sacred worship. Through fire, the Lord had expunged the profane.
The entire scene stands as a warning to all subsequent priestly actions that God demands to be worshipped His way.
Solomon entered a commentary of sorts many centuries later in his journal called “Ecclesiastes.”
Chapter 5 tells us, in part, how we are to approach the worship experience, engaging with God:
“Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3).
Curious words, we would love to understand better; and yet, we know, they are a caution to all as we are preparing to journey to worship. “Take great care about what you are going to do.” Our conduct as we approach a holy God is to be well thought out and constructed. Our worship is not to be haphazard or flippant.
The specific picture is the use of words in the encounter with God. The greater picture is that this is God time. This is time for us to listen to God. This is about God’s will, and doing things God’s way. It is a time to honor a holy God.
The sacrifice of fools seems to be an offering, any offering to God which is unacceptable to Him. It is an offering which may seem pretty spectacular in the eyes of the one bringing it, but in the eyes of God, it less than honors Him. One who is consumed with words, to impress himself, others, or even worse God, is not honoring God himself; one who comes in this spirit is consumed in honoring only himself.
We do not know what Nadab and Abihu said in the midst of the sanctuary prior to their deaths, but we do see that they did not listen to the priestly “regulations” of the Lord; they were less than concerned with God’s desire. The sacrifice of fools, is not simply unsatisfactory to God, it is doing evil (Ecclesiastes 5:1).
Today, we will likely not be subjected to the cleansing process inflicted upon Nadab and Abihu for any such offences, but I would suggest that we will miss any blessing the Lord may have for us in the experience, and even worse, we would exit the opportunity having failed to worship our God. Maybe, quite probably, we need to do better. Let’s be mindful just how “casual” we are as we prepare to approach our awesome God.
As we set our hearts to prepare for any worship experience, let us once again consider the words of God:
“By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy,
And before all the people I will be honored” (Leviticus 10:3).
He is serious. No defilement allowed.
Approach God in reverence; He is holy.
Approach God in honor; He is worthy.
And, by all means, approach Him in the blood of Christ.