“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 chapter 9 ends with a wonderful picture of worship done correctly. Every step of the way throughout the offering of sacrifices Aaron and his sons heed the words of Moses as he issues the commands that God Himself has given. In verses 9, 12, 18, and 20, Aaron’s sons are specifically mentioned as participating in the ceremonies and assisting their father. Verse 24, the final verse of the chapter, finds God sending out a holy fire upon the burnt offerings and the people of Israel shouting and falling to their faces in praise and worship of God Almighty.
I wonder just how much time passed between what is described in Leviticus 9:24 and the very next verse, 10:1. Because the entire mood and feel of the narrative takes a very dramatic turn for the worse. Now we have two of the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, deciding to stray from the clear instructions of God spoken through Moses and taking it upon themselves to offer strange fire, that is, fire not commanded by God to be brought. And the same fire that had just been said to consume the burnt offerings came again and consumed the two men.
Although we are not specifically told in detail what the strange fire was that they brought, we are given some hints. In verse 3, Moses recounts the words of the Lord when he tells Aaron,
“By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy,
And before all the people I will be honored.”
And in verse 9 God, Who has spoken nearly exclusively with Moses throughout the time the Children of Israel were in the Wilderness, directly addresses Aaron saying,
“Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—”
Perhaps the two sons of Aaron were drunk and sought to recreate the experience of worship just for the thrill of it. Maybe, since they were Levitical priests, they felt that they were at liberty to come before God at any time and in any condition they wanted. Whatever the case, they were indicted by God Himself as treating the Lord with dishonor and failing to make a distinction between the holy and the profane (v. 10).
It is significant that this incident directly follows the act of Aaron and the priests making atonement for sin through the sacrifice of sin offerings and burnt offerings since the Old Testament ceremonies of Atonement are a direct foreshadow of Christ’s work of Salvation on the Cross; as evidenced in the Book of Hebrews. It is, therefore, appropriate to find parallels between the actions of Nadab and Abihu profaning the God-ordained rites of Atonement and the works of Salvation performed by the Lord Jesus.
Nadab and Abihu came to God in a way, and at a time, and in a place that God had not instructed them. In short, they came to God on their own terms, not on His. They violated the Law of Moses given by God by seeking to come to God some other way.
We do not live in the age of the Law of Moses, but in the age of the Grace of God through Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, there is a Way by which we are instructed to come to God that we are no more able to bypass than were the sons of Aaron able to bypass the instructions of Moses. Jesus Himself said,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)
And, again, in the Book of Acts, we find the words of Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaiming about Jesus:
“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
People still offer strange fire to God by seeking to come to Him on their own terms and in their own way. But we have as clear-cut instructions for how we are to approach a Holy God as the Hebrews living under the Law of Moses did. There are those who feel that, because of who they are or what position they hold, they are free to come to God in any way they deem fit.
There are also even believers who offer strange fire to God when they try to recreate the thrill and excitement that genuine worship of the Lord brings when our hearts are right before Him and, like the two sons of Aaron, profane the holiness of God by coming before Him drunk in their own pride and vanity, attempting to persuade God to respond to their own efforts apart from Him.
We have an access to the throne of God that those living under the Old Testament never had (Hebrews 4:16), but let us never forget that we are only permitted into the Presence of God through the Lord Jesus. God is still a holy God and we must never approach His holy Presence in an unholy way. Before we come before God, let us make sure that our hearts are right before Him and that we are coming through faith in Jesus Christ. If our hearts are not right, then that should be the first order of business when we do come to Him. Not that sin should ever keep us from Him, on the contrary, He is the only One Who can cleanse us from sin. But let us not presume to come to Him offering the strange fire of our own self-righteousness and expecting God to accept it.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]