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. (Lev. 10:1-2)
In the book of Leviticus God had given Moses very specific and detailed instructions as to how they were to present the various offerings before the Lord. The fire on the altar had come from the very presence of the LORD himself, and as such was holy. (see Lev. 9:24) They were commanded never to allow that fire to go out. (see Lev. 6:12-13)
We read, in Leviticus chapter 10, how Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord while they were serving in the temple, or unauthorized fire, as the NIV version says. Because of their arrogance in doing this, fire came from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died right there in front of the altar. Just as fire had come from the presence of the Lord to consume the first offering, purifying and sanctifying, fire once again came out from the presence of the Lord to purify and sanctify.
A good lesson for us to remember is that only God can purify and sanctify us. Without Him, there is absolutely nothing we can do to recommend us to Him.
Now, you might ask yourself why was this so important? Well, first they dared to enter into the holy of holies, which was reserved for only the high priest, Aaron. They also dared to perform the incense service, which was the duty of the high priest alone. They usurped their fatherís authority as high priest. Their arrogance in doing these two things was bad enough, but they added that to that by using strange, or unauthorized, fire. The high priest was supposed to use the fire from the brazen altar, which had come directly from the Lord himself, and only the high priest could perform the incense service.
In doing these things, Nadab and Abihu betrayed a careless and irreverent attitude toward the holy things of God. They displayed hearts not set on the things of God, so much as on their own desires. They were going to serve God, but their own way, not the way He had so carefully prescribed. Unfortunately, we are often guilty of this same attitude: we want to serve God, but only in our own self-centered way. Oh, Father, forgive!
In establishing these offerings, God was pointing the way to the ultimate offering to come: Christ's substitutionary, atoning death on the cross. That would be the final, ultimate, once for all sacrifice. These sacrifices were established to cover their sins until that the fulness of time was come. (see Gal. 4:4)
To allow such wanton disobedience would have set a dangerous precedent, so it was necessary that they be immediately punished for doing that which God had commanded them not to do. It was so grievous an offense, in fact, that fire came from the Lord, and consumed them. When God gives His children instructions about doing something, He takes those things very seriously, and so should we.
Now, what does this have to do with us today? Well, let me ask you, are you offering strange fire before the Lord? What do I mean? Just as He instructed the Israelites through Moses, God has instructed us, through His Holy Word. Letís look at some of the instructions He gives us in His Word, regarding how we are to behave if we are truly His children.
The Bible tells us that we are called, like Aaron and his sons, to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, that we should show the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.(I Peter 2:9) And I Peter 2:5 says that we are to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. So just exactly what are the sacrifices acceptable to God today?
First, He tells us we are to approach him with humble and contrite hearts.
"The sacrifices of God are broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart. These God will not despise." ( Psalm 51:17)
Second, we are to offer all of ourselves, not keeping anything back from God. Our thoughts, our emotions, our actions, all our deepest parts of our innermost being all belong to Him.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." (Romans 12:1)
Next, we are called to be righteous, even in the midst of an unrighteous world. And we are to trust Him implicitely in all things.
"Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD." (Psalm 4:5)
We are to praise Him continually, even in the midst of bad circumstances or events. We are also supposed to do good works, so that our heavenly Father may be praised by our works. And, we are to share the gospel with a lost and dying world around us.
"By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." ( Hebrews 13:15-16; The Greek word here translated "communicate" means to share with others what you have.)
He tells us we are to forgive our brothers just as He has forgiven us. We cannot offer acceptable worship to God, while cherishing unkind or hostile feelings towards a fellow-man, or neglecting to make reparation for any injury which we may have done him.
"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."(Matt.†5:23-24)
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.(Mark†11:25)
We are called to love even our enemies, for our Lordís sake. After all, if we only love our friends, how does that glorify the Lord? Everyone loves their friends. What sets the child of God apart is the ability, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, to love our enemies, as well.
"But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you." For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil."(Luke 6:26-35)
We are also to be merciful, and not judge or condemn others.
"Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running overÖ" (Luke 6:36-38)
When we approach Him in any other way besides the way that He told us to, we are guilty of the same attitude that destroyed Nadab and Abihu: we are guilty of trying to do it our own way, rather than God's way. We are offering strange fire before Him. Anytime we approach Him arrogantly, unrepenitently, or casually, not acknowledging His holiness, anytime we try to approach Him on our terms, rather than on His, then we are guilty of offering strange fire.
Ask yourself: Do you dare to bring your prayers and petitions before God with unconfessed sin in your heart? Do you come before Him with unforgiveness toward another who has wronged you? Do you come before Him with an attitude of unrepentance, or an attitude of self-sufficiency or pride? Then you, my friend, are offering strange fire before the Lord. We have to learn to do things God's way, not our own.
The Lord told Aaron, after his sons were destroyed for offering strange fire on the altar:
"You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean." (Lev. 10:10)
We too must learn to distinguish between the holy and the common, between the clean and the unclean. We cannot just approach God in any casual haphazard manner and expect Him to be pleased with our service. No, indeed not! In fact, God tells us:
"Be ye holy, for I am holy." (I Peter 1:16)
Those things that are set apart for God are sanctified, set apart, holy. They are not common and ordinary. They are not unclean. In our dress, in our manners, in our speech, in our everyday actions, in our finances, in our choice of reading materials or entertainment, we need to distinguish between the common and the holy; between the clean and the unclean.
I see young people, and some older ones, too, who come into the house of God dressed like they were going to a beach party. Girls wearing short shorts, shirts that look like lingerie, skin-tight jeans, flip-flops. Young men wearing baggy shorts falling below their hips, with hair uncombed and unkempt, and T-shirts advertising things that do not belong in the house of God. Where is their respect, the reverence for the things of God? Lord, help us to distinguish between the common, and the holy.
There are many men who pat themselves on the back for throwing five dollars in the collection plate on Sunday mornings, while thinking nothing of spending several hundred dollars on that new set of golf clubs. Or women who may give a few dollars for mission work, but spend hundreds for tinted hair and false fingernails. Lord, help us to distinguish between the common, and the holy.
There are those who watch "R" rated movies ( or worse!) on television and in theaters, unmindful of the message that they are sending to the lost ones around them. We have compromised the Word of God so that we may enjoy our entertainment, instead of changing our entertainment to align with the Word of God. Lord, help us to distinguish between the common, and the holy.
Iím sure you can think of dozens more examples, things that we see in churches all across the country. Much of the time, you can't tell those who claim to be God's children from the rest of the world. There is nothing that sets them apart as Christians, sanctified by the blood of Jesus Christ for God's service. But God says "Be ye holy, for I am holy."
Do not be deceived, my friend: God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is holy, and He will not be mocked. We cannot approach Him with unclean hands, unsanctified hearts, or unrepentant minds. We are still to approach Him today with reverence and awe, with repentant hearts, with humility and contrition. And we are to offer ourselves to him, a living sacrifice, which is our reasonable service. We are to be sanctified, set apart for His service.
"Be ye holy, for I am holy." Anything less is strange fire.