Probably not surprising that, once again, I’m sitting here this morning trying to process the story of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 and how they crashed and burned . . . literally. Every year when I come upon this passage as part of my reading plan it kind of overshadows my other readings.
And I think it’s partly the unexpectedness of their behavior. Aaron’s boys have just been anointed, have just offered their first set of offerings. The glory of God has just come down and fire from God has just consumed the offerings on the altar. And now’s the time they decide to mess around with strange fire?
And I think it’s partly the severity of God’s judgment. They’re new to the job, just rookies. Was it really that big of deal if they decided to experiment and improvise a bit? Evidently.
But something I read in Psalm 40 this morning, something that would one day be attributed to Another engaged in priestly duties (Heb. 10:5-7), might shed a bit of light as to the driver behind God’s fiery reaction to the sons foolish fiery offering.
Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but You have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I desire to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.”
(Psalm 40:6-8 ESV)
It jumped off the page as I read Psalm 40 . . . God has not desired sacrifice and offering, He has not required burnt offering and sin offering. Really? I’m reading Leviticus and the word from God through Moses is pretty clear and pretty specific about the sacrifices and offerings. But the songwriter’s Spirit-led commentary points to the fact that, in a sense, it’s less about the offerings and more about the offerer. Though God’s requirement is laid out in pain-staking detail, the detail means nothing if it isn’t followed, if it isn’t obeyed. And, it seems to me, the “secret sauce” to obedience is faith. Believing that what God says is true and that what God commands is good.
It’s not that Aaron’s sons were simply adventuresome, or impetuous, or even innovative. After everything God had laid out through Moses concerning the manner of worship, they tried something else because they didn’t believe what God had said. After all that God had revealed concerning the manner and means of drawing near to the holy place, they tried something else because of unbelief, because they thought they could go it alone.
Or as the psalmist put it, they didn’t have an “open ear” that allowed God’s word to find residence “within their hearts.”
That’s the issue, I’m thinking. They didn’t have ears to hear and so they waltzed into the presence of God with their strange, or unauthorized, fire.
God’s holiness demands that those who come into His presence do so in righteousness. And no amount of slicing and dicing and shedding of blood and burning of incense is going to manufacture righteousness. Righteousness before a holy God has always been a result of faith. Abraham believed the LORD and it was counted to him–credited to Abraham’s account–as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). It’s not about the sacrifices and offerings, it’s about a desire to do God’s will because you believe in God’s word.
It was less about the strange fire in their hands than it was about the unbelief in their hearts. Having received the word of God, Aaron’s boys rejected the word of God and instead believed that their own creative works should be enough to merit God’s favor. And they were wrong. Dead wrong.
What they needed was an open ear (“and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” – Eph. 2:8 NKJV). But it was rejected because of a hard heart. What they needed was the righteousness of Another that comes by faith, but it was declined as they instead relied upon their own wisdom and works. What they needed to do was obey God’s word, but they didn’t because they didn’t believe God’s word.
While theirs was certainly a fool’s errand that cost them dearly, at the heart of the matter was the heart of the matter–they didn’t believe. And without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).
Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).
Give me an open ear, O LORD, that Your Law might find its dwelling in my heart. Then will obedience come. Then will strange fire be rejected. Then will we know what it is to boldly approach Your throne of grace and abide in Your Holy-of-holies presence.
All by Your grace. All for Your glory.