Summary: An analysis of the sin of Nadab and Abihu in offering strange fire and hwo we can fall into the same sin.
Two young men, Nadab and Abihu, come to worship God and end up dead.
What a strange thing to read in a Sunday afternoon meeting! We don’t often read from the book of Leviticus in the Christian Church, it seems so irrelevant to our daily lives as 21st century Christians, being full of arcane regulations and instructions about sacrifices and the correct way to slaughter animals. Yet it is part of scripture, the word of God. We are told in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all of scripture is from God and is of use today. It is worth our while considering what God has to say through it.
Leviticus is all about holiness, the holiness of God and how he should be worshipped. It teaches us that God is infinitely perfect and holy, and that sinful people cannot approach him in his glory. When ordinary people came to worship him, was hidden behind a veil, and they could not see his glory.
Instead he sets up a complicated system whereby the priest could approach him on behalf of the whole nation. He could only do so one day a year. We read about that earlier on, in Lev 16. The ordinary people were kept back, behind a curtain. This was to protect both the people, who would not be able to cope with coming across the glory and holiness of God in their sinfulness and also to protect God’s own glory from being defiled by contact with sinful humanity.
That was in the Old Covenant, the old agreement and way of working between God and man. We are people of the new covenant. Matthew tells us that when Jesus died on the cross the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. Hebrews goes on to tell us that we can now go right into the Holy Place with God, not covered by the blood of animals, but covered by the blood of Jesus. So we are more privileged than the people of the Old Covenant.
However, although the story of Nadab and Abihu is about a totally different worship system, it was a system of worship divinely inspired of the one true God and it still has things to teach us about our worship of God today. Let us look more closely at their errors and see how they might apply to us as Christians today.
They took it for granted
Aaron and his sons had been given a tremendous privilege, that of leading and representing the whole of the people of God in worship. This was not something that they deserved or was granted to them because of some goodness or perfection on their part, instead it was a gift, a privilege given to them by a sovereign God who chose to give it to them in his mercy and grace.
The correct response of Nadab and Abihu as priests of the Lord would be a life of constant gratitude and thankfulness for the privilege and responsibility that was theirs of entering into the holy place and appearing before the glory and holiness of God. Instead they took it for granted. They presumed upon it. They took it as a right rather than a gift.
In the same way we do not deserve to enter into the holy place and commune with God. It is his free gift to us. As the song says:-
I have no claim on grace
I have no right to plead
I stand before my makers face,
condemned in thought and deed
But since there died a lamb
Who guiltless my guilt bore
I lay fast hold of Jesus’ grace,
And sin is mine no more
We must constantly gratefully remember the work of Christ who died for us to enable us to enter in and worship inside the curtain. But sometimes we forget, we barge in to worship as if we owned God’s holy place.
They worshipped in their own way
The second sin of Nadab and Abihu was that of deciding how they would worship God themselves, and not following his instructions. They should have come before him covered in the blood of sacrifices. God had decreed what type of incense should be offered before him, but they had made their own to their own recipe. He had decreed that the priests should only enter in at certain times, but they came in when they felt like it. It was worship on their own terms.
They ignored or forgot the fact that worship is for the benefit of God not man.
In addition they tried to manipulate God into acting in a certain way. They had just seen his glory at their ordination of priests, and they wanted him to do it all again. They wanted to control the way he acted, to manipulate worship.