Scripture: Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Leviticus 10:1-2 ESV
Observation: As earlier instructed to Moses, when igniting the fire for animal sacrifices, Aaron and his successors must use a censer full of coals from the sacred fire on the outer altar initially lit by the Lord (16:11-12). Nadab and Abihu acted hastily without following the holy ceremonial requirements and instead offered “unauthorized” fire before Yahweh (verse 1 above). The Hebrew word translated unauthorized means “strange.” Thus, their bizarre disregard for observing the sanctity of the offering brought about their demise, which matched the violation. Indeed, the fire consumed them as a living sacrifice before the Lord (verse 2 above).
Takeaway: This story and that of Uzzah, who died reaching out to grasp the ark of the covenant to keep it from sliding off the cart (2 Samuel 6:6-7), or that of Ananias and Sapphira who died after lying about the extent of their offering to the elders (Acts 5), raises a question about fairness. Is it fair that God would take a life for deviating from protocol concerning sacred elements of worship? These stories do not answer the question but do tell us to tread lightly in the Divine Presence and not act cavalier, presuming on God’s grace and forgiveness. Understanding this, whether presenting our tithes or coming to the communion table, we should not expect God’s blessings if our hearts are far from him. Moreover, it will not go well for us if we refuse to make a course correction. Paul addressed the Corinthians about this issue when he wrote:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).
So Scripture is clear that there are consequences. But what about the question of fairness. We would do well to pause and consider that the Son of God, who always obeyed his Father’s will, sacrificed his life to save us who were once enemies of God (Romans 5:10). That’s not fair! Yet, they love us so much that he did. So how should we respond? By appropriating the holy sacraments with reverence, remembering that he who gave his best for us expects us to offer our best to him. And when we come up short, his grace and mercy abound for those who confess and repent.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for giving us your best in the life, death, and resurrection of your Son. Would you please help us to present to you our best, whether demonstrating a proper attitude of gratitude and reverence when receiving your sacraments or when offering our gifts? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling