Numbers 3:4 states, “And Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord…” The topic of our examination appears from this verse: Nadab and Abihu. They died in the presence of, in the face of, or before the Lord. The occasion involved an offering and the offering was strange. The Hebrew term for strange means, “foreign, estranged, loathsome, or profane.” What brought Nadab and Abihu to the presence of the Lord? They had brought fire before the Lord for the purpose of worship.
“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therin, 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. Then Moses said unto Aaron, ‘This is it that the Lord spake, saying, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified.”’ And Aaron held his peace” (Lev. 10:1-3).
This passage makes it clear God did not command the fire Nadab and Abihu offered. God never suggested, requested, or authorized it. Thus, Moses describes the fire as profane or loathsome. Of great importance is the fact that the passage states Nadab and Abihu did not die from an accident with the fire. They died when God purposely sent fire to devour them. Moses provided the reason God acted in such a fashion to destroy Nadab and Abihu. When individuals go before God, He requires glorification and sanctification. Sanctification means treating something as set apart or holy. Glorification means to make honorable. Nadab and Abihu dishonored God with their behavior.
The issues presented by their actions for examination revolve around mankind’s treatment of God, the importance of God’s commands, and the intentions of mankind.
“Be ye holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16)
The concept of sanctification and holiness relates to more than purity or being without sin. God first used the term holy in Exodus 3:5 when He called a certain ground holy. Ordinary and common cannot describe holy. Approaching holiness requires reverence. Reverence sees holiness and treats it with respect, humility, and even fear. Fear closely draws to its side the knowledge that the individual cannot be equal to, but rather stands lacking in cleanness, stature, or quality to that which is holy. Nadab and Abihu failed in this respect. They approached their Creator in a manner which did not revere Him. Their approach to worship treated God as nothing more than common.
Consider this. If the sanctification and glorification of God stands so critical that the consequence of its absence meant death, how ought mankind approach God today? Does the phrase casual worship service seem inappropriate? Perhaps consider the irreverence of checking and sending texts and e-mail during worship. If Moses approached the holy ground in his sandals toting along snacks and sipping on a latte or soda, would God have shown pleasure?
God does not stand on equal footing with a movie, picnic, or other common event. Being in the presence of God is not a come-as-you-are event. God is holy! Nadab and Abihu failed to treat Him so. We should draw from their example and not behave in the same fashion.
“If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15)
The wind and the sea obey God. Unclean spirits obey Him. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were punished. The world disobeyed God and were destroyed, save eight souls. Sodom and Gomorrah disobeyed God and God destroyed them. Israel disobeyed God and He punished them in many ways from diseases, to wandering in the wilderness, to captivity, even to death itself. Uzzah, like Nadab and Abihu, lost his life disobeying the commands of God. Paul chastised the apostle Peter and the Galatian Christians for failing to obey the commands of God. 2 Thessalonians 1:8 declares destruction on those who do not obey God, while Jesus stands as the author of salvation to those who do obey Him (Heb. 5:9). Why would anyone disobey God willingly? Yet, this is exactly what Nadab and Abihu did.
Many people today despise following God’s commands, even some within religious bodies bearing His name. They feel as if God provided His commandments as mere suggestions, used as guidelines, bendable depending on the situation. Those who desire to follow God’s Word as it was given actively find themselves victims of mockery and shaming by others. A favorite and misused term which others apply to them is legalist. The American Heritage Dictionary defines legalism as “strict adherence to the law.” This sounds exactly like what God desires throughout the entire Bible. When they stood before the Sanhedrin, the apostles declared obedience to God rather than to men. Why would they do so if obedience to commands was subjective?
Now, one might quote Matthew 9:13, “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, ’I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I am come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Upon reading, they would declare that God never desired exact obedience. Yet, all Scripture shows He most definitely did desire obedience. Contextually, Christ identified that one aspect of the law cannot be dropped and that individual still be pleasing to God. One cannot worship without spirit and truth. If a person goes through the motions of obedience in physical acts, but not obedience to a pure and holy spiritual nature, the physical acts presented to God result in God’s dissatisfaction. He will not desire the sacrifice!
In view of Nadab and Abihu, they presented worship to God. One might think that God would be thrilled with the “spiritual” demonstration of these individual’s hearts. Yet, He rejected their worship because it failed to follow His commands. In so doing, Nadab and Abihu demonstrated disdain in their worship rather than love for God. They disobeyed and treated God in a profane manner. Paul declared in his letter to Rome, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Learn from Nadab and Abihu’s example of disobedience.
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20)
Grease fires break out while cooking on occasion. Good, well-intentioned individuals frequently take action to attempt to put out the fire with water. This can result in the fire spreading further because “water and oil don’t mix.” Good intentions do not by themselves result in God’s pleasure.
Nadab and Abihu worshiped God. Worship indicates a desire to please. Yet, they attempted to present worship on their terms. They presented as Can did, who when presenting his offering to the Lord did not do so in faith. The so-called faith of those who present worship to God is dead if the works are guided by intention and not truth. God will be treated as holy and will be obeyed. No matter of intent (again, see Uzzah) will cause God to smile on a worshipful action not requested.
God declared through the apostle Paul that preaching saves. Jesus commanded the proclamation of the gospel to all creation. Yet, men in their good intentions decided to present God’s truths through acting and drama rather than proclamation. God declared that man sing as one body to Him in worship. Yet, the intentions of man to worship in song resulted in playing instruments, choral groups, and praise teams with handclapping rather than what God commanded. Will God be glorified with such behavior? Will He be sanctified when His commandments are ignored? Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of His life, death and resurrection. The first-century church partook of this on the first day of the week. Paul exhorted the Corinthians to take it properly and not treat it as a common meal. Yet, through the intentions of man the Lord’s Supper is not taken every first day of the week in many places. It is taken yearly, quarterly, monthly, or on special occasion. In many places the Supper is offered with leavened break, water, or in the midst of a meal. Is the intention worship? These behaviors result in will worship condemned by Paul (Col. 2:23). If Nadab and Abihu, guided by good intentions to worship God, could not worship Him in a pleasing fashion, what makes men think they can today?
As Paul exhorted the Christian regarding the Scriptures written beforehand, man can learn from Nadab and Abihu how to properly worship God. Christians treat God as holy. Christians love Him by obeying His commands. Do not follow your intentions, Christians. Follow the truth.
Travis has been a minister in the Lord’s church for over 15 years. He attends and teaches at the Eastside Church of Christ in Mt. Vernon, OH. He is the creator of churchofchristarticles.com.