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Nadab and Abihu
Lessons in the Worship of God
ŇAnd 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 Aaron said unto Moses, Behold, this day have they offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD; and such things have befallen me: and if I had eaten the sin offering today, should it have been accepted in the sight of the LORD? And when Moses heard that, he was content.Ó (Leviticus 10:1-20)
The things recorded in these twenty verses of Inspiration teach us that the only way sinners can come to, worship, and be accepted with God is by faith in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Nadab and Abihu were sons of Aaron, GodŐs high priest. They had been ceremonially consecrated as priests unto the Lord (Leviticus 8-9). They had seen Moses and Aaron go together into the holy place. Nadab and Abihu were among those upon whom Moses and Aaron had pronounced GodŐs blessing. They had seen the visible symbol of the glory of the Lord in the fire that consumed the sacrifice. Then, the next day, Nadab and Abihu were consumed by the fire of GodŐs wrath in the court of the LordŐs house, as they carried out their priestly functions leading Israel in worship. That is how Leviticus chapter ten begins.
ŇAnd 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.Ó (Leviticus 10:1-2)
What an awesome, astounding way for a day in the house of God to begin! Without question, there are many very important and obvious lessons for us to learn from this chapter. Here are three obvious lessons set before us in these two verses.
1. Grace does not run in bloodlines. — Though Aaron was their father, though Moses was their uncle, though Miriam was their aunt, Nadab and Abihu perished under the wrath of God. The only way anyone is born into GodŐs family is by being born again (John 1:11-13; 3:3-8). There is no covenant family, except the heaven-born family of God. There is no Christian nation, except GodŐs holy nation the church of his elect.
2. Grace cannot be obtained by the observance of religious rituals. — Sacramentalism is, perhaps, the most damning heresy ever perpetrated upon the souls of men in the name of God. You cannot obtain GodŐs salvation by the outward ordinances of divine worship. Nadab and Abihu were circumcised in their flesh, but uncircumcised at heart. They kept the passover, but did not know Christ our Passover. They wore the garments of the priesthood, but never knew GodŐs High Priest. They went through consecration ceremonies, but knew nothing of consecration to God. They had blood on their ears, their thumbs, and their toes, but none in their hearts. Multitudes tread the courts of GodŐs house, go through the outward services of religious devotion, and engage in the service of religion with great zeal, who yet perish under the wrath of God. Be warned! — A mere form of godliness, be it ever so precisely orthodox, may carry you to hell in fine garb and with great pageantry; but it will still carry you to hell (Matthew 7:13-15; 21-23. Nadab and Abihu were priests ordained by Moses, but they are in hell.
3. In all matters of doctrine and worship, if God doesnŐt command it, it is forbidden. We read in verse 1 how God the Holy Ghost describes the fatal crime of AaronŐs sons. — ŇNadab 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.Ó —They offered strange fire which the Lord forbade.
These two sons of Aaron, by an act of willful, calculated, deliberate rebellion, rejected the counsel of God and dared to approach him with strange fire, in direct violation of his Word. They came at the wrong time, according to their own whim, not on the day of atonement, the time God required that the fire be brought into the holy place (Leviticus 16:1-2). You donŐt come to God on your terms, or when you decide to come. Sinners come to God when he calls (Psalms 65:4; 110:3).
They came to the wrong place, the open court (v. 4), not the holy of holies, as God required (Leviticus 16:11-13). The only place of mercy is Christ the Mercyseat! The only place of grace is the throne of grace. They came without Aaron, without GodŐs high priest. All who vainly imagine that they come to God at their time and by their choice always come without Christ. They brought their own fire, not the fire from off the altar before the Lord, not the fire which came down from heaven (Leviticus 16:12). All will-worshippers bring strange fire to God. And these two sons of Aaron were consumed in the wrath of God. So it has always been and shall forever be. Those who come to God like Cain must forever bear the mark of Cain in hell.
Faith in Christ
Be sure you understand what the Holy Spirit here teaches us. It is a lesson repeated throughout the Book of God. — If we would come to God, we must come to him in the way he has prescribed, ordained, and revealed. This is exactly what we read in 1 Chronicles 13 and 15. We cannot worship God upon an altar of our own making. We cannot come to God with the fire of our own kindling. We cannot bring the censor of our own incense.
Blessed be his name, there is a way of access to God! Sinners can come to the holy Lord God with the assurance of acceptance with him by the blood of Christ. But the only way sinners can come to God and be accepted of him is by faith in his dear Son (Acts 4:12; Hebrews 10:19-22). Christ is able to save unto the uttermost all who come to God by him. But if you try to climb up to heaven by any other means, or by incorporating something of your own making with Christ, God will consume you in his holy wrath for trampling under your feet the blood of his dear Son! — Remember Uzza!
Christ alone is our Sin-offering. Christ alone is our High Priest. Christ alone is the Sacrifice by which the fire of GodŐs hot wrath and holy justice is satisfied (Leviticus 9). Christ alone has incense acceptable to God (1 John 2:1-2).
Peace in Believing
Faith in Christ gives us peace in the midst of heartache and trouble . — ŇThen 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 peaceÓ (v. 3). ŇObserve,Ó Robert Hawker suggests, Ňwhat effect grace had upon the mind of Moses. No doubt the awful event struck terror and dismay in every beholder. But while some trembled Moses adored. It is sweet in our afflictions to eye the LordŐs appointment, and depend upon it. As long as we are enabled to keep in view divine wisdom, we shall never despond by human sufferings. Observe also the pious frame of AaronŐs mind. No doubt his soul was convulsed with agony. It must have been visible in his very looks. Yet Aaron held his peace.Ó
Nadab and Abihu may have been very impressive to men in their religious performances, but what they did in offering their strange fire was to spit in GodŐs face. Their religion was nothing short of painted blasphemy, because there was nothing in it that sanctified GodŐs name, nothing in it that honored God. There was nothing in it that glorified God before the people.
The only way we can sanctify God, the only way we can honor him, the only way we can glorify him is by faith in Christ. Yes, we would honor him in our lives; but we cannot do so. We would sanctify him in our services; but our best services are full of sin. We would glorify our God with every thought, every word, every deed, and with every second of our lives. But that we cannot do, except by faith in his Son. Nothing else honors him. Nothing else glorifies him. Nothing else sets him apart as God, but Christ and redemption by his blood (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
GodŐs glory is redemption by Christ. And he is glorified only when we come to him by faith in Christ. All acts of will-worship are but acts of rebellion against God. We will either worship God in accordance with his Word or we will perish under his wrath (Hebrews 12:25).
Baptism (the immersion of believers in the confession of Christ) must be performed in the way he has prescribed. To alter GodŐs ordinance is to despise his Word and pervert the gospel it portrays, proclaiming that righteousness can be had some other way. Infant sprinkling is a perversion of the ordinance and a perversion of the gospel it portrays, which is salvation by the obedience and death of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 3:13-17).
The LordŐs Supper must be eaten in the way he has prescribed (The unleavened bread representing the body of Christ crushed under the wrath of God and wine representing his blood poured out in death as our Substitute). To alter the ordinance is to despise his Word and pervert the gospel pictured in it, declaring that the incarnation and death of Christ as our God-man Substitute was not necessary.
ŇAnd Aaron held his peace.Ó — What an astounding statement! Aaron took one look at his lost, rebel sons and another at his glorified God, seeing that what God had done he had done because his sons had despised GodŐs Son, and he held his peace.
So it shall be in the last day. Our God and Savior shall, in that great and terrible day, point to the unbelieving as objects of his just displeasure and say, ŇDepart ye cursed into everlasting fire.Ó And the redeemed of the Lord shall respond, as the smoke of their torments ascends up to heaven, ŇHallelujah!Ó Yes, the righteous shall rejoice when in righteous judgment God washes his feet in the blood of the wicked (Psalm 58:10). The glory of God will be so fully and perfectly manifest that it shall hide all else from our view. His glory will cause us to cry, ŇHallelujah!Ó (Revelation 19:3). The torments of the damned will cause no sorrow among the redeemed. We shall hold our peace, and more. — We shall sing the praises of our God in the exercise of his righteous judgments.
As it shall be in the last day, it should be now. Let us humbly bow to God our Savior, who performs all things for us (Psalm 57:2; Romans 15:13). He is too wise to err, too strong to fail, and too good to do wrong!
Verses 4-7 give us an account of the funeral of these two rebels. Devout men carried Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation for him (Acts 8:2). But Nadab and Abihu died like Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:6-10) and were burned by the command of God as unbelieving rebels outside the camp. How striking the difference that is made between them and the just who are translated and never taste death (John 11:25; Revelation 14:3). Of Nadab and Abihu we readÉ
ŇAnd Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said unto them, Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp. So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp; as Moses had said. And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD hath kindled. And ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you. And they did according to the word of Moses.Ó (Leviticus 10:4-7)
MosesŐ command appears strange, even harsh, at first glance. But there was a special, specific reason for it. Verse 7 explains it. — Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar were GodŐs priests. The anointing oil of the Lord was upon them. They were public men. They represented the people before God and God before the people. Therefore, they were not allowed to show any parental or brotherly tenderness at the loss of Nadab and Abihu. Like Ezekiel in the loss of his wife (Ezekiel 24:16-24), they stood as a sign before all Israel declaring, ŇThe ways of the Lord are right.Ó There was something more important than their great, terrible pain. The glory of God and the people of God were more important.
Lead by Example
Read verses 8-11 and learn that we must lead by example, putting a difference between that which is holy and that which is profane.
ŇAnd the LORD spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations: And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.Ó
How often it is that seasons of great heaviness, great sorrow, and great trouble are the times of our learning. So it was here. The Lord God came to Aaron in his great pain and taught him how to be a better, more useful servant in the house of God. The essence of the lesson was this. — If we would lead others to know and worship our God, we must be calm and steady, serving him with clear minds of understanding and judgment. We must not be intoxicated with the wine of BabylonŐs fornications. We must not be drunk with the strong drink of self will. Rather, we must be filled with the Spirit of God, that we may in our behavior display the distinction between the holy and the profane, between the clean and the unclean.
In the midst of great heaviness, sorrow, and trouble, the Lord God sent Aaron and his sons a word of sweet assurance.
ŇAnd Moses spake unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons that were left, Take the meat offering that remaineth of the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and eat it without leaven beside the altar: for it is most holy: And ye shall eat it in the holy place, because it is thy due, and thy sonsŐ due, of the sacrifices of the LORD made by fire: for so I am commanded. And the wave breast and heave shoulder shall ye eat in a clean place; thou, and thy sons, and thy daughters with thee: for they be thy due, and thy sonsŐ due, which are given out of the sacrifices of peace offerings of the children of Israel. The heave shoulder and the wave breast shall they bring with the offerings made by fire of the fat, to wave it for a wave offering before the LORD; and it shall be thine, and thy sonsŐ with thee, by a statute forever; as the LORD hath commanded.Ó (Leviticus 10:12-15)
Why does Moses here repeat, almost verbally, the instructions given in chapter six? He does so because he who is our God is a God full of compassion.
Try to picture Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar, as they stood speechless before God, before his servant Moses, and before the congregation of the Lord. I think I can almost hear their thoughts. — The sin and rebellion of Nadab and Abihu was no private thing. Our household has publicly dishonored God. We are now no longer fit to serve the Lord. How can we lead this people in the worship of God? How can we expect anyone to pay any attention to us, when our own family has despised our God and perished in a public display of his wrath?
Over the years, I have received calls from terribly troubled pastors, deacons, elders, and Bible teachers telling me of some horribly evil thing done by one in their families. Ashamed and embarrassed, they thought, or others told them, that they must resign their post, that they were unfit to serve God. My counsel to such has always been the same as MosesŐ counsel here to Aaron and his sons. — Keep your post. God has not forsaken, and he never will.
I am certain it was for just this reason that the Lord sent his prophet to Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Lest they should suppose that they had forfeited their privileges by that awful sin committed by Nadab and Abihu, they were here assured that all their privileges remained as full as ever.
Sweet consolation this is! Aaron and his sons, in their saddest hour, were reminded that the mercy, love, and grace of the immutable God are immutable. With this sweet assurance of unbroken, unbreakable acceptance, the Lord graciously bound up their wounded hearts. He wiped away their bitter tears by assuring them of his unvarying and unchangeable love. He manifested himself in their bitterest hour as their reconciled God. Thus, he poured the oil of his grace into their hearts.
Child of God, never imagine that your trials, be they ever so great and ever so bitter, are an indication of GodŐs displeasure. They are not!
My soul through many changes goes.
His love no variation knows!
In verses 16-18 we see that there is only one sin offering by which the law and justice of God are satisfied; and that one offering is our crucified Christ.
ŇAnd Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and, behold, it was burnt: and he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron which were left alive, saying, Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD? Behold, the blood of it was not brought in within the holy place: ye should indeed have eaten it in the holy place, as I commanded.Ó
Moses here chides Aaron and his sons for burning and not eating the sin offering, according to the plain letter of the law. But AaronŐs reply displayed the deep reverence of his heart for his God and Savior, Christ Jesus the true Sin-offering.
ŇAnd Aaron said unto Moses, Behold, this day have they offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD; and such things have befallen me: and if I had eaten the sin offering today, should it have been accepted in the sight of the LORD?Ó (Leviticus 10:19)
Aaron said to Moses, ŇThe sin offering was the offering made for and by Nadab and Abihu, who brought with it their strange fire. If we had eaten it, we would have suggested to all the people that their offering was acceptable to God; we would have been as guilty as they, and we would have been slain by the fire of GodŐs wrath, too.Ó — ŇAnd when Moses heard that, he was contentÓ (v. 20).
Though the letter of the law (which kills) was broken, the spirit of the law (which is life) was fulfilled. Being circumcised in heart, Aaron worshipped God in Spirit and in truth, trusted Christ alone, and placed no confidence in the flesh. He looked beyond the typical sin offering to the true Sin-offering, and Moses (the law and all its demands) was content.
The Lord Jesus Christ, who was made to be sin for us, is our only Sin-offering (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). The Son of God, our all-glorious Christ, is the effectual Sin-offering (Isaiah 53:6-11; Daniel 9:24). Like Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar, lay your hands upon the head of this Sin-offering, trust the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and like them you shall stand accepted in the courts of the LordŐs house forever.