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Chapter 30

 

Strange Fire

Counterfeit Religion

 

“And 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. 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.” (Leviticus 10:1-3)

 

The history of mankind is a history that should be written in tears and read with weeping eyes. The slime of the serpent runs through every page. Ours is a history of rebellion, sin, and apostasy. Sin ruined man; and ruined man spoils everything. Put him in a position of highest dignity, and he will degrade himself. Endow him with the greatest possible privileges, and he will abuse them. Shower blessings upon him without limit, and he will show himself ungrateful. Put him in the most impressive environment, and he will corrupt it.

 

            Honesty compels anyone who reads the history of our race to acknowledge that what I have said, painful and shameful as it is, is nonetheless so. Everything touched by our foul, leprous hands is quickly defiled. The nature of man, in its fairest forms and under the most favorable circumstances, is corruption and sin, nothing more. So it has been ever since the sin and fall of our father Adam.

 

            Ours is a history of failure, constantly repeated failure, rebellion, constantly repeated rebellion, and apostasy, constantly, repeated apostasy. It has been so from the beginning. When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, everything was perfect, until Adam ruined it by revolting from his almighty, wise, and good Creator (Genesis 3) When the Lord God, in electing love and sovereign mercy, had preserved Noah and his family from the flood of his wrath and placed them in a new world, Noah was soon found in a drunken stupor (Genesis 9). When Israel was, by God’s outstretched arm, brought out of Egypt and fed by manna from heaven, the ransomed nation lusted for the leeks of darkness. When the Lord God brought them into the land of Canaan, they “forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:13). When Solomon, the wisest of our fallen race, was placed at the very summit of earthly power and glory, with untold wealth at his feet and all the resources of the world at his command, “his wives turned away his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11). No sooner had the blessings of the gospel begun to be preached in all the earth than it became necessary for the Holy Spirit to warn the early church to be on guard against the “grievous wolves” of freewill/works religion, the “apostasy” of the professed church from the gospel of God’s grace and glory in Christ, and the corrupting of the Word and worship of God in the name of righteousness and godliness (Acts 20:29; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 2 Peter 3; Jude 4). According to the Revelation given to John, the history of our race will be concluded with greater shame than we have yet seen or imagined, once Satan has been loosed for a little season to wreak havoc in the world (Revelation 20:1-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

 

            Man is a fallen creature who continues to fall until he falls into hell, unless God steps in to stop him, a rebel who continues to rebel until he is cast into hell, unless God converts him by his grace. These facts, to some degree, prepare us for the things recorded in the opening words of Leviticus 10.

 

            What a contrast this is to the scene that closed the 9th chapter! There everything was done “as the Lord commanded,” and the result was a manifestation of God’s glory. Here something is done which “the Lord commanded them not,” and the result is judgment. The echo of the shout of victory had hardly died away before the elements of apostasy and spurious worship were prepared. No sooner were the sons of Aaron consecrated as priests of God than they deliberately abandoned the worship and service of the Almighty. No sooner were those priests inaugurated than they grievously failed in the discharge of their priestly duties. Nadab and Abihu “offered strange fire before the Lord” and perished under the manifest wrath of God.

 

            What great wonders and miraculous things these two men had seen and experienced! They saw the wonders of God in the Land of Ham. They crossed the Red Sea. What great privileges they had enjoyed! These sons of Aaron were present when the glory of the Lord was revealed, when the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice upon the altar. They had worshipped God on that momentous day with Moses and Aaron! Yet, they perished under the wrath of God!

 

            Learn from them this lesson, a lesson that needs to be sounded around the world in this day of charismatic tomfoolery. — Miracles will never produce grace, not even true miracles, let alone the pretense miracles of Satan’s ambassadors who flood the world today. Miracles do not produce faith. Miracles cannot convince men of sin, of righteousness, and judgment. Only the Spirit of God can do that; and he does it by the preaching of the gospel.

 

            I call your attention to three things about Nadab and Abihu set before us in these three verses.

 

Their Sin

 

What was their sin? What was the failure of these two men? What was their crime? Were they spurious priests? Were they mere pretenders? By no means. Nadab and Abihu were genuine sons of Aaron, true members of the priestly family, and duly appointed priests. Their vessels of ministry and their priestly garments were exactly such as God required.

 

            What, then, was their sin? Did they stain the curtains of the tabernacle with human blood or pollute the sacred precincts with some crime that shocks moral decency? No. Their sin was just this — “They offered strange fire before the Lord which he commanded them not” (v. 1).

 

            Nadab and Abihu offered fire of their own making before the Lord. They offered that which the Lord “commanded them not,” that which the Lord God had expressly forbidden. Like the sacrifice of Cain, like the prayer of the Pharisee (Luke 18:11), their worship was nothing but will worship, an act of contempt for God, a trampling underfoot of the blood of Christ. Their strange fire was a manifestation of self-righteousness, conceit, and rebellion.

 

            In offering the fire of their own making, Nadab and Abihu displayed an abhorrence of the gift of God. The fire that burned on the altar was God’s gift, God’s provision, God’s work (Leviticus 16:12). As such, it was a picture and type of Christ (Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 9:15; John 3:16). God required the fire he provided (Leviticus 16:12). Nadab and Abihu thought their own fire was good enough. God requires Christ, only Christ; but they despised Christ and said, “Who needs a Substitute? Who needs blood atonement? Who needs an Intercessor? Who needs forgiveness, justification, pardon, reconciliation, and imputed righteousness?” Like the Jews of Paul’s day and the vast majority of men and women in every age, like some who read these lines, Nadab and Abihu followed after righteousness, but did not obtain righteousness, because they went about to establish their own righteousness, and refused to submit themselves to the righteousness of God in Christ (Romans 9:31-10:4). Nadab and Abihu went into the great harlot, Babylon,[1] presuming that they could come to God and worship him as they pleased (Proverbs 7:24-27).

 

Their Judgment

 

The Spirit of God tells us of their judgment, the judgment of God upon them, in verse 2. — “And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” How deeply solemn! The Lord God dwelt in the midst of his people to govern, to judge, and to act, according to the claims of his nature, in mercy and truth, in grace and righteousness, in love and justice. At the end of Leviticus 9 we read, “And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat.” That was God’s acceptance of the true sacrifice. But, here, that same fire is the fire of his wrath and judgment upon two self-righteous priests who despised his sacrifice. The burnt offering went up as a sweet odor. Their “strange fire” was rejected as an abomination. God was glorified in the burnt offering, but was despised in their “strange fire.”

 

            Holiness and justice, righteousness and truth accepted and delighted in that which was a type of Christ and his sacrifice. But that which was the fruit of man’s corrupt will (never more hideous and abominable than when engaged in the pretense of worshiping and serving God) was rejected.

 

            Nadab and Abihu perished at the hand of him whom they professed to serve. Like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), they perished not because they were consumed by zeal without knowledge, but because they came before God in presumption without fear. Nadab and Abihu were killed and sent to hell by the very thing they despised (Luke 20:17-18). That very same Christ who was offered upon God’s altar as the Sacrifice for sin shall sit in judgment upon God’s throne. He who was the Sacrifice consumed by the fire of God’s wrath will be a consuming fire to destroy all who despise him in that great day.

 

            Nadab and Abihu “died before the Lord. We read in Revelation 14, “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.” To die in the Lord is to die in Christ, in grace, in faith. But Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord, without Christ, without grace, without faith, without a sacrifice, without hope. They were carried out from the presence of God, carried out from the camp of Israel (v. 4), and cast away in the place of darkness. Thus, they were made to eat the fruit of their own way and were filled with their own devices (Proverbs 1:23-33; 29:1).

 

            Nadab and Abihu were carried out from the presence of the holy Lord God in their priestly coats (v. 5). Their priestly garments could not protect them any more than an empty religious profession and refuge of lies will protect the lost religionist from the wrath of God (Ecclesiastes 8:10; Isaiah 28:14-20).

 

Their Lesson

 

The lesson God the Holy Spirit here teaches us by these two men is written in bold, blazing letters in this third verse. — If we would come to God and be accepted of him, if we would live and not die, we must come to God through the merits of Christ’s blood and righteousness alone, we must come to him in a way that sanctifies and glorifies him in all his holy attributes.

 

“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.” (v. 3)

 

            If any man were permitted to defile the sanctuary of the divine presence by “strange fire” of his own works, the very throne of God would be toppled, his honor destroyed, and his righteousness defiled. Freewill/works religion is nothing less than the attempt of fallen man to creep into God’s presence in impressive clothes, rape his righteousness, topple his throne, and stab him to death! We are never allowed to introduce our own devices into the worship of God. All ceremonialism, ritualism, and sacramentalism are nothing but “strange fire,” the incense of abomination, and false worship — counterfeit religion.

 

            The same is true regarding every effort of man to produce righteousness for himself. Man’s very best attempts at righteousness and atonement by the works of his own hands and the exercise of his own will are an absolute abomination in the sight of God. The blasphemous teachings of salvation by making a decision (Romans 9:16), justification by works (Galatians 2:16), and sanctification by works (Galatians 3:1-3) are all “strange fire”, by which the followers of Nadab and Abihu are carried to hell.

 

            Every sinner saved by the grace of God, knowing the free and full forgiveness of his sins through the precious, sin-atoning blood of Christ, worships God in spirit and in truth. He rejoices in Christ Jesus and has no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:1-3).

 

            Come, O weary, helpless, needy sinner, come now to God by Christ! Come, seeking mercy, grace, and eternal life by the merits of Christ alone. — “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!

 

            Blessed be God, the time is rapidly approaching when the “strange fire” of freewill/works religion will be quenched forever! The throne of God shall soon cease to be insulted by the incense self-righteousness ascending from the altar of freewill. Soon, all that is spurious shall be abolished, and the whole universe shall be as one great, magnificent temple, in which the only true God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost shall be worshipped throughout the endless ages of eternity.

 

Grateful incense thus, ascending

Ever to the Father’s throne;

Every knee to Jesus bending,

And Christ confessed with every tongue!

 

All the glory God receiving!

Equal honors to the Son!

In the Son all glory beaming,

Makes the Godhead’s glory known.

 

By the Spirit’s gracious calling,

Sinners ransomed by the Lamb,

Crowned with light and joy unfading

Hail Him as the great I AM.

 

 

 

 

 

Don Fortner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Babylon is all free will, works religion, all false religion.