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Sacrifice, Submission, Steadfastness, Sobriety
“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. And 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. And 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 for ever 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.” (Leviticus 10:1-11)
We cannot and will not serve our families or the good of men’s souls, and we cannot and will not be useful to men and truly useful to society as a whole, if we are not first and foremost the servants of God. And if we would serve God as we make our pilgrimage through this world these four things are essential: Sacrifice, Submission, Steadfastness, Sobriety.
The Camp of Israel
As they journeyed through the wilderness, whenever Israel set up camp, whenever they set up the tabernacle, there were three distinct circles. At the center of the camp, the innermost circle, at the very heart of the camp was the sanctuary, where the Lord God established his worship, where God promised to meet his people. That sanctuary and all that it contained was a type and picture of our Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:1-9).
Try to picture the camp of Israel in your minds. The outer circle of the camp of Israel was made up of those men of war appointed by God for the defense of the nation (Numbers 1-2). Next, there was the circle of the Levites surrounding the tabernacle (Numbers 3-4). The Levites were appointed of God to maintain his worship among his people. But in the center, at the very heart of the camp, at the core of the nation’s life, was the sanctuary and those divinely appointed priests who lived and died ministering about the holy things of the Lord — “Everyone according to his service and according to his burden. Thus were they numbered…as the Lord commanded Moses” (Numbers 4:49).
This divinely required order was not intended to be a model for church order, dividing “clergy” from “laity.” Rather, by these things the Lord gives us instructions regarding the spheres of our lives in this world as God’s priests. We must never forget that as believers, as those who are born of God and adorned with the garments of salvation in Christ, we are first and foremost the servants of God, priests of the most high God. All believers are made to be God’s holy nation and God’s royal priesthood in Christ. That is how God the Holy Spirit describes us in the 2nd chapter of 1st Peter. That is the same description given of God’s elect in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:4-6; 5:9-10).
We are God’s priests. Yet, we move in all the circles of the camp. The believer is and must be a man of war, constantly engaged in conflict (Romans 7:14-23; Ephesians 6:11-17; 1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7). We are Christ’s soldiers, engaged in holy warfare. Yet, we are, like the Levites, ministers to God’s people. Each believer walks about in the midst of God’s kingdom and people serving his brethren according to the ability God has given him and in the sphere in which God has put him (Matthew 25:14-15; Philippians 2:1-8). And every child of God is a worshipping, sacrificing priest, ministering unto God in the holy place (Hebrews 13:15-16; 1 Peter 2:5-9), not part of the time, but all the time, not just on Sunday, but every day.
We cannot function properly, we cannot walk aright in any sphere of life if we are not first and foremost serving God in the holy place, if we are not first and foremost engaged in the business of worshipping and honoring our God. Christianity is not isolationism. Christianity does not involve hiding from the world in a cloister, a convent, or a commune. Christianity is living in this world for the glory of God, to do the will of God. Christianity is a life that worships God.
Here are four things that are necessary in the worship of God. This is what God taught Aaron the day he killed his sons, Nadab and Abihu. Here are four things absolutely necessary in the worship of God.
If we would worship God, if we would come to God and be accepted of him, we must come with a sacrifice.
Everyone knows, by the law of God written on his conscience, that he must have a sacrifice. Man has demonstrated that fact throughout history. But it is not sufficient just to bring a sacrifice. We must bring the sacrifice God requires. We must bring a perfect sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice of infinite merit, a blood sacrifice, a sacrifice of God’s providing, a sacrifice God has accepted. This is what the Lord God shows us in verses 1-2. Nadab and Abihu, like Cain (Genesis 4:3), despised God’s Sacrifice, the Lord Jesus Christ who was represented in the legal sacrifice (Leviticus 9:15-24), and “offered strange fire before the Lord.”
“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.” (vv. 1-2)
No doubt, these sons of Aaron brought a burnt-offering as God had commanded. But instead of bringing the fire of God from off the altar, they brought fire of their own with the offering of God, mixing their provision with God’s provision. Symbolically, they tried to mix grace and works, law and gospel, freewill and free grace, their righteousness with the righteousness of God. Refusing to submit to the righteousness of God by faith in Christ, they went about to establish righteousness for themselves by works (Romans 9:31-10:4).
We cannot come to God, but by the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father, but by him. If you attempt to come to God by some other means, if you attempt to mix your own righteousness with Christ’s righteousness, your own works with the merit of his blood, you trample under your feet the blood of Christ; and God will consume you in his wrath.
The worship of God, faith in Christ, involves submission, the surrender of all things to Christ. This is what the Lord taught Aaron and teaches us in verse 3-6.
“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. And 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.”
What an astounding, instructive word we have at the end of verse three. — “And Aaron held his peace.” I find that utterly remarkable.
What a solemn picture this is! Aaron’s two sons are struck dead at his side, slain by the fire of divine judgment. He had but just seen them clothed in their priestly garments, washed, robed, and anointed. They had stood with him before the Lord, inaugurated with him into the priestly office. They offered with him the divinely appointed sacrifices. They saw with him the fire of God as it fell upon the sacrifice and consumed it. They had heard the shout of triumph ringing through the assembly of adoring worshippers.
Nadab and Abihu were present and witnesses to all these things just the day before. Now, they lay at Aaron’s feet, dead, killed by the hand of God. What does he say? What does he do? Nothing. He stands in dead silence. Broken hearted, but silent. Hurting beyond imagination, but silent. — “Aaron held his peace.” — “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it” (Psalm 39:9). — Like Eli after him, Aaron said, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.”
In silent awe and reverent acquiescence, Aaron bowed his head in the house of God and worshipped. The pillars of his house were shaken. His heart was broken. His sons were dead. But Aaron knew that there was something more important than his house, his heart, and his sons. The glory of God, the people of God, the will of God, and the worship of God were more important!
Aaron stands before us here as a deeply-impressive commentary upon the words of the Psalmist. — “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints; and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (Psalm 89:7). — “Who would not fear thee, O King of nations? — There is none like unto thee” (Jeremiah 10:7).
Aaron’s sons despised God’s sacrifice; they despised his Savior, his Christ, his God. For that they were killed in the fury of God’s wrath. Not only did Aaron not rebel, he bowed. He said, by his silence, God has done that which is right. In the last part of the chapter, we are told that he refused on that day to eat the burnt-offering they had brought into the holy place, saying to Moses, If I eat their sacrifice, I would by that act approve of their sacrilege and sin against the Lord (vv. 16-20).
Faith comes to God only by the merits of Christ, with the Sacrifice God requires. And faith worships God in submission, humbling itself under the mighty hand of God.
The worship of God also requires steadfastness.
“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.” (vv. 6-7)
The Lord God spoke plainly to Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar. But let us be sure we hear what he said. This is God’s word to us, as well. He said to them, as he says to us, “You are not your own. You belong to God” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
As God’s priests, as servants of the most high God, they must not bewail the burning which the Lord kindled.
Those who were outside, those who were not the priests of God might mourn, weep, and bewail the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, but not those who served in the house of God. They were to worship, giving glory to God. Hear God, my brother, my sister. We belong to God. O Sprit of God, give me that steadfastness of grace that will never let me forget for a moment that I belong to God, that the blood of Christ is upon me, upon my ear, my thumb, and my great toe, that the anointing of God is upon me!
What does the picture before us in Leviticus 10 tell us? Just this — If we are God’s people, God’s priests, God’s servants, we are to live above the world. By the blood of Christ, by the anointing of his Holy Spirit, we have been brought into another world, another kingdom, another sphere of life. That does not mean we do not feel things that others feel. We feel them, just like others. Indeed, we feel them much more sharply than others. Aaron knew his boys died under the wrath of God. I have no doubt that he felt it painfully. We are not stoics; but we are priests of the most high God! As such, we are to live above the world, even above the range of nature’s influence (Colossians 3:1-3).
For the glory of God, for the gospel’s sake, for Christ’s sake, for the sake of men’s souls, we must rise above the claims of the world, the passions of our hearts, and the influence of nature, abiding ever in the house of God, in the sanctuary.
Robert Hawker, commenting on Leviticus 10:3, wrote, “It is sweet in our afflictions to eye the Lord’s appointment and depend upon it. As long as we are enabled to keep in view divine wisdom, we shall never despond by human sufferings.”
Most everyone worships God and offers him praise for recovery from sickness, any great boon of providence, and things we look upon as good. Believers, like Job of old, worship and praise the Lord God when he gives and when he takes away, in birth and in bereavement. Faith in Christ steadfastly bows to and worships God as God.
That does not mean that God’s saints are immune to pain. Sorrow commonly accompanies submission and steadfastness. Let no one imagine that sorrow and expressions of sorrow, pain, and grief imply rebellion, unbelief, or even weakness of faith. They do not. Living men and women have hearts; and broken hearts weep. Aaron and his sons, being God’s priests, were required of God to remain steadfast in their service as God’s priests. But Moses specifically said, “Let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning, which the Lord hath kindled” (v. 6).
I find that instructive and helpful. As old John Trapp stated, “It is fit enough, ordinarily, that the body, when sown in corruption, be watered by the tears of those that plant it in the earth.” It is absurd hypocrisy for hurting people to pretend not to hurt. Pain and sorrow, weeping and tears, mourning and grief are not an indication of weakness rebellion, and unbelief. We sorrow not as those who have no hope, but God’s saints do feel sorrow. When Nadab and Abihu were slain, Moses said, “let the whole house of Israel bewail the burning of the Lord.” — “Let the whole house of Israel bewail” God’s judgment upon them. “Let the whole house of Israel bewail” their rebellion, the cause of God’s judgment. And “let the whole house of Israel bewail” Aaron’s, Eleazar’s, and Ithamar’s painful loss.”
In verse 7, the Lord gives Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar a word of sweet assurance. — “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.”
First, he warned them not to leave their place, not to go out of the tabernacle, “lest ye die.” We must persevere. And, if we are God’s, we shall persevere. Next, he assured them that they were still God’s priests. — “The anointing of the Lord is upon you!” — God is faithful! In verses 12-15 the Lord reassured them that all the rights and privileges of priests in the sanctuary were theirs still. God does not even impute our own sins to us, if we are in Christ. He certainly will not impute our family’s sins to us! Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar were chosen, redeemed, called, and accepted in, with, and by Christ, the Anointed One. Then, we read, “And they did according to the word of Moses.”
Nothing is sweeter to the heaven-born soul in time of trouble than the sweet assurance of God’s free, saving grace and immutable favor in Christ, assurance of his salvation, assurance of his sovereignty, assurance of his goodness, assurance of his care
And nothing is more difficult, nothing more contrary to nature than this steadfastness of faith in Christ. They not only bowed to God’s will, his obvious judgment upon Nadab and Abihu, but also continued steadfast in the worship and service of God.
What is required in the worship of God? What is involved in this thing we call faith in Christ? — Sacrifice — Submission — Steadfastness. And if we would worship and serve our God, we must live before him soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.
“And 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.” (vv. 8-11)
While this word from God was a literal prohibition against the use of wine or strong drink by Israel’s priests when they were engaged in their priestly services, it is not a prohibition against the use of such by God’s people. The Word of God nowhere teaches that believers are not to use wine or alcoholic drinks. The Word of God prohibits drunkenness and intemperance, but nowhere requires total abstinence.
What, then, is the significance of these verses to us? It is just this. — Wine and strong drink are things that excite and exhilarate nature. They commonly cause men and women to act according to their basest passions, losing moderation and reason. They prohibit that calm, well balanced condition of heart and mind that is essential to walking with, worshipping, and serving God.
This is the doctrine of the passage. — We must not allow our judgment or behavior in spiritual matters to be clouded by our carnal passions. If we do, we will not be able to distinguish between holy and unholy, between clean and unclean. If we are going to honor God, if we are going to serve Christ and his people in this world, if we worship God, we must be able to make that distinction. We must be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but, rather, we must ever be filled with the Spirit.
If we would worship God, if we would serve him as priests in his house, we must do so soberly (2 Timothy 2:15-26; James 1:27). We must flee the youthful lusts of profane and vain babblings. We must purge ourselves from all “strange fire.” We must keep ourselves unspotted from the world. We must keep ourselves in the love of God. We must keep our hearts with all diligence.
There is a message here regarding the assembly of God’s saints in public worship, too. We must studiously avoid those things that rouse passions, excite our carnal natures, and stimulate our base emotions in the house of God. When our Master overthrew the moneychangers’ tables, he said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” — Not A House of Politics! — Not A House of Economics! — Not A House of Entertainment! — Not A House of Sensuality! — A House of Prayer! — A House of Worship! — A House of Preaching! — A House of Praise!
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-24)
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)
This is what it is to call upon the name of the Lord. This is what it is to believe God. This is what it is to worship him. It is coming to God by faith in Christ, his Sacrifice. It is bowing to the Lord God in humble submission, surrendering all things to him, his will, his dominion, his glory. It is steadfast adherence to Christ. It is living here, by the teaching of grace, in sobriety, as priests of the most high God.