Leviticus 10:1-3 NASB
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the LORD spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will a be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.’” So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.
Leviticus may seem like an arduous read to many Christians. However, like the rest of the Old Testament, it’s a necessary part of Scripture that points to Christ. My recent study of the Pentateuch’s third book reminded me of God’s perfection and my need for Jesus Christ.
Under Mosaic Law, the Levitical priesthood was charged with presenting sacrifices to the Lord in order to atone for sins. This task was indeed dangerous if He was not approached with reverence and humility. For me, the most vivid picture of man’s depravity is illustrated when Aaron’s two oldest sons were consumed and destroyed by the Lord’s fire. Nawab and Abihu did not follow God’s prescribed instructions for offering incense (Exodus 30:9; Exodus 30:34-38). They used “strange fire.” The Hebrew word translated “strange” means “unauthorized or profane.” It can be inferred that the flames they applied were not taken from the brazen altar but from some other source. It is possible that the two priests were drunk based on God’s instructions after the event (Leviticus 10:8-9). Perhaps they could not remember what was a violation and what was not. Regardless, they were careless, irreverent, and lacked consideration for God.
The lessons of the strange fire leave us with a sense of humility. Nawab and Abihu’s indiscretion and deaths provide us with the following takeaways:
God is Holy
God warned the priests and the congregation of death if irreverence was displayed (Exodus 19:21-25). When sin entered into His presence, it was promptly destroyed. As shown in Nawab and Abihu’s case, our God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:28-29). He will ultimately burn up everything that is unholy. The sacrificial system not only pointed to Christ, but it illustrated God’s holiness…a holiness that is incompatible with sin.
Holiness describes a state of perfection and being set apart. God is exalted above His creation. His nature is true and unchanging. Yahweh is also a God of order, and He does not welcome chaos and rebellion.
Our Sinfulness Separates Us from God
Just as the sacrificial system illustrated God’s holiness, it also demonstrated man’s sinfulness. Man cannot reconcile himself to Holy God. It is not possible without the Lord’s work and sovereignty…it is beyond any human effort. One sinful error would have us eternally separated from God if left to our own devices. Furthermore, our depravity cannot withstand the presence of His glory (Exodus; 19:21; Exodus 33:18-23). The strange fire incident exhibits the serious nature of our fallen disposition.
Jesus is Our Reconciliation to a Holy God
Ultimately, the strange fire shows us our need for a sinless Savior. Without the Lord’s intervention, there would be no hope. We have no ability to help ourselves. However, the Lord took it upon Himself to give us a perfect Mediator (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Timothy 2:5-6) and a New Covenant (Luke 22:20). Jesus, the final Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49), quenched the Lord’s wrath for the sin of those who would trust in Him. Christ has replaced the Levitical system consisting of fallen men. He is the ultimate High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). We now have confidence to go before the throne of grace (Hebrews 10:19-22).
Because of Christ’s superiority, believers will discover God’s glory and perfection for eternity. We’ll be forever amazed that the Lord loved us enough to rescue us from total depravity. Oh Holy God, thank you for your mercy.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses: “Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to stare, and many of them perish. Also have the priests who approach the Lord consecrate themselves, or else the Lord will break out against them.” And Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, ‘Set boundaries around the mountain and consecrate it.’” Then the Lord said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, or He will break out against them. So Moses went down to the people and told them.”
You shall hang up the veil under the clasps, and shall bring in the ark of the testimony there within the veil; and the veil shall serve as a partition for you between the holy place and the holy of holies.
Exodus 33:18-23 Then Moses said, “Please, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion to whom I will show compassion.” He further said, “You cannot see My face, for mankind shall not see Me and live!” Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”
Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.
Leviticus 20:26 So you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have singled you out from the peoples to be Mine.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.
And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it's going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
1 Corinthians 15:45-49
So also it is written: “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” The last Adam was a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy one, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly one, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
1 Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let’s hold firmly to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need.
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let’s show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.