Nadab and Abihu were the sons of Aaron, the nephews of Moses (Num.3:2-3). They were priests of God. They were to offer the sacrifices for the people and Leviticus tells us what those sacrifices were and God's Law concerning how they were to be offered. Chapter one speaks of the burnt offering, chapter two, the grain offering, chapter three, the peace offering, chapter four, the sin offering, and chapter five, the trespass offering. Chapters six and seven outlines God's Law concerning how these offering were to be administered. In chapter eight, Aaron and his sons are consecrated after Moses gathered the people together and said to the congregation: "This is what the Lord commanded to be done" (v.5). The chapter ends this way: "So Aaron and his sons did all the things that the Lord had commanded by the hand of Moses" (v.36). In chapter nine we see the burnt offering offered "according to the prescribed manner" (v.16). God showed His approval of their obedience and "fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar" (v.24). So far, so good.
Now, we read from Lev.10:1-2: "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered strange (profane) fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So, fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." Take note of the expression "which He had not commanded."
The same fire that went out form the Lord to show His approval of their sacrifice offering in chapter nine, is the same fire that fell upon these newly appointed priests, and in violence, they died. What changed? What went wrong? What did they do? They presumed to do something in worship which God had not commanded them to do.
Exodus 27:1-3 and 38:1-3 describes the altar of burnt offering along with its utensils, including the firepans (censers), which belonged to the altar. Thus, the censers were as sacred as the altar itself, and that being the case, only fire from a holy object (the altar) would be suitable to put in the censer. Leviticus 16:12 says the priest was to "take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, with the hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die." Thus, Nadab and Abihu did not get the fire from the altar, but from some other source, and they possibly used some other mixture of incense, than that which the Lord authorized. "You shall not offer strange incense on it…" (Ex.30:9). Strange incense would be incense other than the incense that God had appointed. By the same token, a strange priest was a priest other than the priests whom God had appointed i.e, a priest "not of the seed of Aaron" (Num.16:40). Strange fire was fire that God had not commanded -- taken from some other place than the altar of burnt offering, and perhaps with strange incense on it. Thus, these two priests dared to worship God in a manner which He had not authorized, which was pure presumption.
FAST-FORWARD TO TODAY
So many people live by the philosophy, that if God has not said "not to do it" i.e. "if He has no command against a thing," then, it's ok to do it. But, plainly, Nadab and Abihu offered fire that God had not commanded them, and it was wrong to do that! As we have seen, God had instructed where they were to get the fire from, which was the fire that was kept continually burning on the altar, and was not to go out. There was a specific location they were to get the fire from and they got it from somewhere else.
Today, people find ways of justifying, adding to and taking from, God's Word; doing it their own way, essentially, doing the things they want to do! They want to add instruments of music to the worship -- they want women to preach and serve in leadership roles where God has instructed that men should. They want to offer the Lord's Supper on Saturday evening, or some time other than the first day of the week.
Of course, this is always prefixed by something like: "we have deliberated over long periods of time, and prayed about this matter such a long time." Deliberating and praying about a matter is a good thing to do, but deliberating and praying about a matter will not get God to change His Law. What we should always do is to simply go to the Word of God and see what God wants done concerning whatever matter is under consideration.
AN OPEN LETTER FROM NADAB AND ABIHU
I want to read you an open letter from Nadab and Abihu, characterized as humble priests and servants to the congregation of Israel. This was written by David Brasfield. I do not know David Brasfield, nor have I ever met him. But this is a brilliant piece of satire, and shows the similarities of what we are talking about, concerning many religious people today, and especially those who are members of the church. It describes the methods people use, who want to change the Lord's church by many popular innovations they wish to introduce. The same terminology and approach is captured and applied as if Nadab and Abihu were the chief proponents.
“It is with the utmost humility that we inform you of a change of worship practices in your normal sacrificing. Be sure that we are bringing about this change only after much prayer and study. We have recently concluded an in-depth study of the Law as delivered by our brother Moses, and we have decided to bring about a change in the type of fire used in worship. We are aware that there is a standing tradition of using only one source of fire, but, we as holy priests, do not feel obligated to blindly follow tradition. Numerous polls of our worshipping clientele indicate the overwhelming opinion that they do not care where we get the fire used for their sacrifices as long as the service is conducted in a respectful and meaningful way. We are in agreement with this growing majority, as we cannot see how a change in fire will affect anything in the least regarding our sacrifices. The animal is still properly cooked, and the incense is properly burned. We are of the mind that were we to secretly substitute a different fire it would be impossible for any of the worshippers to know a change had taken place.
“Besides all this, we became aware of the fact that nowhere in the Law does the Lord forbid the use of what some of our detractors have referred to as "strange fire." We feel that the lack of such a restriction was meant to give us freedom. For those who disagree, we would ask you to show us any place in the Law that tells us we cannot do something the Lord has not seen fit to condemn. We are simply asking, "Where does it say we cannot do this?" We also wish to point out that the congregation of Israel is the only religious group in the known world that willingly limits itself to only one kind of fire. We have become the laughingstock of the Land of Canaan and have been ridiculed openly by many groups. This "only-one-fire" self-righteous policy has alienated us from everyone else. We believe this change will open up many fellowship opportunities.
“Now, to set the minds of some of you at ease, we will continue to offer a traditional service using the old-fashioned fire as well as this progressive service for special feast days. In this way we hope that our older citizens are still comfortable even though they dogmatically insist in a worship style which is declining and we believe to be stunting our growth. Consider the new freedom this new practice affords us! We will no longer have the expense of maintaining a constant fire in one location. This will also make it possible to appeal to a younger audience as we discover more entertaining ways to "light the fire" of our assemblies (we hope you caught the little play on words there)!
“For those who still oppose the use of new fire, we ask you not to be judgmental of new ideas. We also hope you will not use this change as an excuse to divide our people or stir up trouble within the congregation. We remind you that this has been well thought out and the majority of elders have signed on with us. It is true, we have not included our father Aaron in this deliberation; but we were well aware of his tradition-bound views and still plan to leave him in charge of doing the traditional service anyway. We also have not consulted Moses, but his humility is well known and we are confident he will want to uphold the majority decision in this effort to improve our worship.
“We are very much looking forward to our first new fire service. We hope you will make a special effort to be present to witness a new age of enlightenment in the church of Israel. We know God will be watching and we anticipate that His joy over seeing his people take a great step toward throwing off the burden of binding tradition will be an electrifying experience. See you there. Bring some extra barbecue sauce, for we think this new practice is going to spread like wildfire! For freedom's sake!
“Signed: Nadab and Abihu, DDLP (Doctors of Divine Law and Progress)
“P. S: After the successful changeover in this part of our worship, future plans include the ordination of women priests, inter-idol fellowship activities with the various pagan groups nearby, and a special service called: ‘It doesn't have to be Passover to celebrate Passover anymore.’”
As the old saying goes, this satiric letter "really hits the nail on the head!" The same lingo, language, and attitude, descriptive of modern-day change-agents in the church is found in this letter. Nadab and Abihu would fit in well with these people, don't you think?
Nadab and Abihu still exist today. They are characterized by a failure to worship by God's commands (Col.3:17). Clearly, our authority should be from God's word for all we teach and practice. We shouldn't be looking for what the Bible "doesn't say," but “what has God commanded us to do”!
Sadly, today, as in Malachi's day, there are those who say: "Oh, what a weariness!" And they sneer at God's clearly revealed Word (Mal.1:13). It is this attitude and mindset that seeks to change God's commands into human traditions (Mk.7:1-9).
Many are convinced they are at liberty to change God's Word as they see fit. But, the question is: "Do we seek to persuade men or God?" (Gal.1: 10). On the Day of Judgment will people try to persuade God that their way is better than His? Gal.1:8-9 also emphasizes that we are to preach the gospel that has been delivered to us by the inspired apostles. We must understand that we are not at liberty to change God's word.
So many changes are affected by the thinking and teaching of modern-day Nadab's and Abihu's. Even God's plan to save man is not overlooked by these people (Jn.3:16; Mk.16:16; Lk.13:3; Acts 2:38; Rom.10:9-10; Acts 8:37). They think they have a better way than God's way. They say their way is more convenient -- it works better-it attracts more people -- it is up-to-date-and so, God surely must be pleased! But, those who worship in spirit and in truth are careful not to go beyond what is written (Jn.4:24; 1 Cor.4:6). So, no, my friend, only those who do the Lord's will, Jesus says, will enter into the kingdom of God (Matt.7:21). When one changes the worship of God to suit himself, it becomes "will worship" (Col.2: 23). Do you think God just says "They mean well and have good intentions, so, I'll accept their worship?" If that is your thinking, listen to Matt.15: 8-9: "These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." When one changes God's plan to save man, as those Jews did in Acts 15, God doesn't say: "Well, this is kinda popular, and I guess these people are sincere, and they do say they love Me, so, ok, I approve of their plan!" Jesus asked: "But why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and not do the things which I say? (Lk.6:46). No, those people, I'm afraid, are going to be gravely disappointed and sorrowful on the Day of Judgment.
God did not forget the error of Nadab and Abihu, nor should we. In the genealogical records in Numbers 3: 2-4, we read: "And these are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab, the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the appointed priests, whom he consecrated to minister as priests. Nadab and Abihu had died before the Lord when they offered strange (profane) fire before the Lord in the Wilderness of Sinai; and they had no children." In chapter 26: 60-61, we read: "To Aaron, were born Nadab and Abihu, Eleasar and Ithamar. And Nadab and Abihu died when they offered strange (profane) fire before the Lord." He wanted future generations to know, and that is why these things "were written for our learning" (Rom.15:1-4), and serve as our examples "to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted" (1 Cor.10:6).
By Dennis Abernathy
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