The story of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus chapter 10) has been used by some to strike fear into the heart of God’s people, with regard to what they do in worship to God.  A cursory look at verses 1-7 leads us to see that the sin of Aaron’s sons was offering strange fire before the Lord.  This seems to be confirmed in a number of passages that refer to them as “offering strange fire”.  One exception to this is found in Leviticus 16:1 when they were referred to as having approached the presence of the Lord and died.  So, what exactly was their sin?  Later in the same chapter and in the same time frame we find that Aaron’s other sons, Eleazar and Ithamar were disobedient in their duties with regard to eating the sin offering.  Their actions led them to be chastened by Moses for failing to obey instruction that he had received from the Lord.

Now let’s look at the scene.  The glory of the Lord appeared to all the people and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering.  What are the people doing?  They shouted and fell on their faces!  Now, look at Nadab and Abihu.  They had the audacity to take this as an opportunity to “approach the Lord.”  Not empty handed, though, for they believed that it would be appropriate to offer incense up before the Lord.  Enter His presence!  What boldness!  Remember how the people responded to God on Mt Sinai?  They were afraid and many wanted Moses to speak to them because they didn’t want to die when God spoke.  Where was that reverence with Nadab and Abihu?  One can only guess!  Moses states in Levitcus 10:3, “It is what the LORD spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.’”  It would appear that Nadab and Abihu failed to treat God as holy, failed to honor Him before all the people.  They had no authority to “enter God’s presence” and were rightly punished. 

It seems that we set our sights on their actions and fail to discern their hearts. God’s instructions were presented to His people through Moses, some of them were even repeated, but the instruction for offering incense didn’t to come after their deaths.  Could their deaths have come from what they did not do, rather than what they did?  We cannot approach God directly; we enter the presence of God only through Christ, His son.  Follow God’s Word to find Him! There is no other way!

Copyright © 2003, Nolan P. Rutter

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