Offering Unholy Fire, Pt. 23
The past two days, I discussed the importance of walking in fear of God and its relationship to holiness. However, what are the ramifications for not operating in fear of God and holiness? Simply put, it is catastrophic. Let's take a look at an example from the Old Testament.
In Exodus 37:25-29, the altar of incense was made, and the incense offered on it was to be "pure incense of sweet spices, according to the work of the apothecary" (vs. 29). The incense offered by the priests was not to be mixed with anything but that which God had prescribed. Instead, it was unalloyed, pure, complete, not debased or reduced by anything else.
Aaron, Moses' brother and the high priest, had two sons, Nadab and Abihu, anointed with their father for the work of the ministry. It says of these two brothers that they accompanied their father and Moses when Israel established its covenant with the Lord. In Exodus 24:10-11, it tells us that, "They saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank." These two young men had encountered God in an incredible way. They had been present when God established His holy covenant, had been a part of it, and lived to tell about it. In Exodus 28, we are told that God commanded they be set apart to Him for ministry.
Leviticus 9 records how the children of Israel had just experienced the glory of God. Aaron had offered the sacrifice for atonement, God had consumed it, and the Israelites fell with their faces to the ground. Remember, God had said they were only to offer pure incense. However, Nadab and Abihu took the censers explicitly made for the worship of God and "put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them" (Lev. 10:1). In Exodus 30:9, God was clear that they should not offer "strange incense."
We don't know the motivation behind their actions. Perhaps they thought it was quite a spectacle to see God consume a burnt offering and that they could cause fire to come from heaven, too. Maybe they were in a hurry and hadn't prepared properly. Scripture only records that they did what God had not commanded them to do, and that is enough. Because they did so, "fire went out from before the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD" (Lev. 10:2). The worship, the incense, was not what God instructed Aaron and his sons to perform for that day. The word profane here means estranged and alienated, so their actions were contrary to God's plans, purposes, and desires.
God preempts an adverse reaction by the people by speaking through Moses. The proclamation that silenced Aaron, the men's father, was, "By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy, and before all the people I must be glorified" (Lev. 10:3). God's reaction shows that their blatant disobedience was the equivalent of disregard for His holiness and honor. They had not separated a place for God, and they were consumed because of it. Aaron was not even allowed to grieve these two sons' deaths because the anointing of God was upon his life, and he, along with his other sons, could not condone the sin of Nadab and Abihu.
We see a similar story in Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira agreed to withhold a portion of the proceeds from the sale of land. Again, we don't know the motivation, but it doesn't matter. When confronted about their lie to the Holy Spirit individually, they both dropped dead, then carried out and buried without mourners. In both the Old and New Testaments, the result was that the fear of the Lord came upon the people.
We must be careful that we are not offering to God that which is profane and foreign – contrary to His desires for us. We are called to be holy because He is holy. The motivation for sin in our life holds no consequence in light of the holiness of God. Reverence for His person and nature is more important because when we have glimpsed who He is in the person of Jesus Christ, our response is to stand in awe of it so that He is glorified among all people. To reject holiness is to dishonor Him, resulting in severe consequences for us personally and those around us.
So I ask, What are we offering to the Lord? Are we presumptive in our relationship with Him when we should not be? Is our lifestyle of worship prescribed by the Lord or is it of our own making in our own censers for our own glory? These are deep questions, but they must be addressed. God is worthy of His holiness being honored with our own.
Father, forgive me for not honoring Your holiness by walking in disobedience. I don't want my life offered as unholy fire but as a living sacrifice, pleasing to You. I desire to honor You in both word and action. Please, Holy Spirit, convict me and help me maintain a holy reverence for You. I want You to be glorified through me. In Jesus' name, amen.