Friday, March 13, 2009

Leviticus 10:1-20


There is nothing wrong with informal worship, but casual worship is deadly. At the end of Chapter 9, we see the people fall to the ground and shout out to the LORD for His grace in providing mediation. The response of God was glorious, as fire came out from His presence and completely consumed the offering. But because we are sinful men, our temptation is to turn the glorious grace of God into an opportunity for sin and self exaltation.


Many suggest that "now" indicates immediate action since the events in Chapter 9. Perhaps even as Moses and Aaron join the people in praising God, Nadab and Abihu decide to "make a show" themselves. Each one grabbed his own firepan and placed incense on it. They then offered "strange fire" unto the LORD. What exactly does that mean? Well, the text gives some possible clues:

    1. The incense may have been unusual or unordinary.
    2. They may have been drinking. (10:9)
    3. They may have tried to enter the Holy of Holies. (16:1-2)
    4. It was an offering which the LORD had not commanded. (10:1)
"All of the above" may possibly be the most accurate answer. No matter what the specifics, Nadab and Abihu approached the LORD without proper reverence.

Ironically, if Nadab and Abihu were looking to repeat the previous display, they came quite close. Just as fire had come out from the LORD's presence and consumed the sacrifice in Chapter 9, now fire comes out from the LORD's presence and completely consumes the brothers, killing both of them.

Moses reminds Aaron that the LORD requires that He is treated as set apart. He reminds Aaron that the priests role should remind the people that God is set apart. This should result in Him being honored. The word honored here actually means weighty/heavy. Quite literally, He is reminding Aaron that He is not to be taken lightly.

There is no response, debate or defense, for Aaron knows his role is to keep silent and receive God's just judgement.

Aaron and his surviving sons would have become unclean had they touched Nadab or Abihu. Leviticus 21 gives us more specific instructions. The High Priest is not to official mourn or come in contact with the body. Though Eleazar and Ithamar would have been allowed to touch the body (since it was their brothers who died), due to the unique aspect of their ordination, Moses order for Aaron's cousins, Mishael and Elzaphan, to carry the bodies outside the camp.

We are told that they were still in their tunics. This probably speaks to the nature of the fire. Many suppose it was a like lightening, a very targeted jolt that killed the priests but did not consume their clothing. This at least tells us that the fire was not a raging inferno, devouring both the man and his clothing.

Moses immediately warns Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar to refrain from official mourning. This is the specific instruction not to uncover their heads or tear their clothes, for these would be signs of a being in a mourning period. Moses warns that this is not only for the priests welfare, but they should refrain so the LORD does not become wrathful against the entire congregation. The rest of the nation of Israel will mourn for the loss that day. But for Moses and his surviving sons, they are not even to leave the doorway of the tent of meeting.

This command reinforces the mediatorial role of the priesthood, and in a way, we see it reversed. Aaron, because he has the anointing oil upon him, is not able to defile himself by mourning for his sons. However, the nation of Israel, for whom he is a representative to the LORD, will mourn on his behalf.

It should not be missed that God speaks directly to Aaron at this point. Previously, God has spoken to Moses, who then conveyed the message to Aaron and his sons. This does not only signify a stern warning coming directly from the LORD, but also reveals the compassion of the LORD, that He would speak to Aaron in the midst of his suffering.

It is reasonable to assume that Nadab and Abihu had been drinking, since the LORD immediately addresses this with Aaron. Perhaps the alcohol caused these two brothers to be more bold, experimenting with the fire. Whatever the reason, the LORD makes it clear to Aaron that this statue carries throughout all generations. The priests shall not drink any alcohol when coming to the Tent of Meeting to serve. This will further instruct all of Israel to see a difference between the holy and profane.

This also serves as a reminder to Moses, Aaron and all of Israel, that everything about the priesthood that has been shared through Moses carries the same authority to all of Israel as if it came to all of them directly through the LORD.

In essence, Moses' words tell Aaron and his sons to proceed with the offerings. Because they have obeyed Moses and did not defile themselves with mourning, they may now follow through with the grain offering and the peace offerings.

As Moses searches around, he discovers that Eleazar and Ithamar neglected to eat their portion of the sin offering, and allowed it to be consumed with fire instead. Moses was angry for it seems that Eleazar and Ithamar are not taking the sacrificial work seriously either. Moses responds that since this was not the atoning sacrifice, the sons of Aaron should have completed the offering by eating their portion. In fact, verse 17 allows us to see that they are to eat the sacrifice, not only as a form of provision, but also as part of the lesson of someone bearing guilt. This ultimately points to how Christ bears our sin for us.

Aaron intervenes for his sons, letting Moses know that it is not out of neglect that the sacrifice was not eaten, but rather out of reverent fear. With all that happened that day, it didn't seem proper to participate in the sin offering.

Once Moses hears their motive, he responds that their actions seem right. This statement would also be a confirmation that the LORD is not angry, for the LORD would have revealed otherwise to Moses.


While there are many options for that which made the fire offensive, it is certainly clear that their attitude was irreverent. Moses immediately reminds Aaron of the LORD's words. He will be set apart and He will be honored. In the wake of seeing the LORD open up worship before Him, Nadab and Abihu are then tempted to take the LORD casually.

To be casual is not the same as being informal. We have people who gather for worship with us who dress informally. This is not a problem, provided the person does not become casual in their worship. What is the difference? Many times, people say a believer should dress up for church because, "You would dress up if you met the President of the United States." However, what if I was to meet the President on a basketball court? Would I still be expected to show up in shirt and tie? No, the informality would be understandable, however at no point should I become casual. He does not cease to be the President.

In the same way, God does not give us commands regarding a dress code or require formality of attire. Yet, at no point should a person think he is offering reverent worship, simply by what he is wearing. If a person is tempted toward a casual nature, perhaps more formal clothing would help, but it is not the solution. Many people are tempted to only consider exterior requirement but not search that attitude of the heart. For instance, consider another issue revealed in this passage: alcohol.

While some may think God simply requires a person to avoid alcohol while in worship, the person has missed the point of the text. (For one, it would be hard to take the bread and the cup when the cup traditionally was filled with wine!). However, Paul helps us see beyond just the outside:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.--Ephesians 5:18-21
It is not enough to simply abstain from alcohol. Reverent worship requires a person is filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul explains that this filling has three key elements. The Spirit filled worshipper will sing songs to the LORD in the presence of other believers. He will live a life of gratitude, not grumbling, but acknowledging the grace of God in all his life. And reverent worship requires that a believer has a good attitude toward authority. He must show submission to authority over him, for this shows a proper attitude toward the authority of God.

So often, we are tempted to sing songs, attend services or claim that we are engaged in worship, even as we neglect these elements. However, God has the right to dictate what worship looks like and how the person should worship him. Certainly, as we see the mediatorial system, we recognize that all worship must be through Jesus Christ, as our Great High Priest.

But is reverence still an issue in the midst of grace? Doesn't grace negate our need for reverence?

Interestingly, people often miss the grace of God which is revealed in this text. We easily spot two men's irreverence and the negative consequences that come upon them. However, Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar are all subject to the wrath of God as well. They have neglected to properly handle the sin offering, and in reality, have placed the entire nation at great risk. However, in the midst of this, we see God graciously receive them and hold off any judgement.

Even as we read this text, our hearts are inclined toward irreverence. Our flesh convinces us that just a few minor adjustments will make it possible to show God the proper reverence that He deserves. However, none of us are capable of offering Him perfect reverence on our own. Only Christ, placed such perfect honor upon His Father:
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received {them} and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and {yet} they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, {the name} which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We {are.} While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.--John 17:1-12
I only show proper reverence to God when I acknowledge that righteous reverence was only shown to the Father by His Son, Jesus Christ. And now, as I have been set free by Christ, I may now worship Him with the reverence He deserves...not to earn His grace, but because I have received His grace!


Many times we are tempted to allow the grace of God to tempt us to come to God lightly. However, knowledge of the grace of God should encourage reverence, not distract from it. David said:
Make me know Your ways, O LORD;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
For You I wait all the day.
Remember, O LORD, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses,
For they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
According to Your lovingkindness remember me,
For Your goodness' sake, O LORD.
Good and upright is the LORD;
Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in justice,
And He teaches the humble His way.
All the paths of the LORD are lovingkindness and truth
To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.
For Your name's sake, O LORD,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.
Who is the man who fears the LORD?
He will instruct him in the way he should choose.
His soul will abide in prosperity,
And his descendants will inherit the land.
The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him,
And He will make them know His covenant.
--Psalm 25:4-14

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