Well, I got stopped in my tracks in Leviticus today. Chapter 10 includes this story:
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Leviticus 10: 1-2 NIV
This is the kind of passage I would rather just skim and forget about. Frankly, I’d rather not deal with it. But that would be like ignoring the wart on someone’s nose… It’s there. It may not be pretty, but it’s there.
I get that these guys were sloppy with God’s instructions, using just any old fire for the censers, not that which was consecrated for the purpose. And God use fire to demonstrate just how serious He is about His holiness.
Is that where the term “fight fire with fire” comes from?
This is another hard passage to get my head around. It seems so unlike the gracious God who died for my sins.
On the other hand, it’s an illustration of both God’s stringent requirements for holiness and our utter disregard for his holiness. And that’s why we needed the cross.
My head gets it.
But my heart cries out, “I don’t get this. It seems…
- so unfair (though I realize it’s not – they got the requisite punishment, though I’d think twice of signing up to be a priest with such stiff penalties for not following orders),
- so spiteful (aren’t you bigger than this, God?),
- so exacting (what about “my burden is light?”). I’d totally screw up I was a priest. Totally.
Just sayin’, God.
Can You help reconcile this stuff?
The LORD’s command to Aaron later in the passage did shed a bit of light on this for me:
You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. Leviticus 10:9 (NIV)
Were Aaron’s sons partaking of the spirits a bit heavily when they were doing the censer thing? Were they too tipsy to get the fire right (and to get the right fire?)?
I can see the justice of their punishment in this circumstance: drinking on the job in this case seems like a huge insult to a Holy God. As if the boys just didn’t take their job – or their God – all that seriously. [The moral: “Don’t drink on the job… You’ll get fired.” Yuck!]
But, still, death? [I once more remind myself that physical death is going to come to all of us at some time and that God’s not as concerned with physical death as we are… but with the spiritual]
I suspect that part of my difficulty embracing this passage lies in my own poor grasp of both God’s holiness (and what He deserves) and my sinfulness (how a bit of negligence reflects a great deal of underlying sin).
Sometimes as I write, I get a new insight into the passage. Not this time. I still don’t feel at peace about it. But I gave it to God. Hopefully one day He’ll square it all for me.
Leviticus 9:1-10:20, Psalm 25:1-7, Proverbs 9:13-18, Mark 1:21-45. See About for what I’m up to with these daily posts.