By Mr. Dennis Owens
“Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them…. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering…and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Lev. 9:22-24).
Wow, what a glorious scene. Fire appears from heaven and devours the sacrifice! But it’s not just visual; there is a sense of God’s holy presence that causes every single person to shout and fall prostrate before God! But the scene quickly changes when the same fire which devours the sacrifice now devours two priests! Nadab and Abihu offer “strange fire,” before the Lord, which “He had commanded not.” But what did they do? “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Lev. 10:1,2) What a shock! This happened while the entire congregation of Israel, including Moses and Aaron saw what happened. If there wasn’t a fear of God among the people before, there would be one now. Did they even understand what had happened? Aaron must have been in agony of so great a loss. What had happened? Moses, who has spent considerable time in God’s presence, gives the explanation: “Moses said to Aaron, “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'” (Lev 10:3). Aaron is so submitted to God at this point that he says nothing and submits to God’s holy judgment.
What are we to learn from this tragic incident? We can have a calling directly from God Himself, we can experience God’s glory, we can spend time in His presence, but ultimately it is a matter of our hearts. What was Nadab and Abihu’s motive for offering what God called “strange fire?” Was it do-it-yourself worship? Was it “of the flesh?” What we do from natural impulse, without thinking it through, often exposes what’s in our hearts. Here is the sin of presumption; and it was visited with sudden and awful judgment.
The expression “strange fire” seems imprecise and has been interpreted numerous ways. The infraction may have involved any of the following: using coals from someplace other than the burnt offering altar, using the wrong kind of incense, or entering the Holy of Holies at an inappropriate time. The latter rendering seems more likely here since, the LORD himself had indeed shown himself to be holy by the way he responded to the infraction of Nadab and Abihu. They had not treated the LORD as holy, so the LORD acted on his own behalf to show that he was indeed holy. Whatever the reason, they did not honor God as God. Their hearts were not right with Him and it was their hearts that God judged.