I finished Leviticus the other day. Leviticus is tedious and many consider it boring, but there is value in the book. Through Leviticus, God teaches us (via Moses) that He is holy above all things and that to worship Him is a privilege far beyond comparison. We will never be worthy to come before His throne, even if we are bringing sacrifices. Worship is to be taken seriously. It is not lighthearted. It is not casual. And it is not optional. God brings these realities to light in Leviticus 10.
In the beginning of Leviticus, God calls Aaron’s family out to be the priestly line. They are to protect the Tent of Meeting, where God’s glory dwelled, and to facilitate offerings and worship. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, however, forgot the power of this glory and approached the throne of God casually. We are not told specifically what the two priests did, other than that they “offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them” (v. 1). But God’s response was anything but casual.
And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace. (Leviticus 10:2-3)
This is one of the many stories in the Old Testament that show God’s ferocious nature. He is all-powerful and jealous. He will not tolerate His people giving their love to another. But here, Nadab and Abihu were offering sacrifices in worship to God. Why would He be upset with them? Their worship was in vain. And He killed them for it. For the previous ten chapters (and a lot of Exodus), God laid out His laws to Moses, who relayed them to the Israelites. Time after time, they disobeyed God’s commands. Nabad and Abihu, while attempting to worship God, had disobeyed His commands and were killed for it.
One prominent Christian leader once taught a couple of my friends and I in a Bible study a lesson that has stuck with me since the moment I heard it. It was a simple truth, but one that need not be ignored. “Don’t jack with the presence of God.” In explaining his suggestion, he referenced 1 Samuel 6, where God struck down 70 pagan men simply for looking at the Ark of the Covenant. In this passage, the men of Beth-Shemesh said it best: “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?” (1 Samuel 6:20).
If we look back to Leviticus 10, God reminds us of His plan. He will be sanctified and He will be glorified. He will be glorified in our lives or in our deaths. We should take the Bible study lesson to heart. Approaching God casually is a grievous error, one I pray we stop committing. For church leaders, this is even more vital. Jesus’s brother James warns us in James 3:1 that, “Not many of [us] should become teachers…for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.“ I would imagine, but not presume to claim, that many laymen in Leviticus offered sacrifices that were unsolicited by God or did so with impure hearts. But God did not strike them down. He did strike down Nadab and Abihu, though. Why? Well James already told us. These two men were priests. They were held to a higher standard, because they had spiritual responsibility over the Israelites.
Pastors and church leaders, please do not take your position lightly. Your judgement is stricter than that of others. Take time to pray for your sheep, to petition God for their salvation, and to pray that God would show you faithful in the words you teach, lest you lead any man astray. But even if you do not lead from the platform, take the advice of God, Nadab, Abihu, James, my Bible study friend, and me: “Don’t jack with the presence of God.”