“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord” (Lev. 10:1-2). Just about all we know about Nadab and Abihu are found in these two verses of scripture. We know that they were two of the sons of Aaron and that it was their job to burn the incense. We know that they offered strange fire and that as a result they died. This doesn’t seem like a lot of information, yet there are a number of lessons that we can learn from this event.
The overall lesson that we can and must learn is that God requires absolute obedience to His will! The specifics have changed, but the requirement to obey whatever law under which one lives has not changed. Just as Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden were required to obey the word of God given to them directly from God (Gen. 2:17), so Nadab and Abihu were required to keep the word of God that had been given to Moses upon the mount (Deut. 4:2). And, in like manner, we too must keep the word of God which He speaks to us through His Son Jesus Christ (Matt. 17:5; Heb. 1:1-2). Jesus Christ is “the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:9). Yet, there are a number of lessons that need to be noted that are involved in the fulfilling of the major lesson of obedience to God is required.
First, let us note that one must obey God no matter who they are. Nadab and Abihu were priests. Not only were they priest, but they were the sons of Aaron who was the high priest. Yet, God required obedience of them, just as He would of any common man. Moses was chosen by God to deliver the children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, yet when Moses was disobedient to God, he was found guilty by God and refused admittance into the land of Canaan (Num. 20:12). David was a man after God’s own heart (I Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22), yet he sinned and had to pay the price for his sins. God is no respecter of persons! Peter told Cornelius, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). Let no man think he is above keeping the word of God, for even the Son of God was obedient to His Father (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8).
Also, let us note that obedience to God does not require a “thou shalt not” in every case. Nadab and Abihu had received the word of God concerning the offering of incense. They had been commanded by God’s word to use a certain fire. The text says that they offered “strange fire” before the Lord. “Strange fire” was simply fire that God had not commanded. He had not told them not to use fire from that particular source, but He had told them where to get the fire from (Lev. 16:12). In doing so, God had ruled out all other sources. The Hebrew writer used the same argument when he wrote, “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning the priesthood” (Heb. 7:14). God had not said, “thou shalt not take a priest from the tribe of Juda”, but he had commanded the priest be taken from the tribe of Levi.
This leads us to another notable lesson to be learned about obedience from this text. Nadab and Abihu were of the tribe of Levi. They were authorized priests. They were obedient in offering the incense. No doubt they were using the correct incense and at the proper altar. It would appear that the only thing wrong was the fire. The lesson should be learned that we must be obedient in all things, not just part or most. When what God commands is different from that which we like, believe or want, it is God that must be obeyed. They may well have been right in most of what they did, but it only took one change of God’s commands to make that which they were doing wrong (James 2:10-11).
Finally, we need to take note of the fact that the subject under consideration, the offering of strange fire in the burning of incense, was one that concerned worship under the Law of Moses. The point is, God is very serious about how we worship Him, not just if we worship Him. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, “…true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). There are two elements of acceptable worship addressed in those two verses, “in spirit” and “in truth”. In spirit has reference to the use of the heart in our worship. If worship is not sincere and from the heart; it is unacceptable worship. The term “in truth” has reference to the very actions being those that God has authorized for the age in which the worshipper is worshipping. Changes from the scriptural pattern in any way makes our worship vain.
(Editor’s note: Send any questions to: email@example.com)