When the children of Israel built the first tabernacle after the many miracles of the Exodus, the preparation of the tabernacle to house the very presence of God was a detailed project. Aaron and his sons, Nadab and Abihu, were consecrated with water, special garments, anointed with oil, and covered with a special sin offering (Leviticus 8). Additional blood offerings were made for the priests and for the people, and when completed, Yehovah (aka Jehovah, the “LORD”) brought down fire from heaven and consumed the offerings, an event so spectacular that the entire assembly shouted and fell on their faces (Leviticus 9:24).
That is why what happened in Leviticus 10:1-2 all the more surprising. Nadab and Abihu’s next action was to put fire on the incense in their censers, “strange fire” which had not been commanded by God, and God immediately struck them dead!
These young men had a front row seat for miracle after miracle, they had been specially prepared with consecrating and anointing, yet a seemingly minor act of using their own source of fire instead of God’s source of fire caused them to be instantly struck down. How much more so, then, shall we be concerned about worshipping God exactly as he has commanded? Are we any better than Nadab and Abihu?
Leviticus 10:3 brings an explanation from Moses, where he quotes God as having previously instructed that those who approach him must recognize that He is holy (sanctified), so that God is glorified and properly honored by all the people. This is God’s standards of how he is to be approached in worship. Anything less can bring dire consequences.
There are other instances in Scripture where man seeks to worship God according to man’s way of thinking instead of God’s way of thinking. Stop for a moment to think how you behave when you want to give someone a special honor. Don’t you try to do it in ways that you know will please them? Perhaps their favorite restaurant, with their most loved and cherished friends and family there? Do you ever try to honor someone by doing things in a way that you know or suspect may be unpleasing to them, like inviting their enemies and feeding foods they are allergic to? Of course not. Isn’t that all the more important with the One True God, Yehovah, King and Creator of the Universe? Should man ever be so arrogant as to think we know better than God exactly how God should be worshipped?
Take Cain for example. In Genesis 4:3-5, Cain and Abel brought forth an offering unto Yehovah. Abel brought an offering of a lamb, and Cain brought an offering of fruit. Each brought the first fruits of their mode of making a living, but God was displeased with Cain. Although Scripture does not record this, for God to have shown displeasure implies that God had given instruction on how a first fruit offering is to be made, or it would have been a “teachable moment” rather than significant enough of displeasure to cause Cain to commit murder. So Cain apparently deliberately chose his own method of worship above the method that had been prescribed.
Take also the children of Israel in the desert, not long after the Exodus. Like Nadab and Abihu, they had witnessed a series of miracles both before and after they left Egypt. Yet in a relatively short period of time they were making a golden calf and calling it their god, led by none other than Aaron, who was a leader throughout the entire exodus period (Exodus 32:1-10). They crafted a golden calf, and even though they declared the next day to be a feast to Yehovah (Exodus 32:5), God was ready to strike them all dead and raise up a new nation from Moses’ seed alone. Clearly their idea of worship, which came from Egyptian tradition rather than God, was not an acceptable form of worship, just like any worship today that comes from pagan tradition rather than God is not an acceptable form of worship.
We all must continually check ourselves to determine, by God’s standards alone, if our worship recognizes God’s holiness and gives Him the glorification that He deserves. While he will probably not strike us dead in an instant like he did Nadab and Abihu, we will be judged. His way is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14). While many will come to Him in the last days, after discovering the door to eternal life has been shut to them, saying how they had eaten with him and been taught by him, they are called workers of iniquity and are thrust out of the kingdom (Luke 13:24-30). May we not be among the many that make that mistake. Search yourselves now, while there is time, to seek to worship in spirit and in truth. In the end, it is God’s will that will be done, not man’s. Let every manner of your worship be based on a “Thus saith the LORD”, not on the traditions of man.
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For more information on approaching God according to his will, see our Featured Article titled "How to Worship in Spirit and in Truth".