Strange Fire: Is there a Wrong Way to Worship?
Don’t you just want to roll your eyes when someone gives you a gift of that is what they want, instead of what you want? They see a box of almond chocolates and think, “Mmm, I love almonds, and I love chocolate, and I love my neighbor, I’m going to get them chocolate almonds for Christmas.” Then when you remind them that chocolate gives you a headache, and you that have a lethal allergy to nuts, and they conveniently offer to help dispose of them.
You say, “Oh well, it’s the …thought that counts.”
Well, in worship people sometimes think that God just needs to shrug and accept it’s the thought that counts. As long as you are sincere and sacrificial, God needs to be happy with how you worship Him. If you don’t like clapping, you’re not going to clap, if you don’t like the music the band plays, you’re not going to sing, if you don’t think you need to attend every week, then you’re not going to. And at no time do you pause to consider, “Mm, I wonder what God wants?”
But Leviticus chapter 10 teaches us in chilling tones, that worship is not accepted if it is done contrary to God’s revealed will. The account starts off with an ominous scene…
Leviticus 10:1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them.
When you were a kid and you made your mom a mother’s day card, it was adorable. She didn’t mind that you spelled her name wrong, or that the heart you tried to draw looked more like a spastic colon. She liked that you were sincere, and that it was the best you could do.
But as you grow up, those kids of gifts become less cute. If you send your mom a piece of scrap paper with a coffee stain on it and with her name misspelled, she’s more likely to be offended than she used to be. Why? Because now that you have money, and can write, and know what she likes and dislikes, you have a responsibility to take those factors into account.
In worshipping God, Israel really had very little idea what God wanted before God told Moses on Mount Sinai. But once God had spelled out the five sacrifices of Leviticus 1-7, the nation now had a responsibility to factor that into their worship. God would no longer accept home-made, peace-meal religion.
Nadab and Abihu, two sons of Aaron, the first high priest, learned this the hard way.
Lev 10:2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.
Yikes! What was their sin? They offered God worship that was different to what He commanded, in THREE ways… i) Timing , ii) Authority, and iii) Motive.
i) The Wrong Timing:
Lev 10:1a Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it…
The act burning incense in a censer was to be done once a year, by the high priest himself on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), as we detailed in Lev 16. So, these men were offering a form of worship they were not authorized to worship.
ii) The Wrong Authority:
Lev 10:1b … offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them.
That is why the ESV and NIV’s is a good translation of “unauthorized fire.” The NASB calls it “strange fire.” The NKJV says “profane fire.” But those choices make it sound like the fire itself was the problem. It wasn’t the color of the flame God didn’t like, it was the whole deal: two priests offering the Day of Atonement offering on their own authority, on the wrong day, without the other steps of the procedure. This was a completely new sacrifice they just made up.
They invented their own sacrifice They concocted a new form of worship. And this after seven chapters of gory, minute, detailed instruction on exactly what to do and what not to do. This was rebellion. This was presumption. And it was not accepted.
iii) The Wrong Motive:
Lev 10:3 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.
This was the lesson God wanted the people to learn: the mediators who approached God needed to be properly sanctified, or consecrated. Nadab & Abihu didn’t go through the cleansing rituals and personal atonement offerings that were just outlined in the previous chapter. And they were apparently not glorifying God.
Think about it. Why would these two men be performing an offering above their paygrade?
Who knows? Maybe it was a power play. Maybe it was impatience. Maybe it was experimental. Maybe it was being overzealous. But whatever the reason, it wasn’t to glorify God. It was to glorify self.
This is the most insidious offense in worship, when you do what looks like an offering to God, but for your own glory.
People most susceptible to this are pastors, musicians, singers, or any up-front type of ministry. Any service you do can be done for God’s glory or your own. Imagine God still struck people dead for showing off in worship. Imagine people who worshipped in a way to get attention just died on the spot! There may be a lot of corpses in a lot of churches, including ours.
But there is another mistake in this chapter, that is almost never uttered in sermons on this passage. It highlights an aspect of God’s attributes I have never heard or read mentioned in relation to this chapter of Scripture.
As many times as I’ve read the chapter myself, I have never seen it until I studied it to preach last week. It is a mind-blowing testimony to God’s mercy and grace, right on the heels of this display of holiness and wrath. Curious?
See you tomorrow!