Then Nadab and Abihu…each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-2, NKJV).
Nadab and Abihu were sons of Aaron, the newly appointed high priest of the recently redeemed Israel. Because they were in the direct priestly line, they could have had a glorious future serving God’s people. Instead their lives were cut short—burned to death by fire from the Lord because they offered “profane fire” (some versions call it “strange fire”) as worship.
Sound harsh? In Old Testament times, speedy and sometimes deadly punishment was not unusual in payment for disobedience. But today? Speaking for myself, if God still dealt with disobedience now as He did then, I would have been a crispy critter long ago.
Still, the lesson is a powerful one, and not just because of its horrible outcome. The key to understanding this lesson is the opening word in verse one: “Then.” Looking back a couple of chapters, we see that God had clearly laid out His requirements for worship. Nadab and Abihu knew exactly what God required from them as priests, yet they disobeyed and offered a sacrifice of their own choosing. It wasn’t much different in the Garden of Eden, when God rejected Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s. Cain was a tiller of the ground, so he offered the fruits of his labor—produce from the fields—as a sacrifice for sin. Abel was a keeper of the herds and brought an animal offering. Why did God accept Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? Did He like shepherds better than farmers? Not at all. The issue wasn’t that their offering represented the type of work they did and God liked Abel’s work better; the issue was the “Then” of it all. God had already clearly shown what He required as a sacrificial offering of worship: the shedding of blood. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God Himself provided the necessary sacrifice by killing animals and using their skins to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness. Without doubt Cain and Abel had heard that story from their parents, many times, and knew quite clearly that in order for their sacrifice to be acceptable to God, it must include the shedding of bled. Abel obeyed that requirement; Cain didn’t. And we all know things didn’t go well for Cain after that.
Now God has shown us—clearly and in many ways, but most specifically through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ—what is required of us in the way of sacrifice. We dare not try to approach God on our own terms, offering “profane” or “strange fire,” and expect not to get burned. In a culture that touts diversity and tolerance, we must stand firm when it comes to Jesus being The Way, The Truth, and The Life, for no one comes to the Father except through Him. No other sacrifice is acceptable.