Strange Fire vs Consuming Fire

When we approach a holy God

And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Leviticus 10:2 NASB 1995

Shocking! Two men, priests chosen by name, approached God and were immediately consumed by fire. Why did this happen? Let’s take a look at the situation.

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Leviticus 10:1-2

What Happened?

Please understand that this was not an accident, nor was it a simple misunderstanding. God met with Moses to give him the pattern and instructions for the building of the tabernacle, with details even as far as whom He had chosen to oversee certain portions of it. He also appointed Aaron and his sons as priests, and gave them very specific instructions for every aspect of their service. Every detail points to the holiness of God and the great chasm created by sin that separates man from God’s presence. The required sacrifices and consecration of the priests served as a model of what was to come when Jesus offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice, the only One whose blood could completely cover our transgressions and allow us to approach God in His holiness. Everything was to be done carefully and with reverence.

You shall not offer any strange incense on this altar, or burnt offering or meal offering; and you shall not pour out a drink offering on it. Exodus 30:9

Observe what had happened only a short time before this, after the completion of the tabernacle (tent of meeting) and immediately following the seven day ordination of Aaron and his sons during which time they were not to leave the tabernacle. Upon Moses’ instruction, Aaron, with the help of his sons, offered the sacrifices as God required.

Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. Leviticus 9:23-24

They Knew God’s Presence

Nadab and Abihu, along with their brothers and father, had been consecrated and educated. They knew well that God’s presence was in the tabernacle; yet, they dared to approach His presence with “strange fire” in direct opposition to God’s command. In spite of seeing God’s presence descend on Mount Sinai, in spite of hearing His thunderous voice speak to the people, in spite of seeing His hand move against enemies and idolators, after seeing God’s glory appear at the tent of meeting with consuming fire, Nadab and Abihu brought incense and strange fire into God’s dwelling place. They dishonored God.

After their bold and contemptuous approach to God, Nadab and Abihu were instantly consumed by fire that came from the very presence of God. There was no bringing them before the people to be tried, stoned, or executed by man; God Himself rendered immediate judgment for their blatant sin.

The One True God is holy. He must be honored in His holiness.

After this shocking event, Aaron was not even allowed to mourn the death of his sons, nor to bury their remains.

God is Holy

Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the Lord spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I  will be treated as holy,
And before all the people I will be honored.’ Leviticus 10:3

God then gave further instructions directly to Aaron on how priests were to conduct themselves in the temple to show the distinction between the holy and the unholy.

The Lord then spoke to Aaron, saying, “Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses.” Leviticus 10:8-11

It makes sense that the priests who were called specifically by God to dedicate their lives to service in His temple would be required to sanctify themselves. But, God didn’t want sacrifices only, God wanted the hearts and souls of all His people. The entire nation was called and chosen to be set apart as God’s own people. A holy people in covenant with a holy God. The One True God.

The book of Leviticus contains many instructions of how they were to conduct themselves. Worshiping false gods was not to be tolerated. If anyone among them sacrificed his children to Molech, they were to be put to death; this was a defilement of God’s sanctuary and a profaning of His holy name. God promised to cut off anyone who turned to mediums and spiritists, an act of harlotry against God.

Called to Holiness

God called the people to a life of holiness. They were to act holy in accordance with all of God’s laws, and He promised to sanctify them.

You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. You shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you. Leviticus 20:7-8

The book of Leviticus, the Law, is filled with instructions on how the people were to conduct themselves. It isn’t just a list of rules, it is a description of being set apart as a holy people. Over and over, God called His people to holiness because He is holy. The entirety of Leviticus points to God’s holiness.

“Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:2-3

What This Means to Us

Does this only apply to the nation of Israel? No! God has invited each of us to become His children. If we truly believe God and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we become God’s chosen people.

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13

As God’s chosen people, He calls us to be holy. This goes beyond our actions as we approach Him in prayer or in worship; He calls us to be holy in every aspect of our lives.

But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14ESV

God calls us to become His people. God calls us to be holy. Will you accept and honor God with your life?

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28-29

In this culture of so many strange fires,
let’s be careful to approach God in holiness
and honor Him by following His word only.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated into any other language.