Leviticus 10:1-2, "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."
This morning, people like to minimize the importance of truly important concepts. Most of the time, the minimizing is done to justify their lack of discipline or effort in those areas. Whatever the justification or reasoning for doing such, we must – as diligent servants of the Master – seek to throw off the shackles of our own thinking and try to focus our eyes on the heavenly plane to see things more like He sees them. Too much of the time, we hear well meaning people promote some idea or denounce a different idea with little to no idea how the Bible would have us approach the thought. Their defense of their stance might include something akin to "Well I just think", "Well I just feel", or the shuddering and frightening "God just wants me to be happy." Friends, no matter what we think, feel, or perceive about God's desires, His standards as penned in His Book cannot be circumvented. He will never contradict Himself, and when men try to promote things contrary to the word of God while still claiming to be following after God, they are charging God – by their actions – with a duplicitous mind.
What is God's perspective on worship? How important is order to Him? Even if we simply peruse the Scriptures through general reading, the answer is inescapable. God holds worship of Him and the order of it in high esteem. It should be a premium thought of the devoted follower of Christ to try to "get things right" when seeking the Lord in worship. He does not deal kindly with those that fly in the face of His pattern. In our study verses, we read of one of God's more immediate and severe judgments for transgression, and it pertains to the realm of the order of worship before Him. One of the things that has always intrigued me about this account is how often it is mentioned without talking about what happened before and after it. As a small aside, it behooves us when studying the Scriptures to try to be diligent to seek out the entire thought and context of a passage regardless of chapter and verse divisions. Even though our verses come at the entrance of a new chapter, something powerful happened at the end of chapter 9 that (I believe) contributes to the thoughts contained in our study verses above.
In the previous chapter, God has given further instruction about how offerings and sacrifices are to be made. He tells Aaron particularly how to do it, the pattern to follow, etc. As God finishes those commandments, He gives a mighty manifestation of Himself by commanding fire down upon the altar to consume the offering upon it. The people are so awed by the display that they could only shout and fall prostrate before Him. (Leviticus 9:24) Having this transpire immediately before our verses, we can glean a little more insight into the reasoning why Nadab and Abihu did what they did and why the Lord dealt so severely with them. Since Scripture is silent about their mindset, we cannot speak definitively on that point. However, seeing that such a great sight of fire immediately happened, we could suppose a fair amount of notions for why they would do it. Perhaps they were filled with so much exuberance and zeal that they desired to take part in this great ceremony. Perhaps they wanted to claim some of the "fiery credit" for themselves for what just happened. Perhaps they ignorantly did something thinking that something should be done on such a grand occasion. Regardless of what went through their minds – whether something as seemingly innocent as unrestrained zeal or as dreadful as covetous idolatry – the Lord dealt with them severely.
While we cannot definitively say why they did what they did, we can speak with assurance as to God's thinking about His own actions. God mentions this occasion later in the opening verses of Leviticus 16. Before God gives the particulars about fulfilling the day of atonement, He specifically addresses the order of the regularity of it. To prevent judgment and death, Aaron was to do this only one time a year. Should that directive be ignored, Aaron would end up like Nadab and Abihu. So, God plainly declares that the reason they died was a failure to follow proper order in God's house. No matter what those two thought about what they were doing or why they were doing it, God simply states that He holds the directions He has given about order and faithfulness in upholding His pattern to a high premium.
Could anything be more blatantly ignored today even among many professed followers of the Christ than seeking diligently to follow His order? Doubtless, there are seekers of fame and wealth who seek to steal away the hearts and minds of God's people. Whether the so-called preacher on the television or the wealthy member that wants to "run" the affairs of the assembly, strange fire is being put before the eyes of the people to divert attention away from the altar to the one holding the censer. Doubtless, there are many ignorant people that have not pulled back the fabric of Scripture to find the proper way to attend unto the affairs of God's house and sought to know His way of doing things. Many others follow the misguided mindset that Paul lamented in Romans 10:1-3 in zealous but ignorant exuberance. Their zeal blinds their attentiveness to God's pattern of worship and order of conduct. Regardless of the mindset, all fail in the point of doing it God's way as He has commanded. (John 4:24)
How important is it to God? On this occasion, two men answered with their own lives for failing to follow God after His prescription. Whether or not we fully understand why God would say to do it this way or not, understanding of the why is not a prerequisite to actually do what He has said do. Oftentimes, I read the old law service from the books Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and I am left puzzled as to the reason why things were to be done this way or that – and so specifically as well. However, whether or not I ever understand why He told Israel to do it that way or not, I am left simply to shout and fall prostrate before Him and say His ways are good and righteous. Today, we are told to follow Him in the right spirit according to truth. Whether or not I ever understand why certain points of order are the way they are – for example why He would plainly set forth that expounding in the church would be by two or at the most by three (I Corinthians 14:29) – I am left no reason or excuse not to do it that way.
Some today might claim that adherence to a rigid structure destroys freedom of expression to follow after the Lord according to the talents that He has bestowed upon us. I had a progressive one time make the case for musical instruments in the church based on his proficiency on the guitar. His claim was that God would not have given him such a talent to go unused in worship. Simply put, God's prescription for worship cannot be improved upon as His structure will perfectly provide the necessary placements for us to worship Him in a way He is most pleased with. My answer to my progressive friend was this: we all have been given talents, but not all of our talents have been given for use in public worship before the King. Just because I am proficient in areas of math and science does not give me the authority to impose those talents in God's house by holding teaching sessions to show others the many layers of those subjects.
Strange fire comes in many forms. It comes from ideas about how to move and live in God's house. It comes in errant ideas about what God's Book says. It sometimes appears in the ways which believers behave around one another. Simply put, strange fire (regardless of the form) is anything that God has not prescribed that is promoted like counterfeit being used in the place of real currency. God will not have it. Neither should we. God frowns upon it. So should we. Does that mean God always strikes people down in death because of it? No, sometimes the judgment is physical affliction, being sickly, and yes, sometimes even death. (I Corinthians 11:30)
May our worship of the Great King be according to things He has prescribed. Too often, a new idea is promoted with the siren song, "What's the harm in it?" Friends, God's prescription needs never to stoop to that question. The real question is, "What's the benefit in it?" If God did not pattern the thing, then rest assured the perceived benefits will not be long lasting or fruitful. The damage caused by it will be unimaginable. If we want to improve, we should seek to improve our walk and manner within God's structure and pattern, not seek a different pattern from which to operate. May our fires that we offer before Him be true fires. The word "strange" from the verses above literally can be rendered "to turn aside or depart." If we know the truth (right order and pattern), may we faithfully follow and adhere to it. May we never depart into the strangeness of "other thinking" for there we will only find the ruin and death that it breeds rather than the righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Ghost.