Thursday, March 29, 2007

The fire that came from heaven

Leviticus 9:23-10:3

23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people, 24 and fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.

1 Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, 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. 2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. 3 And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying:

‘By those who come near Me

I must be regarded as holy;

And before all the people

I must be glorified.’”

So Aaron held his peace. (NKJV)

The story of Nadab and Abihu is always an amazing one to me. By modern standards it almost seems whimsical that they were killed for such a seemly harmless mistake. Although some comments on the story have suggested that they were drunk or something like that, it seems that the only problem with their incense mentioned in the text is the profane or strange fire they offered. In Leviticus 6, it was specifically commanded the priests that they were to keep the fire on the altar burning continually.

Leviticus 6:12-13

12 And the fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be put out. And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order on it; and he shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. 13 A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.

They were not to take any fire from anywhere else other than the one burning on the altar. The reason for this is related to another topic that is put forth in more clarity in the New Testament: the priests (and we as priests in the New Testament) are only to offer to God what he has begun in us. The sacrifices of the Old Testament foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ in the New Testament, so it makes sense that the themes developed would be found in both.

God does not accept our works because after the fall, everything we do is tainted by sin. Even our best works are unacceptable in his sight. Because of this, the only acceptable thing we have to offer to God is something He does in us. The righteousness we have does not originate in us--it originates in God, just as the original fire came from heaven. Nadab and Abihu show what God thinks of works that originates in us. This is connected to the passage in Hebrews 4 that talks about entering into God's rest. We are to cease from our own works and instead strive by faith to enter into His rest. The faith by which we grab hold of Jesus Christ is God's own work as much as Christ's sacrifice on the cross is God's work. When we believe in him, we are simply offering God back what he has already done in us; this is just like the fire on the altar that was sent by God from heaven being used to offer the sacrifices. It did not originate with the Israelites striking a match; it came directly from God.

If even our faith does not originate in us and we can't claim to have created it, then how much more should we not be making up new ways to worship God. We need to worship God in the way He has proscribed because Nadab and Abihu show how God views even our best works when we try to do it our own way.

"...being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ."



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