Author: Daniel Yahav, Messianic Pastor, Peniel Fellowship, Tiberias
As we approach the Day of Atonement, I would like to take a deeper look at one of the dramatic incidents that are recorded about the worship and service of God in the Tabernacle, and draw from it some lessons for us today. The chapter where
God gives the commandments concerning the holy service of the Day of Atonement, begins with these words: “And the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the Lord, and died” Lev. 16:1
God chose to remind them of the death of the two sons of Aaron, which is recorded in Lev.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. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.”
These events that happened to the people of Israel in the wilderness about 3,500 years ago are recorded for us not just for the historical purpose, but they contain deep and important spiritual messages for our lives as believers, as it is written in 1 Cor.10:11 – “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” What was the great sin of Nadav and Abihu, the sons of Aaron who had just been chosen by God and had been dedicated into priesthood with great splendour?
Why did fire come down from God and kill them?
What message of warning did God want us all to comprehend, to absorb and to implement from this incident?
The New Testament teaches us that in the Old Testament we have been given the shadows of the things and that in the Messiah is their fulfilment. Heb.10:1, Col 2:16-17. What then, do the fire and incense symbolise?
To answer all these questions, let’s first review the details of the story, and remind ourselves, what was the problem with their service to God. If we will understand this we can avoid falling in the same sin.
In Leviticus chapters 8 and 9 we are told how Aaron and his sons were dedicated to their service as priests unto God. Their dedication process lasted seven days and on the eighth day the glory of God appeared to them and to the people. Fire came out from before God on the bronze altar and consumed the offering that was on it. The people saw this and fell on their faces. This fire which was lit by God himself became the ever burning fire on the altar. In Lev. 6:12-13 it is written: “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… A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.” Daily this fire was fed for years, and it did not stop burning.
This was the fire the priest was commanded to use for offering unto God the incense: “Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil” Lev. 16:12
Then we read that the two sons of Aaron sacrificed to God a strange (lit. in Hebrew a foreign) fire. They did not take from the fire that God had lit on the altar – the fire that had come down from heaven, but they used some other source of fire. So to say – an earthly fire. The word of God calls it a foreign fire. God rejected their service and their sacrifice of incense. He killed them on the spot with the fire of His holiness. “For our God is a consuming fire” Heb. 12:29. We are being told in the New Testament that our God is no less a consuming fire as he was in the Old Testament.
After the death of Aaron’s two sons, Moses reminds Aaron of the words of God who said that He sanctifies His name through those who come near to him. Lev. 10:3 – “Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it what the LORD spoke saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.”
God sanctifies His name through the good testimony of the lives of His servants just as Jesus taught us on the sermon on the mount: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matt. 5:13-16
But, God is also displaying His glory and holiness through His judgement and power. This is how it was with the two sons of Aaron and in the case of Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament, who lied to the Holy Spirit and were judged by God on the spot.
The closer we get to God’s presence, the closer we come to His burning Holiness. The Bible reveals to us different levels of holiness: There is unclean. There is neutral. There is Holy, there is Holy of Holies and there is Holy Holy Holy – Three times Holy, in heaven. Isaiah 6:1-3.
In the heavens the angels that stand beside God are called ‘seraphim’, which literally mean ‘fire’ in Hebrew. The angels of fire declare God’s holiness.
So, our first lesson from this incident is, that we should take more seriously the words of God for example in Heb. 12:14 – “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”
We often ask God to draw near to us, to reveal His glory, his might and holiness. Some even sing and ask that the fire of God will come down on us. But do we understand the meaning of our request?
It is only the grace of God that He doesn’t hurry to draw near to us as it was in the wilderness when he showed his glory to the people of Israel in the fire that came down to the altar or as He revealed His glory in great might to the first congregation in Jerusalem. He sees our lives and has mercy on us. He is waiting for us more than we are waiting for Him. He is waiting that we will pursue holiness in our lives, without which, no one will see God. So if we truly desire to draw nearer to God, let us examine ourselves and get rid of every habit, every kind of behaviour, every pride, stubbornness, selfishness, anger etc, and every worldly way of thinking, that is unpleasing to God, and live in the fear and love of God which will lead us to holiness – not to dead religion, but to a living and active faith!
The more we pursue holiness and clean out of our lives and our hearts the worldliness and sin, the nearer we can draw to God.
In our next letter we will continue to expand more on the spiritual meaning of the fire and the incense.