“Casual with holy things!” This expression has wedged itself in my conscience since uttered by Dr. John Oswalt during OMS’ 110th Anniversary Reunion Meetings at Southport Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana in June 2011. The Reunion was a time of much blessing. Equally, God spoke words of challenge and chastisement into my heart. Dr. Oswalt, a visiting distinguished professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, spoke about Biblical holiness. Commenting upon the deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, at the hand of God for offering “…unauthorized fire before the Lord…” (Leviticus chapter 10) Dr. Oswalt reminded us of the dangers of treating God lightly.
We cannot be sure how the worship offered by Aaron’s sons was ‘unauthorised’. It may have been offered at an unauthorised time and not one of the sacrifices which had been commanded. The mention of ‘incense’ in verse 1 may, perhaps, allude to the use of ‘unauthorised’ materials. As the Lord immediately prohibits Aaron and his sons from drinking alcohol (verse 9), it is more likely that the brothers were drunk and consequently offered their sacrifice in an ‘unauthorised’ manner.
It is, of course, no accident that we are not told the precise reason for God’s severe judgement upon Nadab and Abihu. If we had been, we might all too easily say, ‘We’re not guilty of that!’ and miss the major lesson the passage is seeking to teach us.
God explained himself to Moses. As a holy God He was to be honoured and respected (verse 3). There could be no trifling with him. Worship was a serious business to be handled with care. God had fully and plainly instructed them as to the mode of their worship - there was no room left for man to introduce what he might deem desirable or expedient. Nothing was needed on man’s part save a spirit of implicit obedience to the divine command. Rebelliously or carelessly, Nadab and Abihu departed in their worship from the plain word of God, and the judgement of God fell!
In the early church a similar incident took place. In the New Testament church all believers were considered to be priests (1 Peter 2:9). When Ananias and Sapphira (ordinary believers, not Christian leaders) lacked integrity in their financial dealings with God, they, too, encountered His judgement and died (Acts 5:1 - 11). People were slow to learn the lesson of Nadab and Abihu. They still are!
Derek Tidball puts it like this: “The lessons are stark. God is holy. Worship is awesome. Obedience is required. But grace is available.”
Deuteronomy 4:24 sums it up: “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
We must not be allowed to introduce our own devices into the worship of God. All such efforts will amount to “unauthorised fire” - unhallowed incense, false worship!
God despises casual Christianity! If we are casual with holy things we have failed to understand the character of God and the extreme wonder of a personal call unto holiness through Jesus Christ.