SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
- This is a pretty surprising moment in the Bible. Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu were probably the most honored men in all of Israel, next to Moses and Aaron. The Israelites were on their faces worshiping God and enjoying his presence (see 9:23-24). In that moment, Nadab and Abihu run into the tabernacle to burn incense. But they do it at the wrong time and in the wrong way. If they had sinned in ignorance, they would have been allowed to bring a sin offering. But this wasn't a naive act; this was a prideful act of irreverence.
- It seems shocking that Nadab and Abihu lose their lives for this sin, but it's critical for us to understand: We all lose our lives because of our sin. God told Adam and Eve that the consequence for sin was death. God gave us life as a gift, and if we use the gift incorrectly, we forfeit our right to possess and use it. It's the same for us as for Adam and Eve. Romans 6:23 says, "for the wages of sin is death." We all lose our lives because of our sin. The only thing that is unusual about Nadab and Abihu is that they instantly lost their lives because of their sin.
- Why? Why did God take their lives immediately? We may get a clue in a somewhat similar story from the New Testament. In Acts 5 a husband and wife named Ananias and Saphira sin by lying to the church amount a financial offering they were making (in a sense, they offered "false, unacceptable worship" as did Nadab and Abihu) and, because of their sin, they die instantly. What is in common between these two scenes? In Leviticus 9 the nation of Israel is being established. In Acts 5 the church is being established. They were both important new era's, and God needed to make clear what these communities were to be about. They needed to become aware that they existed for God, to worship and serve him. He did not exist to serve them.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
- The Bible teaches that God is a consuming fire. For instance in Deuteronomy 4:24, "For the Lord your God is a consuming fire…" and in Hebrews 12:28-29, "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire.'" In the story of Nadab and Abihu we see this very literally, but it is always true. It's like God's holiness is a fire that burns up sin. The only way we can be in God's presence without losing our lives is if we have no sin. Someday, when this life ends, we will go to be in God's presence. So the only way we will survive it is if our sin has been removed because we put our faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross.
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
- If you've never put your faith in what Jesus did for you on the cross, maybe this story and its explanation makes you realize even more why it's an important decision to consider.
- If you have put your faith in Jesus you have had your sins (past, present, and future) removed. But that doesn't mean we can act like sinning isn't a big deal. Our sin led to Jesus' death. We need to be devoted to living life without sin. As the Bible says in 1 Peter 1:15-17, "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.' Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear."