M. Scott Peck shares this story in his book, The Road Less Traveled…I spent much of my ninth summer on a bicycle. About a mile from our house the road went down a steep hill and turned sharply at the bottom. Coasting down the hill one morning, I felt my gathering speed to be ecstatic. To give up this ecstasy by applying brakes seemed an absurd self-punishment. So I resolved to simultaneously retain my speed and negotiate the corner. My ecstasy ended seconds later when I was propelled a dozen feet off the road into the woods. I was badly scratched and bleeding, and the front wheel of my new bike was twisted beyond use from its impact against a tree. I had been unwilling to suffer the pain of giving up my ecstatic speed in the interest of maintaining my balance around the corner. I learned, however, that the loss of balance is ultimately more painful than the giving up required to maintain balance. It is a lesson I have continually had to relearn. As must everyone, for as we negotiate the curves and corners of our lives, we must continually give up parts of ourselves. We all make mistakes…some of them are of lesser importance, while others make a significant impact on our lives. This next section of Leviticus is a sobering reminder of this fact.
As I shared previously, God set up the worship at the tabernacle the way that he wanted it to be done…it was on His terms. Aaron and his sons begin serving the Lord at His altar. They offer sacrifices on their own behalf, and then on behalf of the people. It is also the privilege of the high priest to give a blessing to the people on the first day of the feast. Aaron gives two blessings…a high priestly blessing…and another with Moses, which is a reminder of the people’s need for fellowship with God. Now, the glory of the Lord is seen by the people (9:23-24). As the fire of the Lord comes down and consumes the offerings, it puts the people on their knees...a powerful manifestation of the Lord's presence.
A day that should have ended with glorious worship of God is climaxed, unfortunately, with the funeral of two of Aaron’s sons. A brief aside is in order in relationship to the upcoming subject…if I had a dollar for all of the times I have heard Old Testament passages (like this one and the one concerning Uzzah, etc.) quoted over the years as argumentation for New Testament authorization, I would have enough money to take my wonderful wife out to a nice dinner at Olive Garden. Passages such as these have been the main proof-texting argument for those who would say that we must do everything according to a strict pattern as it relates to life and godliness....and this under the new covenant even, and not the old. Yet, I do not think taking such passages out of context in order to make questionable points is prudent, nor is it good Bible study. However, I will take the information at face value for what it is to God’s people at that time – a significant warning. Is it one that we can learn from? Yes. But it is not a covenantal concern...it is simply a principle for learning.
Everything that Nadab and Abihu do is wrong in relationship to their understanding and experience as priests of the Lord. They are the wrong people to be handling incense and be presenting it to the Lord. This was to be the task their father Aaron, the High Priest (Exodus 30). They also use the wrong instruments…their own censers and not the high priests. They also act at the wrong time…the task was only to be done on the annual Day of Atonement. They have the wrong authority, the wrong fire, the wrong motive…and finally, the wrong energy. Verses 9-10 imply that they are under the influence of alcohol when they performed their duty. How many poor to fatal decisions are made under the influence of too much alcohol? Here is an early, unfortunate, example. It isn’t enough that the priests merely taught the people the difference between that which was holy and unholy…they also had to practice it in their lives. There are some sad consequences as the result of the actions of Aaron’s sons. Aaron has to remain at his duty of ceremony ordination. He is not able to mourn; His nephews take care of the burial of his sons (See Exodus 6). Aaron is sincerely sorrowful before the Lord; he lays his soul before the Lord. The Lord knows his heart…and that he is an obedient servant. God’s understanding and grace are shown as He works with Aaron and his two younger sons, as he grieves for the two older sons.
How many warnings do we receive from the Lord that need to be heeded? More than ever, we live in a society where people seek to meet God on their own terms rather than His. Whether we are talking about His will for marriage or determining when life is conceived…His will is found in His Word not on the street or in the science lab. Even as it pertains to salvation, many people want to make up their own rules…and in many cases, it has little if anything to do with the blood of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Even more importantly in the experience of many of us…if believers live according to a set of religious rules that take them away from loving their neighbors and the love of their brothers and sisters in Christ, then they are living according to the wrong system. This story helps us to understand that as God’s servants, we need to be obedient to His will for our lives. As His priests, we have this responsibility…not only for ourselves…but also because we are setting an example for others to follow. It is God’s plan; He set the terms for us…and those terms were brought about because of the blood of his Son shed on the cross for us. Jesus Christ is our example of faith and obedience. He set the greatest example of obedience to His Father. He showed us how to live in a sacrificial way. We must follow Him. We are people who must be washed in the blood…baptized and obedient…to live in a loving relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ…and serving the needs of others. This is our high calling as God’s priests.