A reverence for God
I recently was drawn to the “strange fire” episode in Leviticus, in which two of Aaron’s sons offered an unauthorized sacrifice to the Lord, and lost their lives for their presumption.
And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, and put incense on it, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.
And there went out fire from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
As dramatic as that initial event was, it was the aftermath that caught my interest, how God dealt with Aaron in his grieving.
Then Moses said to Aaron, It [is] that which the LORD spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel, the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, Come near, carry your brothers from before the sanctuary out of the camp.
And they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said.
And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and lest He be angry on all the people. But let your brothers, the whole of Israel, mourn the burning which the LORD has kindled.
And you shall not go out of the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, lest you die. For the anointing oil of the LORD is on you. And they did according to the word of Moses. – Lev 10:1-7
It may seem strange, but Aaron and his remaining sons, priests all, were not allowed to mourn the sudden loss of family. The nation of Israel was to mourn for them, but the priests were to “hold their peace”. And the reason for that? The anointing oil of the Lord was on them.
The underlying truth here is that God’s holiness trumps whatever we are experiencing in life. Our difficulties, our tests, our emotions, all must be submitted to God if we are to stay in right relationship with Him and not lose the anointing.
That may seem like a hard word, but there is both healing and safety in it. When we suffer loss or pain we expect God to be sympathetic and comforting, and He is. He is indeed the friend that sticks closer than a brother. But here God is warning us not to exalt our emotional life beyond its right place, lest we obscure His power in our lives.
A reverence for God gives us a framework that protects us from being overwhelmed with the cares of this world, or conversely, deceived by riches. If we sense we are losing godly perspective, we are not reverencing God as we ought. But when we lift God to where He deserves to be, everything else falls into position. God sits above the circle of the earth in all holiness. What’s more, He sovereignly presides over the chaos and has promised to redeem it for those who love Him. These foundational truths give us a steadfast assurance that the world cannot take away, one which will enable us to face anything life throws at us.
When I saw this I understood why the Holy Spirit had led me to this passage. In the past I had let hurtful events divert me from the Presence of God and His purpose for my life. In doing so, I had distanced myself from God. Remember, God declared that He would be sanctified in them that come near Him. If we want to draw near to God, we must first regard Him as holy. We must have a holy reverence and awe and fear* of God. Only then will our offering not be “strange fire” originating in our own flesh. We instead will be returning to Him an acceptable offering of holiness that originated with Him.
So, having a sincere reverence for God will accomplish two things for us. It will clear the path to allow us to draw near to God, and once there it will guard us from straying from Him.
Two last points from this pericope. First, note in v. 6 that if the priests failed to reverence the Lord above themselves, not just they but the entire nation would suffer spiritually. We do not live in a vacuum. Our actions affect much more than just ourselves. This is especially true of the priests of our God, and according to 1Pe. 2.9, all believers in Christ Jesus are kings and priests. The higher we are raised up in responsibility, the more effect our actions will have. And for this we will be held in account.
Secondly, beware of invoking a dispensational excuse here. We are in the New Testament Day of Grace, in which mercy and salvation are freely offered. Thank God, judgment tends to be withheld, owing to the virtue of the Blood of Christ. But God has not abandoned all judgment, and indeed has promised to judge His church first of all, in order that we may become Christlike and equipped to lead others to salvation. For a fresh admonition that reverence for God is a very serious and eternal truth consider the case on Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 in light of Lev 10.3.
*Note that the reverent fear that is appropriate here is not a negative, pathological fear.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether –Ps 19.9
This fear is entirely compatible with faith and love. It is simply due His majesty and character. When we fear God this way, we become free. Fear God, and you need not fear anything else.