Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy;
And before all the people I must be glorified.’ ” So Aaron held his peace. (Leviticus 10:1-3)
Nadab’s and Abihu’s fire is described as “profane.” Profane means unholy, unhallowed; it is the opposite of sacred or holy. Why was their fire of incense profane? We don’t have to wonder, for the Bible says it was fire which the Lord “had not commanded them.” Their punishment was swift and severe. What can we learn from this Old Testament story?
First, we learn to respect the authority of God. Aaron’s sons needed to offer fire the Lord had commanded; instead, they offered fire not commanded by the Lord – fire that God was silent about. The silence of God on a matter does not grant authority for us to act. Rather, what God has revealed is what we should do and observe. In other words, we should have positive, divine authority for what we do. This principle is part of the Great Commission given by Jesus to the apostles when He said, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20). It may be absurd or twisted to think about, but Jesus did not say that disciples should be taught that they can do anything that He has not specifically forbidden. Had He said that, one could say that God has not said anything about hamburgers for the Lord’s Supper (He’s silent about “no hamburgers”), so we can do it. No, Jesus said the principle is this: observe or do what has been commanded. To do otherwise would be to act upon the silence of God.
Second, this story of profane fire teaches us that to do what God has not commanded is to not regard Him as holy: “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy” (verse 3). Holy means set apart, sanctified. If we regard God as holy, then we will respect His authority, being concerned with doing only what He has commanded.
Third, when we respect the authority of God, then He is glorified: “And before all the people I must be glorified” (verse 3). In disrespecting the authority of God by doing what God had not commanded, Nadab and Abihu did not bring glory to God. Instead, if anyone was glorified, it was man.
Why would Nadab and Abihu offer fire which God had not commanded? The Bible does not tell us. But still today, people offer to the Lord worship which He has not commanded. Today, when one is asked why he worships with a mechanical instrument of music, he might respond, “But where does it say not to?” This is like Nadab and Abihu – acting upon the silence of God.
The New Testament teaches us that “whatever you do in word deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). This does not mean to tag “in the name of the Lord” on what we say or do, but rather it teaches us that whatever we say or do should be according to the authority of the Lord Jesus, according to what He has said. Once again, this is not an instruction to say or do based on what He has not said; that would be acting upon His silence.
Let us strive to know the will of Christ for our lives and say and do those things that are according to what has been revealed. Doing that, Christ is glorified and regarded as holy.
– Larry Jones