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Year 1, Week 13, Day 3

I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Leviticus 10-11.

Today’s reading reveals a serious incident early in the start of the nation of Israel’s sacrificial system of worship. Leviticus 10 reports the death of two of Aaron’s sons—Nadab and Abihu—whom the LORD struck dead as a response to their defiance against Him. In the context of this tragedy, the LORD specifies some of the instructional tasks that the priests were to communicate to the nation. The priests were to know how to distinguish between the holy and the common, as well as the clean and unclean, teaching these distinctions to Israel. Leviticus 11, with its description of clean and unclean animals, begins a section that provides instruction on when the Israelites knew that they had become unclean, as well as some of the processes they would need to go through to become clean again.

What struck me from today’s reading is what it reveals about how the LORD demands to be worshipped. There must be an awareness of the holiness of God as He is approached in worship: "For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.” (Psalm 5:4). The LORD is concerned, not merely that He is worshipped, but also how He is worshipped. Leviticus 8 underscored that everything that had unfolded in getting the priests ready to begin their work at the Tabernacle was done “as the LORD commanded him” (Leviticus 8:4; see also Leviticus 8:9,13,17, 21,29,36). But in today’s reading Nadab and Abihu attempt an approach to worship that was not according to God’s Word: "Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.” (Leviticus 10:1). It is hard to be certain what exactly the two sons of Aaron had done, but whatever it was, it was not authorized. Leviticus 9 closed with mention of fire from the LORD as a sign of His favor: "And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” (Leviticus 9:24). But in today’s reading, the LORD sends a fire, not showing favor, but judgment: “And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” (Leviticus 10:2). The LORD explained the reason for His response of judgment: “Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.” (Leviticus 10:3). The LORD sets the terms of worship. We are not to worship the LORD as we think it good.

The incident reported in Leviticus 10 is shocking. It may challenge our assumptions about the LORD and even serve to correct false presumptions about what comprises true worship. This incident might cause us to inquire about the risk factors in worshipping God wrongly and ask, “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:3). This incident might leave us with a false notion that the LORD did not provide ample warning of the dangers of worshipping the LORD beyond what He had explicitly prescribed; but the LORD had provided warning: “At the entrance of the tent of meeting you shall remain day and night for seven days, performing what the LORD has charged, so that you do not die, for so I have been commanded.” (Leviticus 8:35). The LORD was upholding His justice and righteousness by following through on what He said. Certainly, the incident did awaken Aaron and his remaining sons to carefully do only what the LORD had instructed: “And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.” (Leviticus 10:7).

The LORD’s instructions for how Aaron was to respond to the death of his sons was also shocking: “And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the LORD has kindled.” (Leviticus 10:6). None of the normal expressions of grief were to be expressed over the death of Nadab and Abihu. In fact, if grief was shown, more harm would come. Aaron and the community of Israel probably were saddened by what happened, but they were not to grieve in a way that would align themselves with those who disrespected the LORD. It can be hard to navigate grief and sadness, but we should carefully consider how easily we can be drawn into emotionally aligning ourselves with the fate of wicked rebels who are treasonous against the LORD, rather than emotionally aligning ourselves with the LORD and His honor.

The hard lesson for Israel was that the LORD’s instructions for worship were to be honored. While the details of those particular instructions of approaching the LORD are not still in place, in light of Jesus’ work, we still are approaching the same God, who is to be honored: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries…How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified…It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31).

What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?

Pastor Joe