These are the generations of Aaron and Moses at the time when the LORD spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. These are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he ordained to serve as priests. But Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD when they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests in the lifetime of Aaron their father. Numbers 3:1-4, ESV.
The shocking death of Nadab and Abihu is detailed in Leviticus 10:1-2. It tends to leave us a bit perplexed. Just what is this strange “unauthorized” fire? It is fire from a source other than the large altar in the tabernacle courtyard, the one God had ordained for the priests to use (Leviticus 16:12). It is also possible that the young men acted in this irresponsible manner because they were drunk, because soon after the description of these events, Leviticus 10:9 forbids priests from drinking while on-duty. In any case, the young men are put to death by God for not worshipping God as He told them to worship. The Lord declares, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Leviticus 10:3).
Should we be surprised that God takes the “how” of worship so seriously? Do you remember Cain and Abel? Cain killed Abel. But do you remember what motivated Cain to murder? His offering was rejected by God (Genesis 4:1-5). He had attempted to worship God in a way other than the way God desired.
Why does God spend so much time explaining the details of furniture construction for the tabernacle or the design of the priestly garments (Exodus 25-30)? Or why does God refuse to allow any other use for the incense perfume than its worship use (Exodus 30:34-38)? How we worship matters to God.
God cares about how we worship Him. Even in the New Testament, we are told how to worship (preaching the Word, singing, prayers, offerings, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper). God is not looking for new and inventive means of worship. Such are like strange fire. Sadly, there can be little doubt that many contemporary churches have fallen to the temptation to imitate the entertainment culture of our land. And, longing for miracles more than Jesus, we have even invited charlatans to perform tricks in so-called worship services. We are too often tempted to play with strange fire. God forgive us.
I pray that we will all see the beauty and majesty that are available in worship God’s way.