Holiness of God

Consumed by Fire: Nadab and Abihu
Since January 1 I have been reading through the Bible and I had hoped to comment here regularly on what I read. I have kept up with the reading but it has been difficult to keep up with the commentary. Today I think I am supposed to have read through 1 Samuel 30 and haven’t commented on anything yet, so this is my first shot at getting with the program.

In an earlier post I said I wanted to be like Moses and talk directly with God without a lot of barriers between us. After reading the Book of Leviticus, it seems to me that I may have been too hasty. I fear that if I had been part of the camp wandering about in the desert, I probably would have been consumed by fire, stoned, kicked out or cut off from the people early on.

One incident that grabbed my attention involved Aarons two sons Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10). They were consumed by fire because they did not use the kind of fire that God commanded them to use in a certain kind of ceremony or offering. The King James version says they offered “Strange” fire and it was an offense to God. Now as far as most of us are concerned fire is fire and there is no difference. But God said that the fire that needed to be used had to come from certain source and these guys just used whatever was available. I felt bad for these guys and I must admit I had a degree of sympathy for them because what they did seemed to be a very coyote thing to do. It was probably getting late and they said “Hey lets just use this –no big deal.”

The incident caused me to wonder about some things. The consequence was severe and did not seem to be in proportion to the crime. Furthermore, this is one incident in along list of bad things that happened to the people after God brought them out of Egypt. Recall the business about the snakes, the quails, and assorted plagues. Moses himself was not allowed to enter into the promised land. It is not hard to understand why the people thought they may have been better off had they stayed in Egypt. The people and the world at this point want to know if God is really good and what justifies His harsh dealings with the people.

First, one could say that God, as creator, could do whatever he wants and that all we need to know. But this is not satisfying because it makes God out to be arbitrary and capricious like Zeus or any other gods we could think of and it does not address His just and right character.

From the time of Abraham , or perhaps even Noah, God was trying to call out a unique people in among all people who would be a witness to the rest of the world. These called out people would testify to God’s power and character to all the world. When the people were lead out of Egypt they made an agreement with God that carried duties and responsibilities for both parties and that were not binding on any other people. God would care for and bless Israel and be Israel’s God and Israel would do all that God commanded. Nadab and Abihu violated God’s command and God had the right to take corrective action.

Another interesting thing is that, with this agreement, God was coming to live among a corrupt people. I think all of the rules about the construction of the tent, altars, sacrifices, and the priestly duties were designed to regulate how a corrupt people could interact with God and maintain God’s holiness and honor among the people.

From a legal standpoint God’s action was justified but it seems too harsh by current worldly standards. After all, these days even murder rarely results in the death penalty. If Nadab and Abihu were to be charged in our legal system they probably would have gotten probation or a deferred sentence if found guilty. The Bible itself gives a clue about why the consequences were so severe. God Says “I must be respected as holy by those who come near me; before all the people I must be given honor” (Leviticus 10:3). Prior to this incident God gave very specific instructions about the fire and there is little doubt that Nadab and Abihu knew the requirements (Exodus 30:9). The sin of Nadab and Abihu was not just a minor mistake made out of ignorance. It appears that that they willfully disregarded God’s command and intentionally dishonored God. God’s words also indicate that that they dishonored God before the people–certainly before each other if not before all of the people. I believe the willfulness of the act was what brought such severe judgement.

It is hard for us to accept this hard judgement because we do not really understand or appreciate the holiness of God. How many times each day to we disregard God’s commands, make silly jokes about Him, or take his name in vain? Surely I test the limits of his grace. The Bible says that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). I think the word fear means that we understand his holiness and desire to honor him. Aaron understood this and that is why he kept silent about his sons.



Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby

I have always thought that Hollywood lacks the power to shape our values and mores. Instead, the movies are more like a mirror that reflects the image of our society. In that sense, the anger directed toward Clint Eastwood is misdirected.

People can be wicked. The Ten Commandments were given to us to help keep us in line. The admonishments to not murder, steal, or covet acknowledge the fact that people are valuable and were created to be in healthy relationship with one another. Suicide, assisted or not, is a reflection of our failure to value and love each other.

Eastwood’s movie “Million Dollar Baby,” merely reflects the declining value we place on one another and human life. The movie rightly grabs our attention and forces us to ask how far we are willing to go. Is there a limit to who we will consider expendable, unnecessary, useless, or inconvenient? The murder in our hearts and the small value we place on people is revealed to us almost daily.

The Denver Post itself bears witness to this, having recently reported on random killings, our mistrust for people from the Middle East, terrorist attacks in every part of the globe, students killing their classmates, and abortion on demand.

In the business world, executives manipulate stocks, steal from their company, outsource and lay off people to make a buck at the expense of employees. Most of us probably are not too sure about our next-door neighbors either.

We must lament and mourn what has happened to us and our country. We need changed hearts.

Note: This letter to the editor was published in the Denver Post in February 2005. When Eastwood’s movie came out there was a considerable amount of controversy and I wanted to try to give a Christian view. In our world most people do not see themselves as bad. People think they are basically good and getting better all the time. It seems to me that if people can see their badness than they will be ready to see their need for Jesus.