‘Strange Fire’

Jesse Webb, India

Category: Exposition

"And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, look each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and kid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord which He had not commanded them.

And there came forth fire from before the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.

'Mien Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanc­tified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified,"

(Leviticus 10. 1/3, R.V.)

The words which arrest attention in this passage and needing to be stressed are these:—

"Which He had not commanded them." Does this expression not imply that Israel were not only to follow closely the instructions which God had given them concerning their approach to Himself, and concerning their worship and service, but that they were positively forbidden to add or substitute anything of their own devising? There was to be no tampering whatever with the divine ar­rangements. 'Strange fire" was not to be introduced and substituted for God's own perfect orderings. If I mistake not, we have here a clearly-defined principle to guide us in all our worship and service for God, a principle that should save us from the many doubtful devices and practices so com­mon in Christendom to-day and which we may well describe as "strange fire."

The reasons given for the introduction of that which God has not commanded may sound very plausible, and may be supported by those who are earnest and truly zealous in their service for God, but the incident before us is a solemn beacon of warning which we shall do well to heed. The dangerous principle of allowing a practice because there is no Scriptural prohibition against it should be rejected. It is unworthy of a believer and servant of God who desires to stand approved of the Lord in that coming day of award (2 Tim. 2. 5; 1 Cor. 3. 12/LS and 9. 27). Warnings against going beyond that which is written in Scripture are numerous, and the wise will regard them.

"Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." Deut. 4. 2.

"What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." Deut. 12. 32.

"Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper -whithersoever thou goest." Josh. 1. 7.

"Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar," Prov. 50. 5/6.

"I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall he for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him." lied, 3. 14.

"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."

Rev. 22. 18/19.

In a certain periodical the following pithy comment was made upon the passage in Leviticus we are here considering :-

"Note - there was no hint of any heathen origin of this 'strange fire' - the fact that it was not comm­anded was enough. Any departure from, or ignoring of the explicit word of the Lord is presumptuous sin; but most of all in the sacred service of the sanctuary, and still more when the sinners are among the foremost leaders of the sacred host. Now all this applies with peculiar directness to ministers of the Word. In so far as they, in deference to human opinions, or reliance on their own fancied wisdom, either detract from, or go beyond, Holy Scripture, they sin, but against clearer light than Aaron's sons ever enjoyed."

C. H. Mackintosh in commenting upon this passage in his notes on Leviticus remarks:-

"Here was their sin. They departed in their worship from the plain word of Jehovah, Who had fully and plainly instructed them as to the mode of their wor­ship. We have already alluded to the Divine fullness and sufficiency of the Word of the Lord, in every branch of priestly service. There was no room left for man to introduce what he might deem desirable or expedient. “This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded' was quite sufficient.”

The question for us to consider is - Why should we desire liberty to do that for which we have no warrant from God in His Word? If we once admit that there is liberty to do God's work in a way that He has not appointed, where shall we stop? Will not this lead us into the many unscriptural methods and devices so common among those who do not seek Divine warrant and precedent for al] they do? The portion of Scripture we ate now considering is a solemn warning indeed against all such opinions so fatal to the authority of the Word of God. The multitudinous sects into which Christendom is divided owe their origin to their unwillingness to make the Scriptures the sole authority in all things. In his book "The Divine Plan of Missions" Mr. W. R. Vine makes an important statement which deserves the attention of all who earnestly desire to see a Scriptural unity among the people of God:-

"Adherence to the revealed will of God in His Word makes for unity among God's people. Division and disintegration are the result of the overstepping of the limits marked out in Scripture and the adoption of humanly devised expedients and regu­lations."

This Old Testament incident of the offering of "strange fire" is recorded by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God for our learning and profit ("They were written for our admonition upon whom die ends of the ages are come." 1 Cor. 10, 11. R.V.) and we cannot ignore it without loss to ourselves now and in the coming day of the Lord. The ministry of the holy things is a solemn trust and responsib­ility, and we cannot, dare not, trust our own judgment of what is most suitable for the most holy service of God. His instructions for our guidance are explicitly laid down in the Scriptures, and are complete and binding. (2 Tim. 3. 16/17 & Jude 3). From these God-breathed Scriptures we may learn how God would have us serve Him, and happy are all they who are satisfied lo serve Him in the way that He has Him­self appointed. Great will be their reward. It should be remembered that all service, no matter what its nature, should be service rendered to God. Even in conn­ection with the ministry of the Gospel the apostle Paul declared:-

"God is my witness, Whom I serve in my spirit in the Gospel of His Son." Rom, 1. 9.

Ministry in the church of God should also be ministry to the Lord:-

"Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; ... As they ministered to the Lord and fasted" (Acts 13. 1/2, and see also Ex. 28. 1, 3, 4, 41; chap. 29. 1. "to minister unto me.")

The knowledge of this should make us the more concerned to render God such service or ministry as He has Himself appointed us. We need to exercise uncommon care lest we go beyond what is written in Scripture and offer that in our service and worship which appears to God very much as the "strange fire" which the sons of Aaron offered. It has been well said that: -

"The spirituality of a believer is not to be measured by his talking, nor is it to be reckoned by his out­ward activity, though (his should be enthusiastic. Spirituality is the expression of communion with God and of (he heart's willingness to be led by the Holy Spirit."

The prayer of the Psalmist - "Teach me to do thy will" (Psa. 143. 10) can never be inappropriate from the lips of a servant of God.

Nadab and Abihu served God in priestly nearness. Their privilege of service was great, so also was their responsibility. Their high and sacred office did not secure them from the possibility of failure in the discharge of their holy duties, neither did it preserve them from the righteous judgment of God when they failed. Was it of this the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was thinking when he penned the words: -

"Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire." Heb. 12. 28/29.

Aaron's sons lacked reverence and godly fear, and suffered in consequence. This passage in Hebrews reminds us that we need grace, special grace, for the holy service and worship of God if it is to be acceptable to Him. This is given freely to all who will avail themselves of the Divine provision, Heb. 4. 16, so that no servant of the Lord need fail through its lack. Heb. 12. 15.

The secret of acceptable and successful service and of spiritual prosperity communicated to Joshua, Moses' successor as leader of the people of God, applies equally to-day. What is that secret?

"Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success."

Josh. 1. 7/8.

Let us remember that there is a divine fullness and sufficiency in the Word of God, so that in the service of the Lord there is no need for mere human inventions and innovations. "Strange fire" and "new carts" may appeal to some minds, but human reasoning is a poor and unsafe guide, and a most unworthy substitute for the divine pattern and the Holy Spirits gracious orderings. To be commended are the wise words of a much-used servant of God: —

"It becomes not servants to trifle with the smallest commands of a perfect Master. Grave errors have been suggested and nurtured by what appeared at first to be trifling departures from Scriptural rule, therefore we ought to give earnest heed even to minor precepts. Future ages may have to mourn over the defalcations of to-day, unless we are careful to do the building of the Lord's house with faithfulness."

Passing strange, is it not, that there were leaders of the people of God who preferred "strange fire" to God's fire (compare Lev, 9. 23/24 with 10, 1/2), How great the contrast! How solemn the judgment! How heart-searching the lesson! Let it speak to heart and conscience.

How fatally easy it is to fall by imperceptible degrees into the snare of seeking to serve in I he good of past experiences of God instead of in the power of living communion with Him. That path makes "old prophets" of God's servants —ineffectual themselves and a peril to others.