Living in God’s Holy Presence: The Dangers of Holiness (Lev. 10)

Publié le 7 mars 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Pastor Vincent Bourrel


The priesthood looked promising for Nadab and Abihu. The holy God of Israel had personally set them apart to serve as priests. Their family pedigree was wealthy  and their preparation intensive (Leviticus 8-9).

They were dressed in brand new tunics and sashes (Lev 8.7). The tiara on Aaron’s head held a gold plaque with these words « Holiness to the Lord » (Lev 8.9; cf. Ex 28.36). The blood of their ordination offering was crusted on their ears, thumbs and toes (Lev 8:24). Their hearts were still amazed to see « fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and  consumed the burnt offering » (Lev 9:24).

But on the same day the same fire went out from before Jehovah to consume them. (Lev 10.1-5)

What to think of this story? A cynical mind would say that it is to put the rite before the human being. Isn’t God showing insensitivity in killing 2 brave boys just for wanting to add some spice to the ceremony?

While the book of Leviticus aims to bring us into the presence of God, when we read this story we tend to take a step back.

Stories like this are included in the scriptures for our instruction says Paul (Ro 15.4). What lessons can we learn from this episode? I suggest that you reflect this morning on:

What is our vision of God?

The other day I was at a gas station refueling and in front of me were 2 men filling up gas cans. One was holding the pump and filling the cans, the other was rolling a cigarette. He finishes rolling it, carries it to his mouth and… I stare at him, as if to say « you’re not going to light your lighter on top of those cans,right? »  He did not . Of course, as in each station, there were “no smoking” signs everywhere. This ban obviously includes the ban on lighting your lighter while filling your gas can. Now if this man had broken the ban what would have happened? Probably what happened to Nadab and Abihu.

Would that have been unfair? NO.It was unhappy, tragic but not unfair.

Nadab and Abihu were judged for disobedience. God is not subject to unpredictable temper tantrums. God is not wrong in his judgment, he never makes mistakes. It is impossible for God to be unfair. No innocent will be punished by God. The righteousness of God is always in accordance with all of his attributes. What God does is always consistent with what God is. They brought « the wrong kind of fire ». Although the exact nature of the offense is not specified, they somehow violated the prescription for the offering of perfume. 

  1. God had not asked them to do it, they took the initiative, 
  2. They set a fire which they lit themselves whereas to burn perfume it was necessary to take the fire from the altar,
  3. They carried it before the Lord. It seems that they wanted to enter beyond the veil into the most holy place, symbol of the presence of God. This is evident from verses 16.1-2.

The fact v.3 that: « Aaron was silent » is revealing. In addition to being stunned and deeply grieved, he knows that God was not wrong. Basically there is no excuse, no protest to make. As will be the case with sinners on the day of judgment there will be no dispute, the judgment will be perfectly fair. All mouths will be closed.

Aaron and his 2 other sons are not to mourn, but to continue the service (v. 4-7). “Or you will die” (v.6-7). Grieving here could have been a sign that they did not accept God’s judgment or that they had greater sympathy for sinners than they had for the holiness of God.

The explanation of Moses v. 3 « They did not sanctify God, » that is, they did not regard God as they should have. In Psalms 50 God addresses the wicked v.16-20 « why bother reciting my decrees  and pretending to obey my covenant…and treat my words like trash…you see thieves, you approve of them, and you spend your time with adulterers…your mouth is filled with wickedness and your tongue is full of lies… you sit around and slander your brother… »

 v.21: « While you did all of this, I remained silent, and you thought I didn’t care but now I will rebuke you, listing all my charges against you. »

Because of a bad vision of God, of who he is, we think that he looks like us, that he tolerates a little sin, some plunder, infidelity, lies, injustices … and that he will let himself be approached. Nadab and Abihu did not have a clear vision of the holiness of God.

In v. 8-11, God commands Aaron to abstain (he and the priests) from wine and all alcohol while serving in the tabernacle. « or you will die. »

Anything that could impair the clarity of their judgment, and weaken their fear of God. Given the context, it is quite possible that it was the drunkenness that drove Nadab and Abihu to venture out before God without being ordered to do so.

We need all our faculties to draw near to the Lord.

The pages of the Bible are marked with “little sins” that cost people a lot. Eat a forbidden fruit (Ge 3.6). Look back at a city (Ge 19.26). Strike a rock (Num 20.11). Touch the ark of the covenant (2Sa 6.7). Lie about real estate income (Ac 5.1–11). All of these people are dead.

These accounts teach an important lesson: there are no small sins in the face of a holy God.

Sin only seems trivial to us when the holiness of God seems trivial. God is a consuming fire that dwells in an inaccessible light (1Ti 6.16; Heb 12.29). There is no impurity in one whose eyes are too pure to look at evil (Ps 92.16; Hab 1.13).

  • Sinless angels ceaselessly cry “Holy! Holy ! Holy ! While covering their eyes and feet. They cannot see God because the unfiltered holiness of God is unbearable to endure (Isa 6.4; Rev 4.8).
  • When Moses wanted to see the glory of God, God replied, “You cannot see my glory, you cannot see my face, for man cannot see me and live. I will (nevertheless) make my goodness pass before you ”(Ex 33.18-20).
  • When the prophet Isaiah saw this vision of God, he cried out: « It’s all over! I am doomed for I am a sinful man.I have filthy lips… and yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies ». (Isa 6: 5).
  • When Daniel also had a vision of the glory of God: « my strength left me, my face grew deathly pale and I felt very weak …And when I heard the sound of his voice, I fainted and lay there with my face to the ground.» (Da 10.8-9).
  • When the apostle John had a vision in turn he « fell at his feet as if I were dead » (Rev. 1:17).

When we see God as holy, we see that no sin is small.

It doesn’t mean that all sins are the same. Some sins are worse than others and have greater consequences (Mt 10:15: Jesus speaks of houses or cities that will refuse to listen to the Word). But this distinction should not « reduce » any sin. It is not our sins that are small, but our estimation of God. A lofty vision of His holiness makes it clear that even the smallest sin in appearance is serious rebellion.

What is our vision of sin?

The death of Nadab and Abihu is nothing but a foreshadowing of the judgment that awaits even the « least » sinners. God is so holy and our sin is so serious.

Sin always produces death. When Adam and Eve sin for the first time they die, as God announced in Ge 2:17. In the case of Adam and Eve death will intervene only later even if there is already something broken, their communion with God, they hide themselves from Him, they are expelled from the garden, one of their son will kill his brother, harmony is broken, death is already operating.

In the case of Nadab and Abihu they are struck immediately in their first fault as priests. Subsequently the sons of the priests Eli: Hophni and Phinehas will commit much more serious things and on several occasions and God will strike them with death, in his time, the same day as well as the wife of Phinehas (in childbirth) and Eli himself.

The entire Bible says that the wage of sin is death. Men are all guilty before God and are struck by death, sometimes very early, sometimes after a long life. But all die, because all have sinned.

Do not interpret the fact that God holds back his consuming fire as if he does not care about your sin. This is the manifestation of his patience. It’s huge, but it’s not without limits.

The grace given to us is that God is patient with us as he defers the time of our death (2Pe 3.9). He gives us time to put our faith in him. By believing that Christ the righteous has been smitten in our place, so that we can live forever in his presence.

The death of Nadab and Abihu reminds us that there is judgment. Some people doubt that there is really a judgment to come. Yet the Bible is clear (Rev 20:15 and many other passages). The judgment suddenly struck Nadab and Abihu, it struck Ananias and Sapphira and many more in the New Testament to remind us to prepare for this day and to take refuge by faith in the sacrifice of Christ.

Are there any “sins” that you have become comfortable with? His kindness, his patience should not make you feel comfortable with sin; rather, they should “lead you to repentance” (Rom 2: 4).

What is our vision of worship?

The Bible clearly says that God cares how we approach him in worship. In Leviticus 8–9, the priests did everything “as the Lord had commanded” (Luke 8: 4, 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 29, 34-36, 9.6, 7, 10)

Their worship was trust in God manifested by their obedience. Then fire came out from before God and consumed the holocaust, they saw the glory of God and experienced great joy mixed with deep reverence (9: 23-24).

But Nadab and Abihu became rebels and did what « he did not command them » and what they thought was an act of worship turned out to be a terrible offense to God. There is no worship without obedience.

To Saul God said (1Sa 15.22-23) “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice ? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. »

By not keeping the commandments of God, we say to our creator « Your law is not good, my judgment is better than yours, I have the right to do what I want, I don’t need you! ” To reject the command is to despise the God who gave it.

Our worship service is not just our songs, prayers, or Sunday offerings, but our entire lives (Ro 12.1). Our worship service is the response to the immense goodness of God towards us revealed in the Gospel and it is the permanent offering of our lives. Our social life and our relationships with others: our work, our relationship as a couple, as a neighbor, our service in our society …

In v. 12-20, the young priests take the place of their elders and continue the rites of consecration, and the service of the Lord « as the Lord has commanded » v.13 and 15, they trust him and obey him.

A new incident v.16-18 occurs. What happened ? The atonement sacrifice was to be eaten by the priests (6:19) but they did not do it. Moses fears a new judgment from God on the last 2 sons of Aaron. Aaron himself answers v.19. There are several possible interpretations of these words. 

Here is mine. The atonement sacrifice was to be eaten by the priests except in the case where the priest himself had sinned (4.11-12) in that case everything was burned. I think Aaron feels guilty for the disobedience of his sons Nadab and Abihu and their death. Did he see them go with their brazier to offer incense to the Lord, and say nothing? Did he also have some euphoria over the wine?

v.20 Moses approves, he is happy to see in his brother this fear of the Lord and the condemnation of his own heart. It is the bankruptcy of the priests. The renewed vision of God’s holiness does not urge us to judge others but to discernment and to lead others to holiness and it urges us to examine (and condemn) our own hearts.

To worship we need another perfectly obedient priest who intercedes for us.


Nadab and Abihu were everything you didn’t want in a priest. They minimized sin and made their own rules of worship. Their fault and fragility are meant to remind us of our countless sins (big and small) as well as our propensity to reshape God’s demands to our liking. Their judgment shows us our great need for a priest who fully obeys the law of God and still lives to intercede for us (Heb 7:25). We need a better priest than Nadab or Abihu (and Aaron). We need Jesus.

Jesus resisted even the smallest sin because he trusted the Word of the Father (Mt 4: 4-4, 10). He did not change the Word of God, but led people to worship God correctly (see Sermon on the Mount). Jesus, the one who did not know sin, came out of the camp to be consumed for the sins of others (Le 10.4; Heb 13.12; 2Co 5.21). Jesus refused the wine mixed with myrrh (Mt 27.34, Mk 15.23) a powerful narcotic that would have impaired his lucidity. And he was resurrected to serve as an everlasting priest to all who trust him (Heb 4.14–16; 7.25).

In many ways, we, like Nadab and Abihu, have ignored the commandments of God. But Jesus died so that we could live. As we consider Nadab and Abihu, we find comfort in knowing that although we too deserve to be consumed for our sins, Jesus faced the flame of God’s holy wrath so that we could be forgiven and rejoice in the hope to one day see his face (Rev 22.4).