The consuming fire

Leviticus 9:24 “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 10:1-2 “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. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.”

Hebrews 12:28-29 “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

Have you ever heard people talk about “the man upstairs?”  To me, it always seems to be such a flippant reference to our awesome God.  Surely no one in heaven uses that term as they worship the Holy One.  Every time we see reference to men (or angels) in the presence of God, we see them on their faces in reverent awe at this One whose “eyes (are) like a flame of fire . . . and His voice (is) like the roar of many waters (Revelation 1:14-15).”  Listen to the words of the great prophet Isaiah when He saw a vision of the Lord: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!”And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 6:1-5).”

That’s always the way it is when a person realizes he or she is in the presence of the Holy One.  In every case they are overwhelmed by His great power and holiness as well as by their own sin and unholiness.  In the incident in the verses above from Leviticus we see a similar scene. Here, after Moses and Aaron had done exactly as God had commanded in the consecration ceremony of the priests, God sends fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices they had offered in an awesome display of power. When the people they saw it, they fell on their faces in fear.  But then two of the priests, Nadab and Abihu, offered “unauthorized fire” before the Lord. It was something they had dreamed up on their own. They took it upon themselves to approach God as they deemed best, not as God had commanded. And the result? Fire came from the Lord and consumed them.  With this incident, the contrast between the sinfulness of man and the holiness of God is demonstrated in bold relief. 

Disobedience to God brings judgment – always.  It is a fearful but absolute truth.  The fact of the matter is that we are all sinners and we all deserve judgment.  However, God in His mercy has provided a way for a sacrifice to take that judgment for us.  Wonderfully, all we need do is simply receive that sacrifice, but it must be the specific sacrifice He has prescribed. In the case of Moses, the fire of God consumed the sacrifice that was offered in the manner “as the Lord had commanded.” This phrase occurs over and over again in Leviticus 8 and 9.  When God’s command for a sacrifice was obeyed, He graciously and mercifully accepted it. When His command was disobeyed, we have the example of Nadab and Abihu to look to.

So, what about today? Well, each and every sacrifice in the Old Testament is a shadow that points to the ultimate sacrifice that was to come: Jesus, the Lamb of God Who gave His life on the cross to suffer God’s judgment for our sins.  The fact that this sacrifice was accepted was Jesus’ resurrection from the grave.  It is up to us now to either accept that sacrifice by confessing our sins and receiving God’s gracious gift of salvation based on it, or we can go the way of Nadab and Abihu and presume we have a better way.  The results, as in Moses’ day, will be exactly the same: either we will be saved because we have humbly submitted to and obeyed the Lord’s very clear and specific command to “Believe in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31),” or we will bear the wrath of God’s judgment ourselves because we have rejected this command and gone our own way. 

Surely our God is a consuming fire.  It’s a wonderful truth for those who believe, for God has already accepted the sacrifice that was made for all our sins. But for those who think they have a better way, the example of Nadab and Abihu shows what awaits.

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