God Must Be Regarded as Holy
"Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD spoke, saying: “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.”’ So Aaron held his peace” (Lev. 10:1-3).
REVERENCE. It is defined as “fear, dread, and awe.” When applied toward God, it is “fear mixed with adoration.” This is what the Lord was calling for when He said, “I must be regarded as holy.” Satan, however, has always tempted mankind to display disrespectful attitudes toward God. As a warning, the Lord has provided examples of reverence being rewarded and irreverence being punished. The story of two ungodly priests, Nadab and Abihu, shows that God deserves and demands that we reverence Him for who He is, what He commands, and what He does.
REVERENCE FOR WHO GOD IS. When Nadab and Abihu offered profane fire, God sent down fire from heaven, devouring them, as punishment. He was, first, showing the nation of Israel that He is omnipotent. Jeremiah would later say, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and out-stretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You” (Jer. 32:17). No one else’s ability can be described in this way. It is fitting, therefore, that we reverence God for His power. He also evidenced His perfect righteousness (or justice). The priests, as leaders of God’s people, had to be punished for their sin. Speaking of God, Moses sang, “For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4). His punishment, thus, demonstrated His holiness: “I must be regarded as holy.” The Book of Revelation would later record the angels singing, “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy” (Rev. 15:3-4). To be holy means to be “morally blameless” or “exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.” God alone is all-holy. For all of these reasons, therefore, He is deserving of glory: “Before all the people I must be glorified.” When we realize who God is—the omnipotent, all-righteous, all-holy, glorified Lord—we will reverence Him.
REVERENCE FOR WHAT GOD COMMANDS. This account also shows us that God deserves complete obedience in what He commands; He does not accept partial obedience. We learn that Nadab and Abihu offered incense but with profane fire (Lev. 10:1). They obeyed the Lord’s command to burn incense, but only in part and were subsequently punished. We must recognize that where the Lord has commanded, we must fully and completely submit. Furthermore, God does not accept substitutes. Not only did these two reprobate priests only partially obey, they introduced or added a replacement fire to burn the incense; the Bible calls it “profane fire... which [the LORD] had not commanded.” This word profane means “foreign, adulterous, strange.” When we study the Bible and come to understand God’s commands yet substitute what we prefer, what we feel is better, or what we think is easier, we will have set aside the Lord’s commands; He does not accept substitutes. God does not accept irreverent attitudes and actions: He says, “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.” We must show reverence for what God commands—neither adding to or taking away from it.
REVERENCE FOR WHAT GOD DOES. It is important that we come to understand that the Lord is righteous in everything He does. The Psalmist David wrote, “The LORD is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works” (Ps. 145:17). Even His capital punishment of Nadab and Abihu was just and gracious. God is not to be viewed as some “happy-go-lucky grandfather in the sky” (as some have so irreverently treated Him). He is the all-powerful God of heaven. He is perfect and completely justified in punishing the wicked. After enumerating some of the sins which the Gentiles had committed, Paul stated that the Lord’s judgment is righteous and “that those who practice such things are deserving of death” (Rom. 1:32). If Nadab and Abihu had been allowed to continue in their wickedness, the nation of Israel would have been led astray. God was not only acting in accordance with His justice but in the best interest of the righteous: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). In everything God does, He deserves our reverence.
Nadab and Abihu’s problem grew out of irreverence for the Lord, and they were punished accordingly. We must learn that God is worthy of our reverence because of who He is, what He commands, and what He does. Let’s love and respect the Lord with the honor and obedience He deserves.