It is a startling scene, and not just because of the severity of the punishment. Nadab and Abihu present “strange fire” before the altar, and in response, fire comes forth from the Lord and consumes them both instantly (Leviticus 10:1-2). What the “strange fire” consisted of is anybody’s guess – some have supposed either coals not from the altar or fire offered at the wrong time of day – but the response from Moses (and God) is most shocking, as Moses tells them not to mourn for the fallen. God then gives Aaron and his sons a lecture on the importance of “drawing near to God in holiness” – a fact exemplified by his son’s destruction.

Pretty harsh, huh? I have no bearing on what it is like to lose a child at any age, but much less sons that are being born and bred for special service towards God (note God’s inclusion of them in Exodus 24 and 28) and then subsequently struck down in the prime of their life for one mistake. God’s punishment in this instance seems especially harsh, as it did with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). And Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:6-8). And Mrs. Lot (Gen. 19:26). Come to think of it, God’s perception of judgment seems markedly different from our own, and therein lies the problem – not with God, but with us.

When Moses (and God) told Aaron not to mourn for his son, he was communicating to them that the sanctity and holiness of God is to be revered above everything else. Everything on this earth – whether it’s your comfort or my family or our business – pales in comparison to the sovereignty and supremacy of God, and the act of mourning for God’s moderation of that shows an unGodly set of priorities on our part, no matter how hard it may be. If Aaron had mourned for his children that had paid for their sins with their lives, it would have shown to God that he valued his family more than God’s rule, and that can never be the case.

To the world, this type of punishment is indicative of an Old Testament God that was full of wrath and hatred, but as evidenced above, the swiftness of punishment stretched to the New Covenant as well. Keep in mind also Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 13:6, when he remarks that love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness.” A true love for God and for man does not show any lenience towards unGodliness, but rather an appeal to do all things for His glory and our obedience (Col. 3:17; 1 Pet. 4:11; Hosea 6:6).

Follow Paul’s other admonition in 1 Corinthians 10:11 that “these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction,” and learn from the punishment of Nadab and Abihu and any other passages we find sprinkled throughout God’s written Word. Don’t delight in unholiness but revel in God’s light, no matter how difficult and emotional it may be.

Last modified: January 22, 2019