Question: "What is the meaning of the strange fire in Leviticus 10:1?"
Answer: In order to understand the phrase “strange fire,” we must review the story in Leviticus in which it appears. The first tabernacle had been erected, and Aaron was doing a lot of sacrificing per God’s instructions (Leviticus 8–9). One day, two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, came along and offered “strange fire.” The Hebrew word translated “strange” means unauthorized, foreign or profane. God not only rejected their sacrifice; He found it so offensive that He consumed the two men with fire.
After Nadab and Abihu were killed, Moses explained to Aaron why God had done such a terrible thing: “Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD spoke of when he said: “Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored'" (Leviticus 10:3). Although the exact nature of the profane fire isn’t known, it could have been that the two men came into the tabernacle drunk (Leviticus 10:8-9). Whatever it was the men did to render the offering profane, it was a sign of their disregard for the utter holiness of God and the need to honor Him in solemn and holy fear. Their carelessness and irreverence were their downfall.
God was making a point here to all the other priests who would serve in His tabernacle—and later, in His Temple—and to us as well. Since this was the first time sacrifices were being offered on the altar, and Israel was getting to know and understand the living God better, when Aaron’s sons were disobedient and profane, God displayed His displeasure in no uncertain terms. If leadership crosses the living God at an early point, there is a stiff price to pay. A very similar story occurs in Acts 5:1-11. A husband and wife lie to Peter about some land given to the church, and they end up dying because of their lie. As Peter puts it: “You have not lied to men but to God."
The application is fairly straightforward: God knows our hearts. He knows what we truly believe and our attitude toward Him. We cannot offer to Him proud “sacrifices” that are unworthy of Him. He seeks those who come to Him in humility, ready to sacrifice their pride and lay before Him humble and contrite hearts grieving for sin against the God of love (Psalm 51:17). Certainly there is grace and forgiveness and plenty of “second chances” for those who belong to Him. But God wants us to know that He is very serious when it comes to His honor and glory. If there is willful disobedience in the life of a believer, then God disciplines us out of His great love for us. If such disobedience continues, God will take harsher measures until we understand how we are disappointing Him. If we continue in our disobedience even after that, then God has every right to impose the harshest of penalties.
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