Dangerous worship: Leviticus 10


Today’s reading: Leviticus 8-10.

Death in worship. Not something I’ve ever witnessed, and not what any of us would expect on a Sunday morning in church. Yet death took two of Aaron’s sons as they performed their worship duties, and God was responsible.

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Leviticus 10:1-2

Aaron, his sons, and all the priests had just finished a week preparing to serve in the tabernacle. It took that long for them to consecrate themselves, remove all traces of sin, and receive God’s anointing. As part of that preparation, they marked themselves with ram’s blood on their ear, thumb, and big toe: on their ear that they might hear God, on their thumb that they might work for him, and on their toe that they might walk with him. Everyone saw the results of their consecration as fire came out from the tabernacle and consumed the burnt offering on the altar.

And then, then, just as suddenly, fire came out from the presence of the LORD and took the lives of two of Aaron’s sons because they brought “strange” fire before God. We don’t know everything about the strange fire, but we do know:

  • It was not what God commanded them to bring.
  • It dishonored God.
  • They failed to distinguish between “the holy and the common, the unclean and the clean.” Alcohol may have played a part in their lack of discernment, for afterwards God warned Aaron against drinking while on duty in the tabernacle.

Beyond these certainties, I will speculate that Aaron’s sons worshipped in a way that put the focus on themselves rather than God. By charging up their censers they were grabbing the spotlight and trying to light up the worship in their own personal way. To me, humanly, it seems almost trivial, but to the LORD it was deadly serious. Because it was the very opening of the tabernacle services, God made an example of it. In the early days of the church he made a similar example of Ananias and Sapphira because of their deceit (Acts 5).

We can learn from the example of Nadab and Abihu. Our worship becomes “dangerous” if we:

  • Seek our own interest or praise instead of glorifying God.
  • Fail to use discernment in our worship practices.
  • Introduce what is unholy or unclean into worship.

Let me be clear that I don’t believe styles of music or sanctuary decoration are inherently unholy. You can’t say something is unholy just because it is new; all the songs, styles, and musical instruments that have been popular in the last 100 years were once new. We need to focus on our motives, our thoughts, our words, and the content of our music. That is where we face the most danger. When we adore a speaker or musician more than the LORD he or she speaks of, then we enter perilous waters. If we fail to magnify God’s word, we harm ourselves. We fail to worship when we concentrate on social interactions more than focusing on God. We endanger ourselves when anger, lust, or apathy fill our minds in the sanctuary. As for me, let my worshipping heart be full of the joy of the LORD.

“If we are going to worship in Spirit, we must develop a spirit of worship.” Michael Catt

“Worship must be – Christ centered, Holy Spirit led, a Response to the Father, about Intimacy and Service and always lead to Transformation!” Tim Hughes

“When I worship, I would rather my heart be without words than my words be without heart.” Lamar Boschman

“Worship songs can’t just be rooted in culture – they won’t be deep enough. They have to be rooted in scripture.” Matt Redman

“If you come to worship for any reason other that the joy and pleasure and satisfaction that are to be found in God, you dishonor Him…God’s greatest delight is your delight in Him.” Sam Storms

For further reading on worship, read Mark Loy’s post.

Image by smenzel on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0