Concerning Nadab, Abihu and ‘Strange Fire’

The conference was convened and a title found for it. Much was said by many, expressing deep concerns and calls made to various quarters, legitimately, I feel, to ‘clean up their act’. But I have heard equally concerned voices from within the charismatic/Pentecostal communities expressing dismay at the excesses of TV evangelists, prosperity gospel preachers, spurious ‘signs-and-wonders’ freakishness and other excesses and aberrations. Perhaps it is all too convenient to cast all such into one big pot and paint that pot very black, when they don’t all belong in there anyway.

A Fire, by Any Other Name …

There is another concern I have. Who thought to name the conference after that account in Leviticus 10 concerning the sons of Aaron and their inappropriate offering? The promotional videos which announced the conference, and the introduction to his book of the same name, yet to be released states:

"The actual source from which they obtained their fire is not recorded. Nor is it important. The point is they used something other than the fire God Himself had ignited. This is a sobering and terrifying account, and it has obvious implications for the church in our time."

Does it? So obvious? Or is it that the dire and sobering outcome of that Siniatic event serves to paint a picture which we can use to make our point, if we are of that mind. The question is, is that the point of the passage? And is it applicable in the way that John McArthur and co have asserted?

Who Were They?

Who were they – these two men who concocted their own unauthorised offering in their censers, and reaped fire which destroyed them because of their impertinence before a fearfully holy God? Well, we are told quite plainly that they were the oldest two sons of Aaron, the High Priest – the first High Priest. Therefore, they were Moses’ nephews. Exodus 24 tells us how, along with Moses, Aaron and seventy elders of Israel, God chose them to worship Him actually on the mountain, albeit at a distance. They saw God – and lived. Vs 9-11:

“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.”

So they were no strangers to the fearsome, fierce and dreadful presence of the Holy One of Israel, and they knew what it meant to be in His presence. They understood the necessity of obeying His commands. 
Exodus 28 sees them prepared and anointed as priests:

“Have Aaron
 your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests.”

“After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.” (v41)

A part of the equipment God commands to be built for His tabernacle is the altar of incense. A special recipe is given for that purpose, and it is to be used nowhere else. God ignites the fire for the altar, and it is never to be allowed to go out, perpetually fuelled by the attendant priests. Yet Aarons two sons take it upon themselves to bring their own combination of fire – not from God’s altar – and incense into the very presence of God Himself. For this, they are consumed by His fire of judgment, and they perish.

The Heart of the Story

What is this about? One thing is very, very obvious. It is about priestly function. It is not about the worship of the people. And in our new covenant, we are told one thing with crystal clarity. All of our priestly function; the representation of sinners before the holy God, the sanctification of those who are to come into His presence – all of it, to the last smallest requirement is accomplished by one – the Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. We have no need of any other.

The Perfect Priest

The story of Nadab and Abihu show us that this approach cannot be made by our deciding how it will be performed. They are careless and disobedient, self-willed and forgetful of the One to whom they come. He cannot, will not be trifled with. Holiness is dreadful to any but the holy. But our great High Priest perfectly obeys God. He is sent by the Father into the world, and He only does what He is given to do, and He performs that completely and in every detail. The lesson from this account is not to do with what we bring when we draw near, it is all about what Jesus brings which allows us to draw near. He has gone into the very Holy of Holies bearing His own blood. And the Holy fire He pours forth is the fire of His Spirit, who baptises everyone who believes in His Name. If we are in Him, we have no need to fear fires of retribution and wrath, however impure our worship is – I say that guardedly, because it is something we must care about deeply. But the application of the ‘Strange Fire’ story is not one of dire warning concerning modes of worship. It is an exaltation of the perfect priesthood of the Christ, and the declaration that what they did not do, He has done. Therefore, we CAN draw near, with boldness and full assurance. The curtain is torn and we may go in.


I am not making comment here on what was said at the conference. I merely question the use of that title in the way that it has been applied. Perhaps it misuses the Leviticus passage and thus becomes an inappropriate application of Scripture. Perhaps it is being used as a stick with which to beat. A grave outcome. A solemn warning. But does it truly apply here? Are we to be warned to be fearful concerning our worship in case we incur this same wrath? Or has the Son of God born all the wrath there is to bear just so that we can be free (not careless) and full of rejoicing in our worship of the living God, in His very presence? Is not the basic problem of those who are not Christians at all, or are concerned with money-making by exploitation, not that they pretend to have gifts and claim they are from God, but rather that they have corrupt, unbelieving hearts, and for that they are condemned? And is it not so that where there are true believers who are wrong in their understanding of what 'the gifts' are or how they function, that they will never have to fear the fierce anger of the God who promises their full forgiveness in the Saviour they now love and seek to serve?
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About David White

Until recently David White served as a leader and preacher at a small village church in Lavendon, Buckinghamshire, England. At the present time he resides in Barton On Sea in the UK. He has been a Bible-soaked Christian for half a century, trained at London Bible College (now London School of Theology), but more importantly in God’s school of life.