“And they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command” (Leviticus 10:1b).
Nadab and Abihu were the sons of Aaron the High Priest. When they came into the presence of the Lord in an act of worship they took their censers, put fire in them and added incense, however, their worship was unauthorised by God and brought about for them dire consequences. Let’s now look at this.
Leviticus Chapter 10:1-5.
(Vs.1-2) “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.”
Nadab and Abihu were God-ordained leaders who acted in a manner of worship that God did not approve of or sanction and who were both killed by the Lord for their presumptuous behaviour. They presumed they knew what God required in worship, especially in light of the fact that they were leaders in Israel. They offered up false fire, it was false because God had not sanctioned it. These two leaders had seen the real fire of God fall and they and all of the Israelites voluntarily fell on their faces in awe of and reverence for God (Leviticus 9:23-24).
In the Bible people always fell on their faces when in the presence of God and they were clearly awake and well aware of what was happening. The only time we read in the Bible when people fell backwards was when they came to arrest the Lord Jesus. It was a judgement not a blessing. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see a local assembly of New Covenant believers and its leaders having what they call ‘carpet time.’ The laughing revival ‘thing’ which saw out of control behaviour hilarity and joviality was an insult to the Spirit of God, not to mention the very bad witness to the unsaved who knew it was ‘a con job!’ This so called ‘Toronto Blessing’ was just one of many ‘false fires’ not authorised by God!
Wanting “a piece of the action!”
Nadab and Abihu wanted “a piece of the action” as it were. These young men wanted to “get into the act.” They offered up ‘false fire’ and were killed by the real fire of God which they had been messing with. Nadab’s name means “impetuous and rash.” Abihu’s name means; “spontaneous and self-initiating.” Spontaneous and self-initiated worship leading are ‘qualities’ that are admired by many young Charismatic leaders today within the wider Body of the Messiah and even some evangelical leaders as well all wanting to see some spectacular move of God in their congregations. Yet they are falling into the same trap that Aaron’s two sons fell into and these two young men actually paid for it with their lives.
Characteristics of unauthorised fire
We live in a day and age where many Church leaders within the wider Body of the Messiah are taking upon themselves to make things happen. This self-initiating activity always happens within wider Christendom when spiritual revival has not happened. Many leaders feel they have to do something! Waiting upon the Lord for many leaders is a dreary drawn out process especially when they see the numbers of their Church members dropping. Offering up unauthorised fire today is seen in the following characteristics. Create a programme that will be a draw card for the unchurched. Choose songs that will move the emotions and sway the people. Study a popular book on Church growth that uses secular marketing strategies. Have a good supply of funny stories to insert in the sermons. Preach in such a way so as to make the people “feel good” and pre-disposed to receiving blessings. The leaders who preach must dress in trendy fashion just to make a favourable impression on their audience. Emphasize and utilize visions, prophecies, dreams and manifestations to grab people’s attention. Many churches are like a kind of spiritual Mc Donald’s where one can drive in and order what they want and get it fast!
Now music itself plays a major role in worship. There is nothing wrong with all kinds of different instruments being played in worship as they were employed in the Temple Worship in the Old Testament period. However, even when being played in the temple worship there was a real sense of the awesomeness and holiness of God and that He was not to be taken lightly or treated with frivolity. Neither was worship to be conducted with impetuousness and rashness and with a sense of joviality and flippancy, but with a sober and controlled spirit and inner attitude governed by the Spirit of God and not by the fleshly impulses. Today much of the contemporary worship is more akin to a rock concert than to a meeting where reverence for God is the benchmark. While spontaneity at times in Spirit-led worship is a good thing and God loves this, there will always be a sense of control and sobriety in the worship itself (2 Timothy 1:7) (1 Corinthians 14:32-33). Worshipping God in Spirit and in truth is not always noisy and loud. Sometimes worship will see a pervading sense of awe and stillness and a quietness in God’s presence as the Holy Spirit does His deep sanctifying work in the hearts of the gathered assembly as He deals with unconfessed and un-renounced and hidden sin.
“An itch needing to be scratched”
Now Nadab and Abihu had “an itch” to get into the act. They took their sensors filled with fire, but not from the altar of God, but instead from a common source, being the fire cooking the priest’s food. Only Moses could offer incense twice a day in the Holy Place in the Temple. If the fire offered up to God was not sanctioned by God then it was an act of false fire being offered that had attached to it the most severe consequences. Many leaders today, especially in Charismatic circles, are trying very hard to see the fire of God fall on their congregations and when it does not fall they try to make it fall by offering up personal prophecies, dreams and visions, manifestations and in some cases stories they have embellished to impress their audience. Many promote and facilitate heady mesmerising music, persuasive feel-good motivational talks, telling entertaining and emotionally charged stories and all designed to make the fire fall from heaven, but the fire there fervent activity produces is from a common source of their own making and not from God.
The prophets of Baal
We see this kind of false fervent frenzied activity on Mt Carmel when the prophets of Baal were whipping themselves up into frenzy even to the point of lacerating themselves but to no avail. Their fervour had mesmerised the whole congregation of Israelites yet no fire fell from heaven. However, when the man of God stepped up to the altar he knew what God required, he did not try to bring down the fire himself but looked alone to God to do His work and after speaking to the Lord and waiting upon Him the fire fell from heaven and consumed the sacrifice Elijah had prepared. When God’s people saw the real fire from God fall they turned away from captivity to these enchanters of Baal that were in reality practitioners of the occult. Elijah did not give into some form of fleshly antics but looked only to the Lord knowing full-well that if God did not answer by fire then there was nothing left to do and all was lost. Of course God proved Himself yet again to be the God who answers by fire! After that Elijah killed the prophets of Baal off to the last man! God cannot let men celebrate something He has not sanctioned. In the Old Testament false prophets were stoned to death so grievous was this sin in God’s sight. And then we read…
(Vs.3-5) “Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: “‘Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honoured.’” Aaron remained silent. Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.” So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.”
Moses knew that if Aaron reacted emotionally, even though he felt like it deep down on the inside, it might be interpreted as endorsing his son’s actions. All Israel needed to mourn what had happened as a sign from the Lord that He was sovereign and not to be trifled with especially when being approached in worship. This was a very sobering experience for Israel. We see a similar case in the Book of Acts when Ananias and his wife Sapphira sought to deceive the apostles. They had not only lied to men but in doing this they had lied to God the Holy Spirit and were killed by the Lord. Their bodies were carried out of the Assembly. This act itself brought a sense of spiritual sobriety to the Assembly at Jerusalem and was a very powerful witness to the believers and to the outsiders that God was not to be trifled with (Acts 5:1-11).
The Triune God is the same in both Testaments
You see the Triune God of the Old Testament is the same Triune God in the New Testament. He does not change and cannot change and is always the same, yesterday, today and forever as is the Lord Jesus and the blessed Holy Spirit (Malachi 3:6) (James 1:17) (Hebrews 13:8). One of the temptations for any leader of a local assembly of New Covenant believers is to try to make the fire of God fall. When it does not fall they opt in for programmes that will hopefully draw people in. They seek ways and means to appeal to people to make ‘church’ attractive. This kind of thinking within the Body of the Messiah is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. Even Moses was barred from entering the Promised Land because he acted in anger when he struck the rock. This time it was not something God had sanctioned but Moses acted out of his fleshly nature. Even though Moses lashed out because the people had provoked him, he still had no excuse for his actions. He was the leader with great responsibility and the one to whom the whole Israelite assembly looked to hear from God.
Spirit-power or soul power?
Now we also need to understand that there is Spiritual power from the Holy Spirit Himself but also another source of power, not just a demonic power, but also a soul-power generated from the fallen fleshly nature. Adam had this power before he fell into sin. His intellect was so powerful that he named all of the animals that God brought to him. When Adam fell into sin that power was twisted and no longer able to function as God had intended it to function in Adam. It was still there but now defiled and corrupted. The power of the soul may manifest itself in making things look like the real thing spiritually speaking, but in the end spiritual deception, bitterness and disillusionment will be the result. The false fire we see in epidemic proportions right across the spectrum of evangelical and Charismatic Christendom today is in the majority of cases the result of this soul-power at work. It is very powerful in its effect and can easily be mistaken as God’s spiritual power by those who lack spiritual discernment. Vast amounts of worship being conducted in many assemblies today, with their overt emphasis on prophecies, music and praise, all appeal to the soul life that creates an emotional response in those being exposed to it, but does not touch their inner spirit. The experience may be emotionally charged but not necessarily from the Spirit but from the power of the soul. Repetitive choruses and emotionally swaying songs do not for the most part communicate a sense of God’s holiness. Rather they promote a kind of approach to Him in a casual manner as if He is waiting upon their beck and call and ready to do their bidding.
A God set apart
The God of the Bible is Himself set apart from all sin, spiritual corruption, and from all imperfection and from evil intent of every kind and form. We are told that the Triune God is pure light and that there is no darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:5). He is all light, all purity, perfect righteousness and eternal perfection, separate and set apart from all that is evil including evil itself. In worship exuberance in the flesh generated from the soul life or the soul power depresses the inner spirit of a person engaged in such activity. We always need to ask ourselves the question “Is worship for our enjoyment only or for the glory of God?” In the old days the word “worship’ was pronounced “worth ship,” or “ascribing worth to God.” It is not so much what we can receive from worship but what we put into it that counts with God and opens the way for the blessed Holy Spirit to touch our inner regenerated spirit which in turn will bring the soul life under the control of the Spirit. This is why it is important daily to yield our whole body to the Holy Spirit because if He gets our bodies He gets the contents as well and prevents us from being moulded by the world (Romans 12:1-2). One way to do this is to take communion every morning when we have your devotional time with the Lord. This act of worship will enable us to stay spiritually focused when Satan hits us hard during the day and he does if we are doing this every day, especially when we confess what the Bible says the blood of the Messiah does for us! (Revelation 12:11). Only when we are being filled with the Spirit corporately as the Body of the Messiah will our worship be sanctioned in God’s sight and bring about true unity in the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 5:17-21) (Ephesians 4:1-5). When this happens worship will be a delight and a great blessing to us and to others with whom we are meeting and the gifts of the Spirit will be evident as the local assembly builds itself up in God’s love as every member of the body of believers does its part. As the apostle Paul writes; “…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into the Messiah Himself, who is the head. From Him the whole body, fitted and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love through the work of each individual part” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
Worshipping in Spirit and in truth
Of course we also need to keep in mind that God seeks those who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). The Holy Spirit Himself is the Spirit of truth and not error and will never lead any New Covenant believer into doctrinal error. Neither will He endorse any unity based on anything else other than the absolute authority of the Word of God (John 16:13) (Psalm 119:160). You may have heady exhilarating worship with mesmerising music, glowing testimonies, with praises to the hilt going up to the rafters, and so called gifts of the Spirit supposedly flowing, but if the assembly is not grounded and rooted in the Word of God then it cannot be the real deal but a very clever counterfeit. We also know from the Word of God that the man of sin will ride in on the tidal wave of the apostasy accompanied by all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders that deceive those who do not love and obey the truth but have delighted in wickedness. To these God will send a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie of the man of sin, remain unsaved and be incapable of believing the truth even when they hear it (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 9-12).
Knowing the difference
Nadab and Abihu did not differentiate between the false fire generated from a human source not sanctioned by God, from the fire from heaven sanctioned by God. In their presumption to get in on the act and to experience the fire of God they tried to do it their way and lost out big time! Many pastors and worship leaders are doing the same thing today. They are trying to call down the fire of God but with no success. When it comes to worship all of us need to differentiate between what is being generated by the power of the Holy Spirit from what is being generated by the soul life or fleshly activity or even possibly from what may even be of a demonic nature. This is why the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits is desperately needed in the wider Body of the Messiah today!
Manipulation through music
Satan knows how to manipulate music as God created the source of music to be dwelling in Satan when he was known as Lucifer before he fell into sin. Lucifer was the one who was authorised by God to set the tone of music in the Garden of Eden. As we read in the prophet Ezekiel concerning Lucifer (before he fell and became Satan) “You were in Eden, the garden of God… The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created” (Ezekiel 28:13). Timbrels and pipes were musical instruments. When Lucifer fell and became Satan the power of music remained in him but became twisted and perverted and the results are seen in the adverse way music effects every level of society from rock bands to discotheques and dare I say it, in many so called ‘happy clappy’ churches where there is a constant round of repetitious choruses with very little solid Biblical and doctrinal content. On the other hand, when we see the classic hymns, which have lasted for centuries and have stood the test of time they are still active today in the hands of the Holy Spirit in his work of saving ‘sinners’ and sanctifying saints. Not that modern music is wrong or modern instruments are wrong in the Body of the Messiah when actively engaged in worship, but what is sadly missing is the sense of awe and holiness that belongs to the Triune God alone and that should be a sobering feature of all who genuinely seek to worship Him in Spirit and in truth, for such worshippers the Father seeks (John 4:24).
Worshipping God in the splendour of His holiness
As it is written; “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; bring an offering and enter His courts. Worship the LORD in the splendour of His holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth” (Psalm 96:8-9). You see them today, these leaders crying out, “fire. fire, fire,” blowing on people, waving their coat over the audience, pushing people backwards, prophesying, manufacturing manifestations, laughing like hyenas and getting their audiences to roll around on the floor. Uttering dreams, dispensing personal prophecies and visions and so on is all false fire! Of course dreams and visions and personal prophecy have their place within the wider Body of the Messiah but they never replace or contradict the written Word of God. As God Himself said through the prophet Jeremiah; “Let the prophet who has a dream retell it, but let him who has My word speak it truthfully. For what is straw compared to grain?” declares the LORD. “Is not My word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that smashes a rock?” (Jeremiah 23:28-29). As it is also written; “Holiness adorns Your House O Lord” (Psalm 93:5). Many worship services today manifest more of the world than they do the holiness of God! As it is also written; “Without holiness no one shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Learning from the past
If God dealt with Nadab and Abihu in the way that He did when they offered false fire before the Lord, what do you think God will do with those who approach Him in like manner as they did? What happened to them and to the Israelites who disobeyed God were examples to us as New Covenant believers (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11). Very recently we have seen a global Church network come apart at the seams because in reality its leaders were caught up in offering up false fire over the years and other matters related to a lack of Biblical integrity, holiness in their assemblies and especially in their worship! Undoubtedly there will be more of these ‘shipwrecks’ to come in the future especially on the mega-church scene. When we come to worship God whether we are assembly members or leaders of the assemblies over which we preside, let us take to heart what happened to Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu who; “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.”