“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” (Leviticus 10:1-2)
Along with the giving of the Law, God instituted the priests. It was their job to intercede before God on behalf of the people, offering sacrifices for their sins and attending to their spiritual welfare. Needless to say, this was a difficult job. The Law in itself was impossible to follow perfectly, and the priests were held to an even higher standard. They were responsible for proclaiming God’s holiness to the people, and this meant their lives had to be above reproach.
It wasn’t long before some of the priests messed up. Two of Aaron’s sons offered an unlawful sacrifice, and they died for it. We don’t know what the nature of their sin was; the Bible only tells us that they “offered unauthorized fire before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:1). But the end of the matter was that they failed to uphold God’s holiness. They purposely offered a sacrifice that He hadn’t ordained, and in so doing, they were showing a disregard for His laws. Their one job had been to demonstrate to the people how holy God is, and they did the exact opposite. As a result of their disobedience, God killed them.
This is a rather frightening story. According to the Apostle Peter, we are “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). This means that we too have the responsibility to declare God’s holiness to the people around us. Unlike the Israelite priests, however, we aren’t limited to one particular nation; God has charged us to proclaim His holiness to the world. As Christians, our behavior is a reflection on God’s own character. What we do tells people what He is like. Obviously, God values His holiness. This means that He is set apart from the world; He is pure, because sin cannot touch Him. Our job as His priests is to demonstrate that to those around us. We can no longer live for our own desires; God and the presentation of His character comes first. Being holy means being separate from the world. Taking part in the sinful behaviors of the world casts a poor reflection on God. And yes, this is a very serious issue—Aaron’s sons died over it. This same God is still ruling today. How well are we doing at proclaiming His holiness?