WHY DID GOD JUDGE NADAB AND ABIHU SO STRICTLY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
It is easy to believe that whatever God is doing today, He was doing the exact same thing long ago. Whatever is true right now, it is easy to assume that it was true in the past. This is not always the case. People struggle with strange Old Testament passages and concepts because they are trying to reconcile them with what God is doing today. They do not use the Bible “rightly divided” (2 Timothy 2:15), recognizing the various dispensational boundaries that are so critical to keeping the Scriptures straight. Since they do not use God’s Word, God’s way, they are forced to change/re-translate controversial verses, omit or ignore “bothersome” passages, and even throw out whole Bible Books! Nay, dear friends, we study all the Bible, for all of its 66 Books are inspired of God. If there is something mysterious in the Scriptures, we look for parallel verses to shed light on the subject. Nadab and Abihu’s dreadful fate is no different.
Notice the very bizarre account Moses recorded in Leviticus 10:1-3: “ And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.  And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.  Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.” What in the world just occurred here? Fire came down and consumed two Jewish priests who “offered strange fire before the LORD?” Why?
This event was repeated twice more in Moses’ writings, so it was something God wanted Israel to remember. Firstly, Numbers 3:4: “And Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD, when they offered strange fire before the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children: and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest’s office in the sight of Aaron their father.” Also, Numbers 26:60-61: “ And unto Aaron was born Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.  And Nadab and Abihu died, when they offered strange fire before the LORD.”
When the Bible says “strange fire,” the idea is foreign fire (like fire that was a “stranger”). It was so unpleasant to God that He literally and instantaneously killed the priests who offered it. The key to this is found in Leviticus chapter 9, the verses just previous to what we read in chapter 10. Leviticus chapter 9: “ And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the people.  And there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces.”
Once Moses set up the Tabernacle (Exodus chapter 40), here in Leviticus chapter 9, fire came out of heaven because JEHOVAH God accepted (and consumed) their burnt offering. Nadab and Abihu, in the following chapter, rebel against that act of God. Instead of the fire coming from God, them using the fire that God started, they had a fire that they had started. They replaced God’s fire with their own! Not only so, they were priests… poor examples of the congregation watching them. If God did not punish these willful religious leaders, the Jewish people would be encouraged to rebel against Him too. It would have caused a massive uprising against Him, and then He would have had to kill them all!
Read Leviticus 10:1-3 again: “ And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.  And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.  Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.”
They “…offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.” God did not tell Nadab and Abihu to offer that fire, so they were behaving presumptuously. It was a deliberate rebellion, men trying to substitute God’s work with their own efforts. JEHOVAH God was thus disrespected before all the Jewish people. He dealt with the guilty parties by implementing speedy death! Notice verse 3: “Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.” Aaron the High Priest had just lost two of his sons, but he was silent. He knew God was justified in taking their lives. They were following Satan… and almost corrupted Israel!
Friends, we can learn a simple lesson here. While God does not consume rebellious people by causing fire to fall from heaven today (He did in the past and He will in the future), it should be clearly noted that He never takes lightly someone trying to replace His work with their own. There are millions upon millions of precious souls today, laboring under religious tradition, trying to replace Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork with their own religious efforts. Instead of coming to God by simple faith in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for their sins, they want to offer their own works to merit God’s favor (it will not work!). They are trying to substitute their “goodness” for the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary! My, oh my, something far, far, far, far, far worse than fire from heaven will come upon them one day. The eternal flames of hell will surround them in a fraction of a second. May they come now to Father God by simple faith in Jesus Christ’s shed blood and resurrection… before it is eternally too late!