SCRIPTURE DOES NOT INTRODUCE US TO NADAB AND ABIHU as malevolent men. Quite contrarily, they were the eldest sons of Aaron—priests of the one true God. Nadab was heir to the office of high priest. Abihu was next in line. Nobody else but their father and Moses their uncle were given a more prestigious standing among God’s chosen people. When Moses spoke with God upon Saini, the people of Israel had been instructed not to go “up into the mount, or touch the border of it” on clear instructions that “whosoever toucheth the mount shall be put to death.” (Exodus 19:12) Even wild animals were to be put to death, should they dare to wander upon Sinai’s skirt. The children of Israel could only watch the fire from afar while the ground jolted their balance and pitch-black smoke clotted the blue sky as it would from a furious furnace—covering their ears “while the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder…” (Exodus 19:19). And yet Nadab and Abihu were specifically named among the “seventy elders” who were instructed to meet God upon the mountain.
Moses their uncle writes: “Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel….” (Exodus 24:9-10) Aarons two sons, alongside their fellow elders, “saw God, and did eat and drink (Exodus 24:11).”
When the construction of the tabernacle was complete, Aaron and his sons were anointed in a week-long ceremony. On the eighth day Aaron offered the very first sin offering ever made in the tabernacle. As evidence of divine blessing, God miraculously intervened. “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” (Leviticus 9:24).
Moses records what happened next. In a stunning turn of events, Nadab and Abihu were struck dead. Specifically, they were completely devoured by a fire from the Lord.
“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. (Leviticus 10:1-3)”
How unfortunate for Nadab and Abihu and Aaron who—despite what he may have felt regarding the sentence of his sons—“held his peace.” It is a serious crime to dishonor the Lord. And Aaron’s sons had clearly offended Him. To this effect John MacArthur writes: “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. Their offense may seem trifling to someone accustomed to the type of casual, self-indulgent worship our generation is known for…” This prevailing taste of offhanded-adoration is a humiliation which cannot be over-amplified. Is there no end to the Scripture twisting which might assist the delight of our own extra-Biblical experiences? “Still, what Scripture expressly condemns is the strange fire they offered.”
The Apostle of Hebrews would later write: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Soon thereafter, the same author would direct our attention back upon the Law of Moses, who fearfully wrote: “For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24).” Likewise, the Apostle of Hebrews would not have us forget:
“For our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29)”
THE GLORY OF THE LORD UPON THE MOUNTAINTOP was described as a devouring fire to the eyes of every man, woman, and child of Israel. Only Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders were permitted to gaze upon the God of Israel. However, Moses then instructed everyone involved to tarry where they stood while he alone ascended into the midst of the cloud, where the “LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend (Exodus 33:11).” Another forty days would pass. And Israel grew restless. What follows is perhaps the most morally depraved narrative in the entire history of the human race. Though the mountaintop itself was a consuming fire; though “all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking,” and though, when they “saw it, they removed, and stood afar off (Exodus 20:18),” they also waited in the twilight of their cantankerous reverie. When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount of God, they turned to fiction, to fantasy, and perverse appetite. Everyone wants to be a mouth-piece for God. And so they turned to dark speeches; specifically, to Satan—apparently no stranger to the camp of Israel—by making for themselves a golden calf.
Even within eyesight and earshot of God’s holy company, mankind chose degradation. How damnably tragic. Moses records, they offered burnt offerings, “and sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play (Exodus 32:6).” Their total abandonment, their preference for drunken revelry and self-inflicted stabbings, specifically the shadows of Sinai rather than the devouring fire which crowned the mountaintop, was of such agitation and obnoxiousness that, after Joshua heard the nose of the people, he said unto Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.”
Moses responded: “It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.”
When Moses entered the camp, he “saw that the people were naked; for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies (Exodus 32:25).” Though most modern commentators prefer licentious or unruly when describing the depths of their depravity, the King James translators chose to describe the Israelites as literally naked. This is certainly not outside of the reasonable realm, for the religion of the Mysteries, particularly the Egyptian rites from which they had only recently been delivered from, performed their enchantments in the same orgasmic manner. But either way, it is of no difference. They were stripped not only of their outer ornaments, but the acumen of their mind. Like a naked Adam and Eve hiding from God, they sacrificed the holiness of their Creators image for the pleasures of another religious experience. Essentially, they disrobed, and by doing so, they disavowed the only security which protected them from the government of Satan.
About three-thousand men fell that day—not including the women.
“For our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29)”
By referring us to the Holy Scripture of ages past, the Apostle of Hebrews would have us know there is a lesson to be had. Have we any reason to fear God less under this new dispensation as we do under the old? We Christians serve the God of the mountaintop; the very God who rained fire and brimstone down upon Sodom and Gomorrah and who later consumed Elijah’s sacrifice on Mount Caramel with fire from heaven after it had been dosed with a wealthy supply of water. The communicable image by which we were created in has not changed—apart from the wrecking ball of our own sin (which has polluted it)—nor has His glorious incommunicable attributes, and the guiding principles of His governance will never be replaced. Writes Albert Barnes in his 1846 commentary on Hebrews: “He was no more the friend of sin now than he was then; and the same perfections of his nature which would then lead him to punish transgression would also lead him to do it now. His anger was really as terrible, and as much to be dreaded as it was at Mount Sinai; and the destruction which he would inflict on his foes would be as terrible now as it was then. The fearfulness with which He would come forth to destroy the wicked might be compared to a fire that consumed all before it.”
Christ is truly god, King of kings and Lord of lords, and though He is a dispenser of grace and mercy on all who wish to humble themselves and receive it, His glorious appearing is certain. God is an all-consuming fire, and those who will not have Him to reign over them are sworn to wrath.
Nadab and Abihu were stubble playing with fire.
IT IS A PORTRAIT OF TOTAL DESTRUCTION. In yet another stunning revelation of the apocalypse to come, the Prophet Isaiah followed the licentiousness of Israel at Sinai to its natural and ultimate conclusion. He foresaw such a time of nakedness that “the highways lie waste” and “the wayfaring man ceaseth.” Moral depravity has run its course. It is the long promised hour of Jesus Christ’s return, when His all-consuming fire—once manifested from the mountaintop—resides forevermore with mankind, for he writes:
“Now will I rise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself. Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you (Isaiah 33:10-11).”
Those who will not have the King of kings and Lord of lords to reign over them are dutifully sworn to wrath—it is of their own choosing. They will most certainly attempt to shield themselves, but the security granted them has been abandoned for sandy foundations and the doomed government of Satan. Any attempt at self-preservation will be as pathetic and weak, Isaiah declares, as one who conceives chaff and brings forth stubble. In reading this passage, we shall not overlook one important fact. Their own sins will ignite them. “Your breath, as fire, shall devour you.” Mankind is doomed.
Isaiah warned that no amount of our righteousness is sufficient in the presence of a holy God. He wrote: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (Isaiah 64:6).”
James the brother of our Lord Jesus rerouted our attention to the sinful breath when he wrote:
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell [Gehenna] (James 3:6).”
The Prophet furthermore writes: “And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire (Isaiah 33:12).” When the hypocrites witness the despair—a total annihilation of their fellow sinners; while they helplessly stand in line before the unquenchable fires of Gehenna; they will be completely overwhelmed with the very reality they have altogether dismissed, or perhaps simply put off. They will quiver with fear after conceding to the terrible fate of what awaits them, for Isaiah writes: “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites.” But eternity has come, and there can be no escape.
They will even ask each other:
“Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? (Isaiah 33:14)”
When God’s consuming fire encompasses the entire world rather than the mountaintop, the moral man is finished. There is no hope for the hypocrite. He shall fade away as a leaf and be swept away with the wind. “They have cast away the law of the LORD of hosts,” Isaiah wrote, “and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” It is for this very reason that they will be devoured in the flames.
“Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust (Isaiah 5:24).”
Only the righteous will survive. Isaiah describes such as person as: “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil (Isaiah 33:15).” By this we are assured that some will escape the devouring fire, for Isaiah concludes of the righteous man:
“Thine eyes shall see the king in His beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off (Isaiah 33:17).”
That day, it seems, cannot come soon enough for the righteous. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because God wishes that none shall perish.
GOD WISHING THAT NONE SHALL PERISH is the one thing which the Apostle Peter would have us not be ignorant of. The Father did not send His Son to die for the few. That Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” is an irrefutable fact of Calvary. The proposition to behold God’s consuming fire upon the mountaintop was an invitation open to every child of Israel, just as we are invited to gaze reverently upon Calvary today and believe. But that is not to say that everyone will come to repentance—far from it! God delivered all of Israel from Pharaoh’s army through the straight gate and narrow way at the Red Sea crossing, but even after their baptism, not everyone chose to remain with Him. At the base of the mountain they chose moral depravity. Many elected the gate which was wide in the wilderness and the path which lead to destruction. They desired God’s kingdom come and the land promised to them, but only if Satan was enthroned upon it.
The reality however remains, Jesus Christ is soon returning. If God is a consuming fire, it is because He is holy, and it is for this very reason that everything which is unholy will be completely incinerated. For this reason Jesus died on the cross and it is most certainly why, when considering His Davidic kingdom we long for, “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward (2 Peter 3:9).” God wishes that none shall perish; that all would come to repentance; that we would come to comprehend why Christ mitigated God’s wrath, becoming sin who knew no sin; exchanging His perfect righteousness for our sin—so that we “might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)” and endure the flames.
The Apostle John stood in agreement with the Prophet Isaiah when he wrote:
“And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Revelation 6:15-17)”
In a somewhat ironic twist, the very world which the ungodly presently covet for themselves serves a tender box, which will aide in igniting them.
“But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:7).”
That is not to say God is a consuming fire only for some and not for others. Pass through the fire we must. Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul warned that our works build w upon the foundation of Christ with superior material than wood, hay, and stubble. For though such a man shall suffer loss, Paul writes, he himself shall be saved, “yet so as by fire.” To this effect we read:
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).”
Unlike Israel under the shadow of Sinai, who chose rather to sing and dance in a naked state before their enemies, we are at a disadvantage. They had a devouring fire to illuminate their thinking and guide their way through the wilderness. We have not yet ascended the mountain, so to speak. We have yet to meet the LORD face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend, and “not in dark speeches.” But if we are to be counted among the righteous, it is not because of our filthy rags of self-righteousness and only because we are found hidden in Christ.
To put it in slightly different terms, we anticipate the consuming fire, and by doing so, we are living for eternity now.