Friday, February 19, 2016

Dangers of 'Strange Fire'

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

Years ago, when I was teaching Sunday School in the denominational church we were in for years, I had their 'contemporary' curriculum (I later switched to the Bible Book curriculum...for various reasons).  One of the most frustrating lessons I've had in all the teaching of teens I've done in my life was a lesson on the Prodigal Son.  The central message I was to communicate to the kids from that passage, according to the curriculum, was 'Patience and understanding can help resolve family conflicts.'

I. Could. Not. Believe. It.

For one thing, the resolution of the family conflicts came only when the sons (hopefully...we don't know about the older one) repented of their error and returned to the Father.  HIS patience and understanding allowed that; but, on the part of the sons, it took humility and submission.

They could have patiently waited all their lives and the Father would not have changed his standards to suit theirs.

That's an important concept to grasp.

God the Father has standards.  His standards do not change with the attitude of His people.  His standards do not change according to the numbers of folks that follow them.

Scripture is full of examples.  Cain is the first, bringing an unacceptable offering.  We don't know exactly why it was unacceptable, but he did...or would've, if he'd thought about it.  But he was convinced that God should accept him on his terms...and lashed out at his brother when God did not.

Mostly, though, this week I've been thinking about 'strange fire' (King James, NASB; 'strange and unholy' - AMP; 'unauthorized' - NIV).  As a kid, reading the stories about 'strange fire' in Lev. 9 and the Israelite leaders who died for offering unauthorized incense in Numbers 16, I thought it was rather extreme to die for something as simple as a smouldering dish.

I didn't understand what it represented.

Both examples reflect the same principle:  humans do not set the standards.  God does.

The account in Leviticus is especially poignant,   as it is a devastating loss at the peak of what should have been a huge celebration.  The Tabernacle was assembled, the altars and the priests consecrated, the burnt offerings assembled on the altar, and

Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar.  And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown. - Lev. 9:24, NIV 84

Now, Leviticus is generally thought of as a collection rules and regulations;  this little narrative of consecration, celebration and loss gets overlooked.  But that bit is important.  Y'all, this is something I didn't catch for years...the original fire on the altar was ignited by flame from the very presence of God.  That ain't no flint-and-steel was holy fire from the start.

And one of the duties of the Levites was to insure that the fire never went out.  They carried coals in censers when they traveled, and used those coals to rekindle the sacrificial fires whenever they stopped.

They always had God's fire, and it was God's fire that made the offerings holy.

What Aaron's two older sons, Nadab and Abihu, did was to take fire from another source...a fire that God had not kindled...and put it in their censers and used it to offer the incense.

It was strange fire of man's own kindling.  Worship based on human effort.  It looked no different than the fire God ignited; did it really matter?

So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. -  Lev. 10:2

Apparently it mattered.

'Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.'  Lev. 10:3

Aaron and his remaining sons were not even allowed to mourn their dead, as they were consecrated to God and had an obligation to maintain their ceremonial cleanliness and remain in their position.  That's how serious the offense was before God.

I want to emphasize something here...that fire did not look or behave any different than the holy fire.  The only difference was that it had been kindled by men instead of God.

The episode in Numbers was a question of authority.  I've written a bit about it before, and if you're curious as to the truly trivial thing that set it all off, click through.  But there were three of the Levites, and a couple of Reubenites, who had had enough of Moses and Aaron running the show and wanted them to share the authority.  They had 250 other Israelite leaders...who were not consecrated priests...who stood up with those three and said that they should be able to lead the people alongside Moses and Aaron.  So Moses told them all they'd have a little test...they'd all offer incense and they would see whose offering God accepted.

The narrative doesn't say whether the 250 guys used their own fire or whether they took some coals from the altar; given the other details, I rather think they just got some wherever they could, but perhaps they remembered Nadab and Abihu and collected coals from the altar.

However, the men themselves were unauthorized and unconsecrated.  They were not the ones God had selected, and they had not gone through the sanctification process.

They  were claiming to be just as holy and just as anointed and just as authoritative as the folks who WERE authorized to perform those duties.  Now, they had a position in the assembly; they were leaders of their clans and tribes...council members.  They had a measure of authority.  But they were not satisfied to serve where they were authorized; they wanted the ability to speak for God and declare what the nation would do.

Because, you see, in their hearts they thought Moses and Aaron were making it all up,  and not hearing from God at all.  And they believed they could figure out what God would want as good as Moses and Aaron could.  Their fire didn't look any different.

But Moses and Aaron really did hear from God.  Moses and Aaron really were authorized to speak in God's name.  And when it was put to the test, the ground swallowed the three guys who had instigated the whole mess and  fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.  (Num 16:35)

The self-appointed people had no authority.  Authority matters.

There is authority and instruction that comes from God.  And there is a pseudo authority and instruction that comes from the hearts of humans.  It takes wisdom and discernment to tell the difference, because on the surface it looks the same.

So be careful.  Be wise.  Look behind the pretty, fragrant offering and see where it came from.  Is it something God has declared?  Or is it some person's idea of what ought to make God happy?

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