Growing up, I often heard the names “Nadab and Abihu“ in sermons. These sermons warned us not to dare to break any of God’s particular rules for worship. These ancient sons of Aaron offered “strange fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1). So God sent fire down to consume them on the spot!
Thus, we had better not try anything “strange” in church!
In the same sermon, you might hear about poor ol’ Uzzah, who touched the Ark of the Covenant during its transport toward Jerusalem. The oxen nearly upset it and Uzzah came to its rescue, right? Nevertheless, as the sermon goes, he broke the law and God angrily smote Uzzah on the spot (2 Samuel 6:7).
Bad Attitudes, Not Bad Accidents
Those sermons hurt us. The message was that nothing could be done in worship that was not explicitly commanded by God. If Aaron’s sons got “fired” for their innovative use of “strange fire” in worship, what will God do to us?
But any notion that Aaron’s sons were just trying to be innovative in worship is misleading. They were well versed in the worship process and theirs was no honest mistake. The text indicates that they treated God as unholy and dishonored Him before the people (Leviticus 10:3). Clearly, they had an attitude! God was upset not over some incidental technical infraction, but over their unholy attitude and dishonoring spirit in worship. Also, the implication in context is that those rascals were drunk (see 10:9) while on duty.
The Bible is also clear that Uzzah was not punished for an accidental impulse. It states that “God struck him down there for his irreverence.” (2 Samuel 6:7).
Irreverence is not an inadvertent infraction. It is a bad attitude toward God.
As a child, I never heard a sermon, however, on Hezekiah’s worship compromise.
In the days of Isaiah (300 years after David), a good king came to the throne in Jerusalem. Early in Hezekiah’s rule he invited tribes throughout Israel to come celebrate the Passover. His offer was a call for national unity. His couriers were scorned by those who had turned their backs on God, but many others were willing to come to Jerusalem to worship God.
However, they were a month late. They could not keep the correct timing ordinance because too few priests had been correctly consecrated as yet. For the sake of unity, Hezekiah deferred the time required to continue the purification process. This led to first united Passover celebration since the schism between Judah and the north over two centuries before.
Many Israelites journeyed south to worship in good faith, although a bit tardy. The Bible says that “the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered.” (2 Chronicles 30:12). Still, many unconsecrated visitors ate the Passover meal contrary to the law. Hezekiah prayed for pardon, asking God to consider the hearts of the seekers. The purification rules had been broken but God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and pardoned “everyone who sets his heart on seeking God” (30:19, NIV). God considered the cause of unity as higher than ceremonial correctness.
What followed was seven days of “great joy” in Jerusalem. The Levites and priests praised God daily with “loud instruments.” There had been nothing like this in Jerusalem since the days of Solomon. When God’s people learn that He cares more about purity of heart than mere purity of procedure, we release our divisive demands over procedure and enjoy a deeper unity of heart–where it counts.
Walking on Egg Shells
Too many preachers in our past had their people walking on egg shells and left a legacy of divisiveness in their wake. Our subsequent fearful obsession with “getting it just right” drove a wedge between us and others whose worship styles and methods varied from ours only in tiny technical ways.
In some cases, those old Nadab sermons called for an excessive attention to detail and procedure in worship and distracted us from the central aim. They often missed the point the Bible was making too. Some of us worried more about the what, when, where and how of worship and lost sight of the Who!
We were not meant to approach God with a terrified focus on technicalities in worship. If we tremble, we do so with our focus vividly on Him. We can also approach the Father with confidence (Hebrews 4:16) and with hearts full of reverence and honor, seeking Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). Jesus does not want His bride dancing on egg-shells.
If we dare to embrace those who worship with slightly different methods, we will not be smitten on the spot by fire, at least not by the God we read about in the Bible. Rather, such a godly embrace unites us with fellow believers we once shunned, and God gets a deeper and wider chorus of praise from His deeply devoted subjects. To whatever extent our hearts are filled with genuine reverence and honor for God, He will bless our mutual celebration. That’s liberating to know.
The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.