“Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD spoke, saying: “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.”’ So Aaron held his peace” (Leviticus 10:1–3).
What was the sin of Nadab and Abihu? They were duly appointed priests. They used censers that were acceptable in the rightful worship. They offered incense that was also used in the rightful worship. Yet, what they did was profane. What they did was not holy. Why? Because it was something God had not commanded them to do! When they worshiped as God commanded, what they did was dedicated to God, it was holy, it was acceptable to God. When they worshiped God by doing something He had not commanded, their actions were profane. Their sacrifice was unholy, it was not acceptable to God.
Some translations have the more literal ‘strange fire’ in verse 1. The word ‘strange’ in this context refers to something that is unholy or profane because it has not been authorized by God for use in a sacred setting.
True worship is an expression of submission to God. By offering a sacrifice that God had not commanded, Nadab and Abihu demonstrated arrogance and presumption before God. They did what they wanted to do, rather than what God had told them to do.
They were engaging in “will-worship,” which is condemned in Colossians 2:23. “Will-worship” is self-chosen worship. It lacks divine authority. It may look or sound good to man, but because it has not been prescribed by God, it is profane, it is unholy. Offering unholy worship shows disrespect for the holiness of God. It is an insult to God. It is like serving soup in a dirty chamber pot!
Had God forbidden them to do what they did? Not specifically. But God has always instructed us to worship Him according to His word, and not according to our own desires.
They had indeed disregarded a command of God: “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified” (Leviticus 10:3).
Nadab and Abihu died without having children (Numbers 3:4). But they have a multitude of spiritual children! Or should we call them ‘unspiritual’ children?
In our time, millions of people worship God by doing things He has not commanded. Unauthorized forms of worship are ‘strange’ elements in a sacred setting, and are therefore unholy. Such ‘worship’ shows disrespect for God and His word.
This is the most fundamental difference between the true church that Jesus established and denominations of human origin. Human churches worship and serve God in ways that He has not commanded. This shows arrogance, not submission. It shows presumption, not respect. Their worship is therefore worthless. This is what Jesus said to such worshipers: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:7–9).
They who worship God in spirit and in truth will be submissive and humble, being careful not to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6).
Members of human denominations, who are accustomed to doing all kinds of things God has never commanded, find it strange, for example, that churches of Christ do not observe Easter and Christmas as religious holidays, that they do not use incense, candles or instruments of music, and that they do not have a central organization. But these are all things God has not commanded for His church.
True worshipers celebrate the resurrection of Christ each first day of the week when they come together to break bread as the first Christians did (Acts 20:7). God has never asked us to celebrate Easter or Christmas. Such things are profane. They are unholy. Why? Because it is something God has not commanded!
True worshipers praise God from the heart by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, as commanded (1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). To use incense, candles and instruments of music in worship is to offer profane fire before the Lord. It is strange. It is unholy. Why? Because it is something God has not commanded!
True believers form congregations with elders, servants, evangelists and teachers as God has commanded (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9). Central ecclesiastical organizations are profane, they are unholy. Why? Because they are things God has not commanded!
We must worship God in accordance with His word, which means that we must omit from our worship things He has not commanded! God will reject our worship if we offer strange fire before the Lord. Unholy worship is an insult to God. Let us respect God’s holiness by worshiping as He has commanded.