“Then 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” (Leviticus 10:1-2).
Does it matter how we worship God? As long as our intent is to engage in the worship of God, does God care what we do in worship or how we conduct ourselves during worship?
The Biblical account of what happened to Nadab and Abihu clearly shows that it does matter how we worship God. As the opening verses above indicate, fire went out from the Lord and devoured Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, and they died before the Lord. Why did this happen to them? They had “offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1-2). It is important for us to consider the question: “Why did God have Moses record these events for us?”
It is interesting to note immediately preceding these events, Aaron and his sons, including Nadab and Abihu, had been consecrated to serve the Lord as priests. They had witnessed God’s glory as fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering they had made upon the altar after their consecration (Leviticus 9:24). In fact, there were still portions of these sacrifices that had been offered (Leviticus 9:1-24) that had yet to be eaten by Aaron and his sons (Leviticus 10:12-20).
Now, another fire came out from the Lord and devoured Nadab and Abihu because they offered profane fire before the Lord. Moses then tells 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’ ” (Leviticus 10:3). There is some question about whether or not Nadab and Abihu were intoxicated when they offered this “strange fire” (cf. Leviticus 10:8-11); nevertheless, regardless of “why” they did this, Nadab and Abihu did do it. They engaged in worship of God that clearly did not please God!
In an age in which everyone seems to do as he or she pleases, sometimes we think we can worship God anyway we please. Some forget that the object of worship is God. We are to strive to please Him by our worship and not please ourselves. Throughout the Scriptures, for example, Cain’s failure to offer the sacrifice God had prescribed (Genesis 4:3-5; Hebrews 11:4) or Uzza’s death because he touched the ark of God which he had not been authorized to do (1 Chronicles 13:9-10), we see that God expects those who come to worship Him are to worship Him according to what pleases Him, not what pleases them! God takes seriously how we approach him in worship and so should we!
In the church I attend our worship service to God involves our engaging in singing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), praying (Acts 2:42), giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), preaching (Acts 2:42), and weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Acts 20:7) out of grateful hearts praising God (Acts 2:47). While some may view this as a very simplistic worship service, from the above Scriptures, we know the early Christians engaged in these acts of worship and pleased God. We worship God in this way out of respect for His Word and because we desire to please Him!
I am reminded of Jesus’ warning to those of His day, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor 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 15:8-9). Today, when I am worshipping God, I will strive to make sure that I am worshipping Him according to His Will, not mine!
“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).