The things we have seen this week! We have read some things twice, making people feel like they have gone a bit round the bend. First, in the later chapters of Exodus we read the instructions God gave to Moses. And then we reread them when the actual pieces of the tabernacle were being constructed. We have read about Aaron's ordination twice along with his priestly garments. We have watched the Israelites be disobedient again and again. That will not change as we read through scripture. But even today, God's people are disobedient. Some things never change. When Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments the Israelites were busy making a golden calf to worship. They still didn't know Moses or God well enough to trust them. They felt like they had been left alone and they reverted to what they knew. The Israelites had come from Egypt where a multitude of gods and idols were worshiped. Worshiping a golden calf felt familiar to Israel. And calves, cows and bulls were common gods in Egypt. When we say someone has the patience of Job...God has infinitely more.
And then we reached the Book of Leviticus. It is full of laws concerning sacrifices and offerings to be made to the Lord. If you have never read this book before, the details can be mind numbing. Many people wonder why this book is valid anymore. We do not make sacrifices. We do not offer up anything burned or doused in incense. All this seems very foreign, dangerous if you are the high priest, and somewhat barbaric. But this is the way God made for His people to atone for their sins. This was the payment made for the forgiveness of sins. There can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of innocent blood. What we have here in Leviticus points us directly towards the redemptive, sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross. Jesus' death brings the ultimate payment for the forgiveness of sins. Just like the innocent animals we have read about...and many more to come...who have shed their blood to pay for the Israelites sin, Jesus shed all His blood to pay for ours.
We have read about five different types of offerings. They serve different purposes, and they have different requirements. The easiest to remember is the burnt offering. Here the entire animal is placed upon the altar and with incense goes up in smoke. Always we read these offerings are an aroma pleasing to the Lord. I am not sure all those smells are a pleasing aroma. But to the Lord it is an aroma that says His people are coming to the tabernacle to confess sins they are now sorry for. It is an aroma that tells God His people want to please Him. It is an aroma that tells God His people still want to be in a relationship with Him. This will not always be the case. The incense that is burned is the specific blend made solely for worship in the tabernacle and later the temple. It is a blend of cinnamon, frankincense, myrrh, musk, patchouli and sandalwood. These strong scents would mask some of the smell of burning skin and such that comes with the offerings made to the Lord.
There have been a few things that are troubling. The constant killing of innocent animals is hard to read about. But even harder is the demand by the Lord for obedience. Not that obeying the Lord isn't sometimes difficult but the penalties for disobedience sometimes leave people scratching their heads. Case in point...Aaron's two oldest sons Nadab and Abihu. The ordination ceremony isn't even finished yet. The anointing oil still sits on their beards and hair. Their priestly garments haven't even gotten dirty yet from serving on the dirt floor of the tabernacle. Perhaps they are filled with pride at their new positions. Maybe they didn't pay attention to the seriousness of the job they had been given. It is possible they didn't even want to be priests. Whatever the reason, they decided to approach the Lord with their censors, their fire and incense of some kind. They went into the holy of holies, a place reserved for only the high priest and for him only once a year.
Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them. Just a few verses earlier fire had come out from the Lord and consumed the offering in acceptance of Israel and its worship. The first-time fire came it was because the Lord was pleased. But in scripture fire is often a sign of God's judgement. This fire consumed the two men, still in their priestly clothes. Their cousins came and picked them up by their tunics and carried them outside camp to bury them. They took care not to touch the two men who were dead. That would have rendered them unclean. What had been a day of celebration and joy turned into one of great sadness. It was a reminder to all the people that God is serious about obedience. Nadab and Abihu’s actions were rebellious. God is a jealous God, and He is unwilling to allow His people to be unfaithful to Him.
Moses speaks to Aaron for the Lord and reminds him that he and his sons have a greater responsibility to mind God's holiness, given their positions as priests. God loves His people, but He also demands to be treated as Holy. Aaron wisely said nothing. Perhaps he was in shock. He could have been angry, either with God or with his two sons. Aaron and his two remaining sons were not allowed to grieve in the normal manner, but the rest of Israel grieved for them. Chapter 10:8 is the only time God speaks directly to Aaron. God wants to make sure Aaron and others who serve, distinguish between the holy and the common. As we read, it seems like Nadab and Abihu may have been under the influence of wine when they approached the Lord.
Like a good father, God disciplines His children. Sometimes it is hard and painful. Sometimes it makes us want to walk away. The good news is, even if we walk away, God has made a way back. And when we return, He will welcome us with open arms.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W