Foreign Fire

Parashat Shemini (Eighth)
Leviticus 9:1-11:47
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 6:1-7:17

In reading this week’s Parashah and Haftarah portions, I was once again struck by two tragic accounts.

In Leviticus 10:1–2 we read:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on the fire and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.”

As I wrote in past commentaries, while it seems the Scriptures are unclear about why they did what they did, I personally believe that we cannot judge the motives of Nadab and Abihu. Perhaps they desired to do more for God than what He required, or to demonstrate their faith to God. Or perhaps they were rebellious in their hearts and wanted to show they could offer fire to God in their way. Another possibility is that they may have been drunk from wine or strong alcohol since in Leviticus 10:9 we find the specific instruction:

Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you do not die—it is a permanent statute throughout your generations.

Regardless of the motive, the fact is they did something that God did not require, and did not follow His exact instructions. In fact, they did the opposite of what God instructed them to when He said:

You shall not offer any strange incense on this altar, or burnt offering, or meal offering; and you shall not pour out a drink offering on it.
Exodus 30:9

They paid a very heavy price as a result.

In Hebrew, the words “אֵ֣שׁ זָרָ֔ה” can be translated as “strange fire”. A more precise transalation, in my opinion, is a “foreign fire”, which could mean not of God, unholy, or something that is used in idol worship.

This is a sobering thought! It makes me stop and reflect about why I do what I do, and the importance of knowing what God requires of us as His followers. Do my actions give glory to God? Has God required them of me? Do I act in His power or my own? I believe these are all important questions that we ought to ask ourselves.

These questions lead us to the Haftarah portion, where we encounter yet another tragic account that took place when King David brought God’s holy ark to Jerusalem:

Now David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David departed from Baale-judah, with all the people who were with him, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the LORD of armies who is enthroned above the cherubim. They had mounted the ark of God on a new cart and moved it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart. So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of instruments made of juniper wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, because the oxen nearly overturned it. And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.
2 Samuel 6:1–7

Here we see that during what seemed to be a very joyful time, there was yet another tragic moment. From what we read, one may think that what took place was unfair and, in fact, we see that in verse 8, David was very angry at what happened. While Uzzah’s intention may have been good — he wanted to save the ark from falling — the reality is that Uzzah took matters in his own hands and in doing so, he did something that God forbid, which was that an unclean man would touch the holy ark, thus defiling the ark.

Could it be that if Uzzah would not have done what he did, God would have supernaturally prevented the holy ark from falling? Did his action prevent God from displaying His power and might? Could it also be that in David and the people's desire to bring the ark to Jerusalem, they acted hastily and neglected to give it the proper treatment?

In writing this, a question came to mind: “Why do we do what we do?” At times we do things out of habit, or routine, and simply because we think it’s the right thing to do. And we even justify this by attaching God’s name to it or using God’s Word completely out of context. The same goes for traditions – religious or otherwise. Yet, as these two accounts demonstrate, we should be careful to seek the Lord’s way above all else.

Are you offering a strange or a foreign fire which the Lord has not required? Maybe your intentions are good, but I believe it is time for us to examine ourselves, our hearts, and even our traditions, seeking out anything that might be a “foreign fire”.

In closing, I would like to pose a challenging thought for each of us: If you knew that the Holy Fire of the Lord would come and burn that which you are doing, even in His name, would you continue to do it?

Shabbat Shalom,

Check out previous blogs on this parashah!

Did you know? — Lone Soldier

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2 Comments on “Foreign Fire”

  1. Those are very sober and vitally important thoughts.
    I’ve often tried to “fix” things in my life and Gods spirit quickly (and sometimes painfully) reminded me that I must wait on him.
    That is my hope . I just want to have the faith to be still , believe on his name and watch him do the work.

  2. Again, very sobering thoughts.

    One thing I wonder about is that God had prescribed the proper way to move/carry the ark – on poles. What I can’t help but wonder is why God allowed the ark to get as far as it did while being transported in the wrong manner. It seems God was being merciful even in that. He allowed/permitted/overlooked that blatant disregard of His command to a certain extent. How and why did He decide where to draw the line when the whole event seems to have been in violation of His stated command?

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