A Strange Fire

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Parashat Shmini (Eighth)
Vayikra (Leviticus) 9:1–11:47

In my last blog entry, Don’t Miss this Opportunity, I wrote that, if after the current Covid-19 pandemic, everything will simply “return to normal”, we will have missed an amazing opportunity that God has given us to refocus and recalibrate our hearts, minds, and everyday lives. He has stripped away the noise and busyness in our lives so that we may do a deep soul search, to rid ourselves from the many idols in our lives, to seek Him for what we are to be busy with, and to learn to live from a place of rest in Him.

I found an important connection to what I wrote above in our weekly Scripture reading. Of particular importance are the specific instructions that God gave to Moses, Aaron, the elders of Israel, and the entire assembly of Israel:

Now it came about on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel; and he said to Aaron, “Take for yourself a calf, a bull, for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without defect, and offer them before the LORD.  “Then to the sons of Israel you shall speak, saying, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both one year old, without defect, for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a grain offering mixed with oil; for today the LORD shall appear to you.’” So they took what Moses had commanded to the front of the tent of meeting, and the whole congregation came near and stood before the LORD. And Moses said, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.” Moses then said to Aaron, “Come near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering, that you may make atonement for yourself and for the people; then make the offering for the people, that you may make atonement for them, just as the LORD has commanded.”
Leviticus 9:1–7

The entire assembly was responsible to offer a sin offering, and I believe that verse six clarifies the reason why:

This is the thing which the LORD has commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.

In the remainder of the chapter, we find that indeed Moses, Aaron, the elders of Israel and the entire assembly of Israel did exactly as the LORD instructed them to do. As a result, the glory (“weight” and/or “honor”) of the LORD appeared to all the people:

And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
Leviticus 9:23–24

The LORD’s instructions here were very specific. No one could say that he or she did not know, including the priests Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s sons, who partook of the sacrifice (Leviticus 9:9, 12, 18). However, something strange happens not long after, as the brothers do something for which many sages and biblical scholars have offered various explanations:

Now Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.
Leviticus 10:1

What can we make of this? Well, since the Scripture does not give us any indication as to why they did this, I do not want to judge their motives. However, we can say that their actions resulted in tragedy — they lost their lives!

 And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
Leviticus 10:2

We are often quick to interpret these events as a willful act of disobedience that comes as a result of a sinful and wicked heart. I confess this is how I initially read this account! However, could it be that Nadav and Avihu may have simply wanted to do something extra? Perhaps it came from a heart that wanted to do more than what God had asked? Maybe even to do something that would show God some extra love? Could it be that this act came from a good intentions? Regardless of their hearts’ attitude or intentions, however, the end result was that they offered a "strange fire" which the Lord did not require them to; in other words, they did not follow God’s specific instructions.

This caused me to do some self-reflection and I had to ask myself the question “Am I offering the Lord a strange fire that He has not required?” We are so focused on the doing; we run and do things because we are creatures of habit. Sometimes, we even do things simply because of tradition, or religious ceremony, which I am sure are rooted in good intentions to honor our Creator. But, could it be that these things will cause us to offer a “strange fire” which the Lord has not required, resulting in a tragic end?

Please do not misunderstand me — we are to be obedient to the LORD and our faith must be accompanied by action (James 2:20). But our actions should be within the framework that God has given us in His word, which are also informed by the prompting and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

My dear brothers and sisters, let’s continue to take the time to reflect and refocus, and not miss the amazing opportunity God has given us in this crisis. We have the incredible opportunity to rest from the “grind” of our busy lives to seek Him, and to learn to live from a place of rest in Him. This includes making sure that we offer Him what He desires us to, and not what we think He desires us to. Be encouraged that He will guide you through His Word and His Spirit!

Shabbat Shalom,
Moran


Did you know? — Israel the start up nation

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2 Comments on “A Strange Fire”

  1. What a remarkable insight to a confusing passage of Scripture. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and having us consider what we do during this season.

    Are we “doing” because it makes us feel good or are we truly seeking God’s desire for what and why we do it?

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