by Jerry Gentry
"And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshiped, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever" (2Chr. 7:3).
"For it is written. . ," Jesus states over and over in the gospels. This little phrase is reminiscent of another phrase found over 400 times in the Old Testament, which states: "Thus saith the LORD."
"For it is written. . . " "Thus saith the LORD." These two phrases convey one singular message: The worship of God must be built from the divine pattern found in the Word of God, sola scriptura.
We read such words over and over in the Bible. How must we understand such words, and how seriously must we take them? How must we apply them, approach unto God and offer acceptable worship? Learn the lesson today, that when men offer strange fire, God is angry!
There was a time in ancient Israel when God revealed His divine plan of worship to Moses in the mount, whom God later reminded: "And thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof which was shown thee in the mount" (Exod. 26:30). Obedience to these detailed instructions was followed by a promise: "And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel" (Exo 25:22).
Moses followed this divine pattern precisely. What resulted was miraculous. "Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle" (Exod. 40:34-35). "And there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces" (Lev. 9:24).
Those were the glory days, for ancient Israel in the wilderness. But those days did not last for long, because very soon the two Levite sons of Aaron decided to introduce a small, almost insignificant, innovation into their worship. The consequences were devastating.
"And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD" (Lev 10:1-2). God had earlier promised Moses that "there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee" for miraculous good, in the case of careful obedience; and in wrath, upon disobedience.
What exactly was this strange fire that engendered the wrath of Almighty God to destroy the two offenders? Certainly there is no mention of these two men being overt idolaters. There were no previous violations or warnings specifically against them. We learn precisely what Moses had conveyed to them from God:
"Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering: It is the burnt offering, because of the burning upon the altar all night unto the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be burning in it. . . The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out" (Lev 6:9, 13). From this, the sons of Aaron knew that any fire except the specific fire burning continually on the altar was to be excluded from worship. But what a small, inconsequential detail, you say?
Now from a logical standpoint, fire is fire. What difference does it make? How can you tell the difference between one fire and another? Whether we strike flints together, or use some other ignition device, fire is fire, from our human perspective. This was quite reasonable to the two brothers. But it cost them their very lives, because, fire is not fire, in God's eyes. The Bible says: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). In the worship of God, human reason must be restrained and subjugated to obedience. All acceptable worship will be ordered by a means found in God's word. This means is sometimes called the regulative principle of worship.
There came a time later when Saul "spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them" (1Sam 15:9), as previously commanded. Samuel put this same regulative principle of worship to Saul thusly: "Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king" (1Sam. 15:22-23). The worship of God is serious business. False worship cost Aaron his two sons. False worship cost Saul his kingship and ultimately his life.
Obedience is not only avoiding that which God has condemned, while carrying out what He has expressly commanded. In worship, we must also avoid to presume action where God has not commanded, either directly or indirectly by example.
The problem of worship is that men truly like the creativity of playing church. It makes them feel good, when people are pleased. And it brings bigger offerings. With practice, men get quite good at their exercises, since God no longer deals so swiftly with offenders, as He once did with Nadab and Abihu. Turn on your TV on a Sunday morning, and watch the mockery of television ministries whose performances rival the old Barnum and Bailey's Circus, The Greatest Show on Earth. Men who play church in our day assume that strange fire is acceptable to God, since there is no swift fire from heaven to condemn it. Such man made ideas are far from the truth.
Not only must we "worship him in spirit." If we will learn the lesson of Nadab and Abihu, and if we will learn the lesson of Saul, we will also worship God "in truth." There is no indication of a lack of sincerity on the part of Aaron's two sons, who kindled the wrath of God with their strange fire. There is no indication that Saul was insincere when he brought back "the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good." Sincerity alone, in both instances, engendered the wrath of Almighty God, because sincerity was not mixed with truth. Will we learn the lesson that when men offer strange fire, God is angry, even today? And all worship outside of truth is false worship, no matter how sincere, no matter how heart felt. Such worship is wicked, because it is idolatry. "God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psa. 7:11). God is angry with all men who will offer strange fire, by presuming to approach unto God with an offering not derived from His very word.
But you say, surely God is not so strict today, under the New Covenant. Make no mistake: He is even more strict, more jealous, more apt to be angry, because we now have the Holy Spirit to prompt and guide us away from offering strange fire. And we have His ample word which reproves all men who offer strange fire.
"But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26).
"Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come" (v. 13). "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. 8:9). Truth is not identified on the argument of antiquity. Truth is not established in the words of extraBiblical writers, no matter their piety. Truth is truth, because it is found in the Word of God, breathed by the Holy Spirit. "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17), Jesus teaches.
The problem of creativity and innovation in worship, versus following the regulative principle of "the example and shadow of heavenly things" (Hebr. 8:5), is rooted in the early experiences when Israel came out of Egypt. You will recall that when "Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount. . . [that] Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights" (Exod. 24:18).
During this period of time, the Israelites in the wilderness came up with a new plan for worshipping God. "When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him" (Exo 32:1).
You would think that Aaron, the brother of Moses, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, would have stood against such an idea. Yet it was Aaron himself who "said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me" (v. 2).
After collecting sufficient gold, Aaron "fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (Exo 32:4). It is important to note that this new worship was not viewed as a return to the gods of Egypt. This worship was viewed as worship of the true God. The golden calf, or bull, represented strength and power of the LORD JEHOVAH, who had miraculously delivered them from Egypt, they thought.
"And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD. And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play" (Exo 32:5-6).
Note the progression of events. First, there came an idea for an image, that would represent the God of Israel. A sympathetic minister was found in Aaron, and a plan was implemented for crafting this image. Next, Aaron built an altar for worship. And last, there came great festivities and games in celebration, Israel's first exciting "sport spectacular." All this Aaron called "a feast to the LORD," much like our own worldly festivals. Neither Aaron, nor the Israelites viewed this whole scenario in any manner except worship of the true God. After all, their leader Moses was gone away. What were they to do?
Meanwhile, up on the mount, the LORD is talking with Moses, and saying: "Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves" (Exo 32:7).
"They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (v. 8).
In wrath, God would have destroyed them all, except that "Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?" (v. 11).
"And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written" (Exo 32:14-15).
"And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount" (v. 19).
"And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.
"And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
"And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
"For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him (v. 20-23).
The people had found in Aaron a minister like of lots of modern ministers who offer strange fire, men who are more willing to please their people than to please God. What Aaron originally intended to be "a feast unto the LORD," quickly degenerated into an orgy of fun and frolic, because "the people were naked" (v. 25). Go into most churches today, and you will find examples of this same skimpy dress and nakedness, especially among young people and women who want to attract the attention of males. Such "undress" is considered quite normal among churches where Biblical standards of dress are not practiced.
Moses drew the line, and the Levites joined him in executing the worst of the offenders among the people, "and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men" (v. 28).
Afterwards Moses commanded "Consecrate yourselves to day to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day" (v. 29).
"And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin" (v. 30).
"And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold" (v. 31).
"Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written" (v. 32).
"And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book" (v. 33).
"Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them" (v. 34).
"And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made" (v. 35).
The consequences of creatively adding to worship things God has not commanded, no matter how good it feels, is always disaster. "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it" (Deu 12:32). God is a jealous God. Worship is all about words, proper words, "the sacrifice of praise" (Hebr. 13:15), whereby "we render the calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:2). Worship is found in prayer, preaching and praise, and lawful ordinances. Which words will be bring, God's words, or man's words?
Will you find your fellowship with men who offer strange fire? Or will you protest all false worship, and join with those who will restore Biblical worship of the New Covenant, both "in spirit and in truth?" No Christian today can presume that the forms of worship we have inherited in our generation are all Biblical. In fact, many such forms in nearly all churches perpetuate idolatry, in one form or another. God is looking for a few men and women, a remnant, who are willing to restore pure worship. Will you restore truth in worship, as the Spirit guides you by the standard of the Word of God?
Christian, recognize and avoid all false worship, where men offer strange fire.