Lesson Thirty Two
NADAB AND ABIHU
The five colored rings and Olympic flame are familiar sights at the Olympic Games. Tradition requires the cauldron at the games to be lit only by a flame that has been kindled by the sun in Athens, Greece, and then transported by relay to wherever the games are held. This same cauldron is to be seen at all times during the games, thus it is typically positioned at the top of an open stadium.
The idea of a continuous Olympic flame is a meaningful tradition to those who support the Games. Great emphasis and protection is given to the torch that bears the fire to ensure that it never goes out. The same with the cauldron. Once lit, it is to remain that way throughout the games.
The cauldron was lit as custom required at the Montreal Games in 1976. Days later, a sudden storm snuffed out the flame. A nearby plumber, eager to help, pulled out his cigarette lighter instantly solving the problem. That is, until the organizers found out. Horrified, they quickly extinguished the flame and relit the cauldron with a standby torch.
We may smile at this modern story of strange fire. What difference does it make whether the fire comes from Greece or a lighter? Fire is fire. But to Olympic purists, maintaining almost a century of tradition means a great deal. This week’s story is also about strange fire, not from a lighter, but another source. The source of the fire also meant a great deal to God enough that He not only extinguished the flame, but also the lives of those who held the fire.
God gave explicit instructions for how Israel was to worship. Nadab and Abihu had been set apart along with their father and brothers to serve as priests, anointed as sacred workers of the sanctuary. They also served as representatives of the people to God, so what they did mattered. Each detail was important. Each duty an example. Each instruction symbolic of the greater gift of salvation from God for man.
Yet Nadab and Abihu blurred the sacred with the common. Instead of following God’s instruction, they did it their own way at their own time with their own fire, not with the fire from the altar that was lit by God Himself. This was no small thing in the eyes of God. It was direct disobedience and a misrepresentation of all that is sacred.
This is not a happy story by any accounts, but it teaches us a lesson that may run contrary to what people might say. It is not unusual for us to convince ourselves that details aren’t that important, that what we do, what we wear, where we go, what we read, think, or say, are not as important as long as God is first in our life. We convince ourselves there is no disconnect in loving God, when we do what works best for us, because He will (or does) understand. This story reminds us that small things matter in heaven’s eyes. There is the sacred: who, why, what, and where we worship. There is the common: the things we do to whether work, school, or play. God grants both, but we must not confuse Him with the every day. Be careful about the small things. Look up and be renewed.
Nadab and Abihu, as the sons of Aaron, were afforded opportunities that others were not. They had heard the voice of God; they had been up on the top of Mt. Sinai; and they had had the supreme honor and privilege of “eating and drinking” with God as well as seeing His glory (Exodus 24:9-11). Prior to the event that culminated in their death, they had spent time learning of the role of the priest as well as the mediatorial work on behalf of the people. Immediately prior to this they had been ordained and blood from the altar had been sprinkled on them in a sacred service.
This makes one wonder at their actions. How could they have misunderstood what they were to do? More importantly, how could they simply discard the holiness and reverence of God? The answer lies in the line that is drawn between the sacred and the common. While they had gone through all these experiences, had been taught all that was needed to understand and recognize their sacred responsibilities, they remained “common.” There was no conversion of the heart, no real recognition and acceptance of a Holy God.
While the Bible does not reveal that Nadab and Abihu were under the influence of alcohol when they chose to put “strange fire” in their censors, it is sometimes connected by Bible commentators because of the admonition given in verse 9. It would suggest that this is not random instruction, but directly related to the preceding event. Ellen White states that, indeed, this was the case (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 361). In becoming intoxicated, their reason was affected and their ability to make wise and solemn choices was affected. In a deteriorated state, their minds could no longer see the difference between what was sacred and belonged to God, and what was common.
Making it Real
Probably the hardest part of this story is that Aaron was not allowed to grieve the loss of his sons. This was because of their great sin against God. Aaron’s grief was doubly compounded because he recognized that his sons were out of control because he had not done his duties as a father in teaching them self-discipline, respect for authority, and reverence for God.
This is a challenging story for the parent because it causes us to do some soul-searching. This week’s lesson requires us to take some time and think, pray, and talk about how we are leading our children to Jesus.
- How can we teach ourselves about what is sacred versus what is common?
- How can we share what we’ve learned with our children?
- How can we demonstrate the difference between sacred time or space to common time or space?
- What kind of things can we do to teach our children that the sanctuary is a place for worship?
- Ask am I consistent in my discipline of my children? Am I teaching them how to self-discipline?
- Offer different scenarios to your child (appropriate for their age) that teaches them how to make good choices.
Respond & Share
The Sabbath hours are probably the best example of sacred time, although we can certainly plan for other times during the week. How do you make Sabbath a sacred time, different from the “common” times during the week? Please share with us in the comments!
Merle Poirier writes from Silver Spring, Maryland, where she works as the operation manager for Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines as well as the designer for KidsView, a magazine for 8-12-year-olds. She enjoys spending time with her family including being the grandmother of two active little boys, who greatly enjoy Starting With Jesus.
Coming next week:
“TWO BRAVE SPIES”