Today's reading brought me to one of those uncomfortable, I-wish-this-wasn't-there passages of the Bible: when God's fire killed Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire.
Shades of Cain: They offered the wrong thing.
God had given extensive, specific directions for the ordination offerings. The breed, sex, age of animals. The spices. The ingredients for the anointing oil and the incense. And over and over again we read some variation of "they did all that the Lord commanded."
Aaron and his sons had just completed seven days of being closeted with the Lord in the Tent of Meeting, completing the days of ordination. Imagine the joy, the hopes, the pride mixed with humility, of that week! How they must have studied and reviewed the laws God had given them, to be sure they understood. Of all the 600,000 Israelites, God had chosen this small family unit--Aaron and his four sons--to serve God throughout all generations as a perpetual priesthood.
A high of all highs for Aaron and his sons.
The ordination week ended, they began their ministry on day eight, and right out of the gate Abihu and Nadab offered "strange fire."
I struggle to understand this. My experience with God is of Someone who looks at the heart more than what I hold in my hands, not a teacher who will rap my knuckles for passing notes in school.
And from what the Bible says over and over again elsewhere, I know the truth that God desires mercy and not sacrifice.
So why here? Why to the anointed leaders? Why after such a high?
I have to think that, the same way as I mentioned about Moses a few days ago, God held the anointed priests to a higher standard.
After seven days of fellowship and intensive study, they knew how to present the offering. And they chose to do something different. Something not God-ordained. They more or less said, "We don't care what You say, God, we're going to do what we want to."
The question switches from "why did God send fire on them?" to "what were they thinking?"
I suspect that, after all, God did look on their hearts--and didn't like what He saw.