Nadab and Abihu were dead. In a single moment, the two brothers had been devoured by fire from heaven.
God had killed them. But why?
Nadab and Abihu were priests sons of Aaron, the high priest, the brother of Moses. And… that’s all we really know about them. The first time they get any kind of exposition is right before they die, here in Leviticus 10:1.
Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
I remember reading that passage for the first time and thinking it felt extremely harsh. No warning, no first strike, just—fire from heaven. Instant death.
But let’s keep reading:
And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying:
‘By those who come near Me
I must be regarded as holy;
And before all the people
I must be glorified.’ ”
Nadab and Abihu failed to regard God as holy, and as priests of God, they failed to glorify God before the people.
The lesson here is that holiness is extremely important to God, and it should be important to us, too. We can’t afford to ignore it.
But what is holiness, exactly? Well, in the Bible, the Hebrew and Greek words for “holy” usually describe something that’s “sanctified,” or “set apart.”
Anyone can set something apart. I can take five apples and move one of them off to the side. Is it a holy apple now?
Of course not. Something is holy when God sanctifies it. And when God sanctifies something, when He sets it apart and makes it holy, He always sets it apart for a reason. A purpose.
In the Old Testament, the tribe of Levi was holy to God—set apart from the 11 other tribes of Israel, for the purpose of ministering to God on behalf of the entire nation. And the animal sacrifices that the priests offered, they were holy, set apart from all other animals because they foreshadowed the eventual sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And some of those holy sacrifices were to be eaten by the holy priests in a holy place—the tabernacle, a structure set apart by God from all other structures as His dwelling place.
But holiness wasn’t just important in the Old Testament. It’s important today. Today, there is no more physical tabernacle, but there is a temple. A spiritual temple. You, and I, and every member of God’s Church, we are part of that holy temple.
Holiness is important; we’ve established that. But it’s not just some important fact to file away—holiness should change us in a fundamental way. So here’s what I want to look at today. I want to look at how holiness should change how we treat three specific groups: God, everyone else, and ourselves.
1. Holiness should change how we treat God
Nothing is sacred anymore. Anything in the world can be the punchline to a joke, or wind up in a meme, or just generally become a punching bag for anyone who wants to mock it. It’s all fair game, and that includes God.
At least, a lot of people seem to think so. And you know what? Some of those jokes and memes are funny. They’re easy to laugh at. But man, that’s dangerous territory. There is a thin and dangerous line between jokes involving God and jokes about God.
And it’s tough, because God calls us His friends. And I don’t know about you, but my friends and I rag on each other all the time. It’s a fundamental part of our friendship. I can’t imagine not doing that with them.
But… God isn’t that kind of friend. Nadab and Abihu were incinerated because they chose not to treat God as holy. God is our friend, but He’s not the buddy who wants to come over and binge the latest season of whatever’s good on Netflix with us. He is the Almighty, All-Knowing, All-Present Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Yes, He wants a relationship with us, but we should never lose our reverence and awe for who and what He is. He is holy, and we must regard Him as holy.
Here’s what’s really amazing about that, though. The Almighty, All-Knowing, All-Present Creator and Sustainer of the universe wants to call you His friend. He wants to hear from you. He wants to be involved in your life. He wants to give you eternal life as His child.
That might not be a Netflix-bingeing friendship, but I think it’s a pretty decent trade-off.
2. Holiness should change how we treat others
The people you work with or go to school with do not know that you are a representative of the Kingdom of God.
They know that you are weird.
They know that you celebrate some crazy Jewish holidays and that you can’t do anything fun for 24 hours every week and that you aren’t willing to say and do things that most people have no problem saying and doing.
They would never use these words, but they know that you are set apart. They can see that you aren’t like everyone else by the things you do and the things you don’t do. What they’re seeing, without realizing it, is a direct result of something Peter wrote about:
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
(1 Peter 1:13-16)
You are holy. God has personally sanctified you, set you apart. And when you strive to be holy in your conduct, it shows. When you are kind and patient and loving and honest and dependable and joyful, people see that difference, even if they don’t know what to call it besides “weird.”
But what about our fellow Church members? Do they see holy conduct from us, too?
We have just as much opportunity to display holy conduct when we’re with fellow Christians as we do when we’re with anyone else. How do we treat each other? What kind of things do we talk about? What kind of things do we do? Are they holy, or… not so much?
Holiness is a continual choice we each have to make.
3. Holiness should change how we treat ourselves
I should rephrase that: “Maintaining holiness is a choice we have to make.”
There’s a curious passage in the book of Haggai:
Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Now, ask the priests concerning the law, saying, “If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?”‘”
Then the priests answered and said, “No.”
And Haggai said, “If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?”
So the priests answered and said, “It shall be unclean.”
Holiness is not contagious.
In fact, the reverse is true—when we mix holy things with unclean things, the things that are holy become unclean. And what’s more, we can’t make them holy again. Remember? Something is holy when God sets it apart, not us.
Paul warned the Church,
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”
“Come out from among them
And be separate, says the LORD.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the LORD Almighty.”
(2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
When we ignore that, when we touch what is unclean, when we allow lawlessness and darkness to have a place in our lives, what happens?
We stop being holy. We stop being set apart, because we start being like everything and everyone around us.
Thankfully, when we repent, when we allow the blood of Christ to cleanse us, God sets us apart again. He sanctifies us and makes us holy again. If He didn’t do that, things would be pretty hopeless for us. But He does do that and He will continue to do that.
Whether or not we touch something unclean comes down to how we treat ourselves. We choose what we allow into our lives and into the temple of God.
You are a son or daughter of God—you deserve better than darkness.
The temple of God deserves better than darkness.
It’s easy to forget why holiness is important to God. Nadab and Abihu did. If we want to avoid their mistake, then it’s up to us to let holiness change how we treat God, how we treat others, and how we treat ourselves.
Until next time,