Author: David Lamb

Why did Nadab and Abihu get smitten by God? (Lev. 10:1-3)

Nadab and Abihu are killed in the Tabernacle, Leviticus - James Tissot

Nadab and Abihu are killed in the Tabernacle

I start a course in a few weeks on the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—the Pentateuch books everyone ignores, including me until this year.  I thought I should re-read these books and so for the past week or so I’ve been moving through Leviticus and have enjoyed learning about the various sacrifices.  Everything was great until I got to the story of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron.

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.  (Lev. 10:1-3). 

I can read what the text says, that they offered “unauthorized fire” so God consumed them, but it still seems unfair.  People do wrong things all the time, but God doesn’t usually fry them.  It sounds similar to what happened to poor Uzzah, who was smitten by God for trying to stabilize the ark (2 Sam. 6).

It appears that Nadab and Abihu were trying to do the right thing, but God was really picky, so he zapped them.  This is the sort of thing that gives the God of the Old Testament a bad reputation.  If you’re thinking, “Somebody should write a book about that”—I agree.  And I talk about the smiting of Uzzah in God Behaving Badly (pages 27-33), but I skip over the story about Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10.

In my blog I usually attempt to answer, or at least address, these types of questions, but this time I’m just going to ask the question and see what you all can come up with.

What do you think—why’d God kill them?  What was so bad about “unauthorized fire” (also called “unholy fire”).  Did their action really deserve sudden and immediate death?  When you teach on this passage, what do you say?

“But some doubted” (Matthew 28:17)

Immediately before Jesus gives his final words to his disciples, perhaps his most famous address, often called The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), the text includes a curious phrase.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I was speaking on The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) at a church retreat over this past weekend.  As I was studying the text, I kept reflecting on the phrase: “but some doubted.”

It seems so out-of-place right before Jesus’ final commission.

What can we say about these doubters?

1) Doubters were Jesus’ disciples.  The context suggests that these doubters were part of the eleven (Judas is now dead).  They were people who have seen Jesus teach, perform miracles, cast out demons, and come back from the dead.  Even disciples doubt.
Just because you struggle with doubt, doesn’t mean you aren’t a follower of Jesus. 

2) Doubters may have worshiped.  Notice the text here doesn’t say, some worshiped, others doubted.  It appears that the doubters were a subset of the worshipers.  People can worship and doubt.
If you doubt, keep worshiping. 

3) Doubters obeyed.  A few verses earlier, Jesus had told Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to tell the disciples to come to Galilee.  After denying and abandoning Jesus at his moment of crisis the disciples this time, including the doubters, obey the command to go to Galilee.
If you doubt, keep obeying. 

4) Doubters doubted publicly.  Somehow people knew what these doubters were thinking.  We don’t know how, but presumably they let it be known that they were doubting.
If you doubt, let other people know so they can pray for you.

Personally, I’ve struggled with doubt more in the past few years than I ever have in my life.  I think one of the factors contributing to my doubts is that I’ve been focusing so much of my time and energy on some of the nastiest bits of the Bible, texts like the Canaanite Genocide (Josh. 10-11) and the rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judg. 19).  I think most Christians need to stop ignoring these troubling texts, but perhaps most people don’t need to spend as much time reflecting on them as I do (maybe my next book should be on Psalm 23?).

I went a long time without telling anyone about my doubts, but that didn’t help them go away.  Finally, I started talking about them with my family and a few close friends, and God began to strengthen my faith.  It’s still a work in progress, but I’m confident, as I keep worshiping, obeying, and talking about it, my faith will continue to grow.

Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn: God’s Handiwork

Five years ago we bought a cheap telescope, but never got it to work well on anything other than the moon.  It was basically a waste.  We stored in our living room, which made our family appear rather intelligent (“You have a telescope!”), but the only thing it was good for was collecting dust.  We weren’t intelligent enough to make it work.

Noah and TelescopeLast month we just got a new telescope, an 8” Dobsonian from Orion, a high school graduation present for my son Noah who loves astronomy.  (It looks like a cannon.)  Over the course of the weekend, Noah and I put it together.  But for the next 10 days it seemed like every night was cloudy or rainy, so we couldn’t take it out at night.

When we finally did have a clear night, it was difficult to find a spot to see anything because of the houses and trees (we have five enormous pin oaks in our backyard).  We also had a hard time getting the image in focus, and we weren’t able to use the View-Finder properly.  When we thought we were looking at a Saturn, there weren’t rings because we were looking at a star.

Another telescope disappointment.

We persisted.  We adjusted our View-Finder during the day time (“Oh, that’s why everything was off!”).  We figured out the best place to get a clear view of the sky.  And God finally cooperated with a clear sky.

We decided to try to see Venus in the west just after sunset.  It’s hard to miss Venus, it’s the brightest object in the sky after the sun and the moon, although, you can only see before dawn or after dusk.

We got it lined up, and there it was—a Venus CrescentAmazing.  After our family and some of the neighbors saw Venus we turned to our next object.

It wasn’t nearly as bright as Venus, but it was nearby, also in the west near the horizon.  As it slowly came into view, we located it through the View-Finder and there is was—a Jupiter Ball.  But it got better, as slowly tiny pinpricks of light on either side of Jupiter appeared until we could see all four of the big ones (Ganymede, Io, Europa, and Callisto).  Wow.  Unfortunately, we missed the Venus & Jupiter conjunction at the end of June, where they were right next to each other.

After Venus and Jupiter moved closer to the horizon and were blocked by distant trees and houses, we turned to our final object.  Noah lined it up, then said, “Dad, check it out” and he signed “Shush.”  I looked through the lens—A Ringed SaturnIncredible.  Noah wanted me to keep quiet, but I couldn’t.

Our experience of seeing Venus, Jupiter and Saturn reminds me of Psalm 19,

The heavens declare the glory of God,
And the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psa. 19:1).

I connect to God through his creation, as I experience his amazing handiwork.  I’m humbled by the work on his fingers (see Psalm 8:4).

Half Moon July 2015If you live locally and would like to be humbled and look at a few planets with us, come over about 8:00 Saturday night (tomorrow, July 25, 2015).  It’s supposed to be clear.  Let us know you’re coming.

This image of a half-moon was taken last night as I held my cell phone camera over the lens.

Malestrom by Carolyn Custis James

In her latest book, Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World (2015), Carolyn Custis James challenges the perception that our world is characterized by a zero-sum game, where gains for women must come at a loss for men.  The source of her highly compelling alternate vision for men and women is the Bible.

While many find Scripture to be sexist, James discovers many stories of men who transcended the patriarchy of the biblical world.  The examples of these men and the women they empower and bless point back to the garden, and point forward to the cross.  She retells the stories of Adam, Abraham, Judah, Barak, Boaz, Matthew, Joseph (the carpenter), and Jesus.  While none of these men, except the last, were without faults (Abraham used Sarah twice to protect himself in a foreign land; Judah slept with his daughter-in-law Tamar), each of them took a bold and courageous stand against the domination of patriarchy.

As a white male, who has experienced many of the privileges that come with my demographic, I found her vision of manhood not as a threat, but as a blessing, a reminder of God’s original design for his sons and daughters as modeled by our savior.  “Jesus’ definition of manhood is every man’s true identity and calling—his birthright” (p. 182).

I felt particularly challenged by her discussion of Joseph (p. 155-172), husband of Mary, and adoptive father of Jesus.  Joseph is often ignored, but Matthew’s gospel calls him righteous.  Instead of following the cultural mandate of patriarchy, he is sensitive to angelic guidance, marrying a woman already pregnant by another father, and agreeing not to consummate the marriage until after Jesus’ birth.  Patriarchy would demand shaming her for betraying his trust.  For the sake of his wife and son, he quit his job, to move to Egypt—not a good career move.  Then he moved again, this time to Galilee, for the sake of his family.  As a husband who’s made my family move for my career multiple times, Joseph’s example is humbling.

Rarely do I find authors writing on biblical stories that I’m familiar with giving as many unnoticed insights into the biblical text as James.  Her examination of the story of Tamar in Lost Women of the Bible influenced my discussion of Tamar in Prostitutes and Polygamists (which James endorses).

I would hope that anyone, male or female, would welcome her message, since it would lead to more husbands empowering wives, and fathers empowering daughters.  We need more men who, like Jesus, use power to bless women and men.

What biblical examples of men empowering women that you find compelling?