Month: August 2015

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?

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“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.