Handling Holy Things
God’s people are in constant danger of becoming too familiar with His holy things. Familiarity can breed contempt. Much care needs to be taken to examine ourselves so that we are not casually treating with holy things. The consequences of doing so can be serious. Examples abound in the Bible to remind us.
There is the tragic account of Nadab and Abihu, the eldest sons of Aaron the High Priest, who were included in a select group of people that climbed up Mount Sinai with Moses to meet with God. It would have been an awesome experience for that group! “And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, He did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in His presence!” (Exodus 24:11, NLT – New Living Translation). And yet, Nadab and Abihu were killed soon after in a blazing fire from God because they made the fatal decision to offer in the sanctuary, “the wrong kind of fire, different than He had commanded” (Leviticus 10:1 NLT).
Some have even pointed to Leviticus 10:8-10 as evidence that Nadab and Abihu may have been under the influence of alcohol, which could have caused them to err in offering the wrong kind of fire. Immediately after their deaths, God had told Aaron that the Levitical priests must never drink alcohol before entering the Tabernacle. God gave this reason: “You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common, between what is ceremonially unclean and what is clean” (v. 10, NLT). Anything that would impair our ability to discern between the sacred and the common must be avoided.
There is a lesson in this tragic incident for all believers in the Most High God. Let us take heed lest we fall (1 Corinthians 10:11). What is it that makes a thing or person holy unto God? That thing or person would have been set apart or consecrated by the special touch of God for a particular purpose. For example, the ground upon which Moses stood before the burning bush was made holy by the special presence of God there to display His glory (Exodus 3:5). After the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, Moses had to remind his brother Aaron: “This is what the LORD meant when He said, ‘I will display My holiness through those who come near Me. I will display My glory before all the people’” (Leviticus 10:3, NLT). God will not – indeed, He cannot – compromise His holiness. Therefore, it would be a serious mistake for anyone to tamper with His Holy Word or abuse His Holy Church, which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
Pastor John MacArthur commented on God’s judgement of Nadab and Abihu in the introduction to his book, Strange Fire. MacArthur noted that, “Their offense may seem trifling to someone accustomed to the type of casual, self-indulgent worship our generation is known for.” Some may even think that God’s severe judgement was unwarranted. In fact, a careful study of the Bible will show that casual worship is not unique to our generation. The people of God have repeatedly failed to ascribe the highest level of holiness to God. The result has been a lack of fear in how we approach the holy things of God, especially with regard to worshiping Him. Ultimately, it comes down to our commitment to obey God regardless of our circumstances. When King David correctly moved the Ark of God back to Jerusalem, he rejoiced in song: “Worship the LORD in all His holy splendor” (1 Chronicles 16:29).
King Saul is an example of someone who decided to use his discretion instead of obeying all the details of God’s command. Saul was instructed to destroy every living thing in the Amalekite nation (1 Samuel 15:3). However, when Saul and his men attacked the Amalekites, they spared the life of the king and “kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs – everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality” (1 Samuel 15:9, NLT). Saul even convinced himself that he had obeyed God! He cheerfully announced to the Prophet Samuel, “I have carried out the LORD’s command!” (1 Samuel 15:13, NLT). However, God rejected King Saul because of his disobedience.
The Amalekite nation was set apart by God for utter destruction. God actually explained the reason for His awesome judgement of the Amalekites to King Saul (1 Samuel 15:2). Further, there was no provision for human discretion in executing God’s command. God’s law had allowed for the redemption of some sacrificial gifts to the LORD (Leviticus 27). However, “No person specially set apart for destruction may be bought back. Such a person must be put to death” (Leviticus 27:29, NLT). The king rationalized that he had allowed the people to keep the best cattle in order to sacrifice them to God (1 Samuel 15:21). It is possible that Saul’s excuse might even be acceptable today by our liberal religious leaders. “But Samuel replied, ‘What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice?’” (1 Samuel 15:22, NLT).
It is always a wise practice for believers in the only true and living God to solemnly remind ourselves and fellow believers that our God is holy. Moreover, He has separated us from the world unto Himself: “For I, the LORD, am the One who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45, NLT). If that was true for the old covenant people, how much more so is it for the new covenant people of God? When we gather to worship on the Lord’s Day, do we really believe and expect the LORD to be present? If so, how are we entering such a holy space? Do we prepare ourselves to come into His special presence with pure hearts and clean hands? Are we casual in our approach or do we come with reverence and awe? We need to preach these reminders to ourselves constantly.
In the end, it all comes down to our diligence in seeking to obey God. Nadab, Abihu, and King Saul are examples of people who did not believe in the authority of God’s word. These men felt that it was okay to add or take away from God’s word as they saw fit. On the other hand, we can find an excellent example in the Book of Ezra of a people who showed great care in obeying God’s word. Ezra 2:61 tells us of three families of priests who were among the people that returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity. However, there was a problem: “They searched for their names in the genealogical records, but they were not found, so they were disqualified from serving as priests. The governor told them not to eat the priest’s share of food from the sacrifices until a priest could consult the LORD about the matter by using the Urim and Thummim – the sacred lots” (NLT).
These Jewish exiles had been chastened by God during the long Babylonian captivity. They had mourned over the severe restrictions on the worship of their God: “Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem” (Psalm 137:1, NLT). But then they saw the miraculous hand of God deliver them from captivity and they were careful to obey all the details of God’s law. God’s deceased servant, Joshua, would have smiled at this report because his last admonition to Israel was: “So be very careful to follow everything Moses wrote in the Book of Instruction. Do not deviate from it, turning either to the right or to the left” (Joshua 23:6, NLT).
May it never be that God would have to discipline us to exercise diligence in handling the holy things of God. It was said of the Scribe Ezra that he was well versed in the Law of Moses and that the gracious hand of God was upon him in returning to Jerusalem. But more importantly, Ezra was careful to faithfully apply his knowledge of the law: “This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the LORD and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel” (Ezra 7:6, NLT).