Our Parasha this week is entitled Shemini which means eighth. In the previous parasha, Moses explained to Aaron and his sons that the preparations they had made were commanded by the Lord to make atonement for them. And they had been instructed to stay at the entrance to the tent of meeting day and night for seven days, and to do what the Lord requires, so that they would not die. Please remember these details, because they will be important later.
Our Parasha begins on the eighth day. Moses instructed Aaron and his sons to gather specific animal and grain offerings and bring them before the Lord. They brought these offerings to the front of the Tent of Meeting. All Israel came forward and stood before Adonai. Aaron sacrificed the animals, then lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. Soon after, the Shekinah Glory of God was displayed to all the people. Fire went forth from before God and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted for joy, and fell on their faces.
Not many days later, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu, who had already been instructed on the proper way to offer incense on the altar, brought before Adonai what Scripture calls “strange fire” – an unauthorized offering; a departure from what Adonai had commanded. Then fire went forth from before God and consumed them both and they died on the spot.
The remainder of the parasha outlines the animals Adonai declared to be clean and unclean. Naturally, the clean animals were allowed to be consumed and the unclean were prohibited. Some of these dietary laws have helped keep Jewish communities safe from sicknesses and diseases and are a great benefit today to anyone who chooses to follow them.
When the question is asked: “What exactly is ‘unauthorized fire?’” debate often follows. But Adonai chose not to specifically state what it was. What we do know, is that whatever Nadab and Abihu did, it was not in accordance with Adonai’s instructions, and for that, He took their lives. Remember that just a week prior, Adonai instructed them concerning the preparations He required, warning them to follow it to the letter lest they die, and this was no different.
On the surface, it may seem cruel, but we know that Adonai isn’t a cruel and arbitrary God. So, to better understand this incident, we should remember that back in chapter 19, Adonai told Moses that He soon would come to him in a thick cloud so that the people might hear Him speaking and believe. To prepare for this event, Israel was commanded to consecrate themselves. Adonai set strict boundaries around Mount Sinai, saying that whoever touched the mountain would die. When Adonai appeared, He called Moses to ascend the mountain, but before revealing His Law, Adonai sent Moses back down the mountain to repeat and expand the warning, saying, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the LORD to look, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them.
At the very founding of Israel as a nation, Adonai laid down the fundamental laws of consecration for the priests. He warned them that if they deviated from His instructions, He would “break out” against them. Nadab and Abihu violated those holy instructions and paid for it with their lives. Moses reminded Aaron that “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who draw near to me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” When Aaron heard this, he “held his peace.” Even amid his grief, he knew his sons had committed a grave offense against Israel’s holy God.
Something that concerns me about much of the modern church, and society in general, is the lack of the fear of God. Many people assume that the fear of the Lord is something outdated and archaic and doesn’t apply anymore. Now, a healthy fear of the Lord isn’t just trembling before His wrath but includes a sense of reverence and awe because of His glorious holiness, and obedience to His Word.
The fear of the Lord is still the beginning of wisdom. God is still a consuming fire, a jealous God. When we come into His presence, we come, on the one hand, as His children – those who have been reconciled; but we must also come with reverence, respecting and honoring the Holy God with whom we have a relationship.
It has become common to characterize Adonai as ‘the Man upstairs’ our ‘buddy’ who, no matter what you do, will always be there to bless you as long as you and another buddy say a prayer in Yeshua’s name. Rabbi Loren so affectionately refers to it as “Blab it and Grab it”. We as committed followers of Yeshua need to remember that the God we serve is a Holy God and is to be treated and revered as such. May we all recognize and awe in the splendor and Holiness of Adonai.