Today’s parasha is entitled Shemini meaning “the Eighth day”, and covers Leviticus chapters 9-11. In these chapters Aaron begins his ministry to the people, his sons come into the presence of God burning a sacrifice not prescribed for, and we are given dietary laws. For today’s Parasha I’ve chosen to focus primarily on the “strange” or “unauthorized” fire.
Beginning in Leviticus 9, Aaron and his sons have completed their seven day long ordination and are now officially Priests of Israel and able to begin their ministry to the people in accordance with the Lord’s command. But what starts off wonderfully has a sudden turn of events; reminding us how quick we can be to forget who God is and just how sinful we are. Moses instructs Aaron and his sons on the sacrifices required by the Lord. They followed the commands as instructed, and this pleased God and He showed His glory to the people, consuming the offerings with fire He sent from heaven. The people shout for joy and fall face down in worship. Picture a stadium packed to capacity, a sea of people shouting with joy after an amazing game-winning point, except that our people numbered more than several stadiums, and all were offering joyful worship to the Lord. Can you imagine what the sound must have been like, charged with anticipation and joy?
However, some time after completing the sacrifices God had required of them, Aaron’s sons took their lit censors with fragrant incense on them and went into the presence of the Lord and decided to “improvise”. What were they thinking? All that had been asked of them was completed. What would possess Aaron’s sons, the ones that are supposed to be our mediators, to try and come before God when not instructed to with an offering not prescribed by the Lord? Scripture goes on to tell us only a few short verses later that priests are not to drink ANY alcoholic drink before entering the tent of meetings. These verses give us a further glimpse into what may have happened with Aaron’s sons. I’m pretty sure most of us here know what drunkenness can do to even the most loving and meek of individuals, allowing the darkest and most hidden of things to come to the surface. While wine can make joyful the heart of man, the abuse of it can also be his downfall.
In offering “strange fire” Aaron’s sons showed that they did not give God the fear and esteem that He deserves. After they offered their fire, God then sent HIS fire from heaven and consumed them both. This demonstrated to our people that we cannot treat God as something other than our Lord and Master. When Aaron’s sons sinned they were showing they didn’t have proper respect for God, treating something very sacred and holy with a casual attitude. There is a powerful lesson in this parasha that God is far higher than us and not to be toyed with or disrespected unless you too wish to get burned.
After Aaron’s sons were killed, Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord meant when He said: ‘Through those near to Me I will show Myself holy, And gain glory before all the people.’” And Aaron was silent. This verse is so profound, and I love the way the Lord explains how we are to relate to Him. To some the death of these two men seems extreme and without reason, but this verse explains the matter clearly. The reason this had to happen was to prevent others, who saw what Aaron’s sons had done, from following their lead, and experiencing God’s wrath.
We see a parallel to trying to worship the Lord in a way other than what He has given in 2 Chronicles 26 with King Uzziah. King Uzziah for many years did what was right by God. But after he had gained great power and prestige he suddenly felt it was his right to do what only priests were allowed to do: light censors add incense and take them into the Holy place. But Azariah and 80 priests with him stood in his way and reminded him of whose duty it was to carry this out. King Uzziah then became angry, and all at once was struck with leprosy and forced to live in isolation for the rest of his years. James tells us in his letter that, “not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Those in pastoral and or spiritual roles of significance are held to a much higher standard.
Moses then instructs Aaron’s extended family to carry the bodies of their cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary. So terrible was the sin of Nadav and Avihu that Moses commands Aaron and his sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, not to mourn their death. They were not to allow their hair to become unkempt nor to tear their clothes in mourning. We should understand that Adonai does have compassion. He knows the deepest sorrows of our hearts, and Yeshua experienced pain and loss in His own life. The difference here is that Aaron’s sons were in a place of honor and power, but showed God a lack of respect and a prideful attitude. The Lord then had to clearly demonstrate to our people that if we try to do things our own way it will lead to destruction. We cannot come to God on our own terms. At that time the only way to receive forgiveness from God was by following Him wholly and obeying His commandments. In regards to the Mosaic Covenant, if we fell out of line there would be swift recompense. Like yeast in a batch of dough that causes it to rise, a little sin, just a little disrespect or irreverence toward God will also spread. It will become a deadly infection among not just the Jewish people, but all peoples everywhere.
After this the Lord instructed Moses and Aaron on what animals were deemed Kosher, clean, or fit to eat. While in those days eating foods God deemed to be clean taught us how to recognize the difference between that which is holy and that which is not, today we ourselves have been made “kosher” – fit in the sight of God, through Messiah Yeshua. He provided a final covering for our sin and uncleanness. Following a Kosher or biblical diet is no longer a prerequisite to enter Heaven, but should be seen as a beneficial way of living and a way to honor God with what we eat. Dietary laws never have provided a way to Heaven. They temporarily kept us physically clean so we could approach an infinitely Holy God. Yeshua made it so that we can approach God no matter what we eat or whether we are Jew or Gentile.
The take-away from today’s parasha is that, since God has given us clear instruction, we are neither to add nor subtract from it; His commands are sufficient. We should strive for a spiritually clean and holy lifestyle. Likewise, we should also strive for a physically healthy lifestyle, for our body is a temple. We should be praying for those in spiritual leadership, that God would lead them and that their hearts will continually be turned towards Him, for their job holds a high level of responsibility as servants of Adonai. While not all of us are presently in leadership roles, it would benefit us to aim for the qualities expected of leaders in our own lives so we too can be used for God’s purposes.