Many believers wish to pay great attention to Biblical details and that desire certainly comes from an intent to please the Lord, but in the Nadab & Abihu incident, for example, it is not necessary to assume that their demise was based on their violation of specific details or rules. On the contrary, viewed in harmony with other Bible teachings, I read God’s reaction as censure of carelessness shown toward Him.
To find the crux of this story in man’s having violated God’s specifics—which to me implies a set of rules to be followed without variation, regardless of the setting—downplays the many Biblical examples of spontaneous honor, devotion, and worship (David who danced a celebration of God, Mary who poured the perfume on Jesus’ feet, the blind man who worshipped after having been healed, the leper who returned to give thanks, and others). What of these? Since God hadn’t said, for instance, “Every leper who is healed by my Son between Pentecost and the Feast of Booths must turn after 50 paces and approach Him in order to give thanks,” are we to assume that the leper’s worship of Jesus was inappropriate? There seems to be no textual reason to think these examples constitute “disapproved” worship. It might be better to say that there is every logical reason to see these examples as acceptable, approved worship!
I find no textual reason to think these examples constitute “disapproved” worship. On the other hand, there is every logical reason to see these examples as acceptable and approved.
In some records of Scripture, the details of submitting to God’s will seem utterly important, and in other accounts, they do not. In this text it doesn’t seem necessary to assume the specific fire was the root problem.
Often, Lev. 10:1 (which states that they had offered “strange” fire “which He had not commanded them,” or “contrary to His command,” or some such variation) is cited in an attempt to prove that disobedience to a specific command is the issue in this story. But the words “which He had not commanded them” don’t require the understanding that the fire itself was the problem. What would we understand if the text appeared this way in our Bibles?
“Nadab & Abihu took their censers, put fire in them (from a different flame since it was closer to them than the usual flame) and added incense; and they thus ministered to the Lord via a thoughtless, haphazard offering, according to their own whims and convenience. The sacrificers ended up being consumed by a different sort of fire—the fire of God’s anger—and this punishment gave evidence of God’s extreme displeasure with Nadab & Abihu’s general carelessness and irreverence.”
That’s a lot of verbal interpolation, but if the text had come to us rendered that way, I don’t think any of the import would have been stripped away. I propose that Nadab & Abihu were punished for their lackadaisical attitude in approaching God.
No, the texts don’t speak to their hearts or attitudes directly, but Lev. 10:3 shows that Moses interpreted the events as having to do with the people’s treatment of God. They must show respect, fear, and honor to the holy God, and the act of approaching Him must be well-thought-out and careful:
Among those who approach me
I will show myself holy;
in the sight of all the people
I will be honored.