A child that dies from starvation in a third world country, a 35 year-old man struck with cancer in the prime of his life, an earthquake in Haiti that kills thousands of people and leaves many more without fathers, mothers, relatives and friends. It is hard to understand why such things happen. It is even harder when they happen to us. We tend to think: “Why me? Why did this happen to me? I am a good person. I surely don’t deserve this. Why me?” We think, with Naomi, that God has dealt “very bitterly” with us and though we would never say it out loud, I daresay that it has crossed our minds that what God has done to us is unjust and wrong. How do we resolve this? How do we say that “God is Love” and then watch him destroy Haiti with an earthquake, and how do we answer the unbelieving world when it asks the same questions? Let us examine God’s word and see what He says about Himself, his mercy and his justice. In order to do so we have to start in the Old Testament; in the book of Leviticus.
We read in Leviticus chapter 10: 1-2, “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” (NASB) Now if anyone thinks that his or her problems on this earth are hard, I don’t think that any of us could say that fire has come and consumed us so that we die. This is a different matter all together. Here are two of God’s ordained priests who were no less than the eldest sons of Aaron, The High Priest. Aaron was the man that God had chosen before the tabernacle was even made to minister before Him as His High Priest. And these two young men were mere novices in comparison. We might expect just a little leeway from God; after all, it’s not like they were sacrificing their children to other gods, they were merely bringing some “strange fire” to the one true God. But God killed them on the spot. If we look at Exodus chapter 30 we see why God would do this. It says: “You shall not offer any strange incense on this altar, or burnt offering or meal offering; and you shall not pour out a drink offering on it. Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year; he shall make atonement on it with the blood of the sin offering of atonement once a year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.” (Exodus 30:9-10 NASB) We can see from this passage that they sinned. What is hard to see is that this sin was deserving of death. We, as sinful people, cannot even grasp the idea of perfect holiness and justice. As human beings, we have a concept of justice that says: “Let the punishment fit the crime.” This act of God’s justice does not fit in with our concept of justice. We may think this is going to far, that what Nadab and Abihu did surely did not deserve the death penalty.
Why was God so concerned with what seems to us a minor infraction against His instructions? God tells us through Moses in verse 3 of chapter 10, “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the LORD spoke, saying, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.” ’ So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.” (Leviticus 10:3 NASB, emphasis added) The point to this whole narrative is that God is holy and His holiness has been and will be honored. But was God just in killing Nadab and Abihu? We will continue to look at this paradox in a future post.