Leviticus 10: Thoughts on the long obedience of the Regulative Principle

Leviticus 10:1-3  Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.

I am a proponent of the regulative principle of worship.[1] I believe we should only approach God in worship on his terms. I believe the worship “it truth” means doing what God says: not doing more, and not doing less. Nevertheless, this ethos can be presented in a less than ethical way. Those who hold to the regulative principle can certainly include Leviticus 10 in their arsenal of passages. And I am afraid that this passage, and others like it, is too often used in just that way: as a weapon to bludgeon the opposition.

God is particular about how e is worshipped. He did not really leave anything to the imagination. God’s instructions for worship even included the recipe for the incense he wanted to be burned in his presence (Ex. 30:34-38). God was concerned about the smell of the place of worship. Selah.

For some reason Nadab and Abihu decided to innovate. Any probing into why they made such a decision is pure conjecture. Scripture simply gives us no indication why Aaron’s sons did such a thing. Outside of this passage there is no indication they were scoundrels like Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas.[2] In fact, Nadab and Abihu were given the privilege of going up Mount Horeb with Moses and seeing God (Ex. 24:9-10). The only possible hint as to the reason for their sin in Leviticus might be in 10:8-11 where Moses institutes the command that serving priests are not to drink any alcohol. Perhaps Nadab and Abihu entered their service drunk and offered their worship in a stupor.

Whether it was because of drunkenness or not, this account serves to remind us of one of the greatest dangers in worship: complacency. I do not think Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire for any nefarious purposes. I do not think they were trying to worship idols. I think they were simply bored with the mundane-ness of it all. Even if the reason for their sin was drunkenness, why would you get drunk before doing your job? You do not think your job is important enough to be sober for. Nadab and Abihu had seen indescribable things; they had unbelievable experiences. They ate meals with God! (Ex. 24:11) Then they had to- literally- come back down to earth. Perhaps they just got bored with the routine of it all.

In my mind this is one of the greatest dangers for those who hold to the regulative principle. How long can one continue to just sing, pray, give, read, and preach? You look around and see groups of people using skits, movies, performances, bands, etc. and their tribe only increases. People get worn down. How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long do we have to sing the same tired old songs? How long do we have to listen to the preacher drone on…and on? We have been doing this forever and nothing happens. Everything is stale.

Why do people offer strange fire to the Lord? Why do they seek to be innovators in worship? There are times when people simply need to be told to toe the line. But wouldn’t it be more effective to get them to love the line instead? I am not sure how helpful it is to use Leviticus 10 to teach people to worship God God’s way, or else. Especially when they can look around and see that God is clearly not sending fire to consume everyone who worships him in ways he has not prescribed. In worship, as in life, we need to walk by faith not sight.

I pray that I never become bored with obedience. I pray that I never succumb to the allurement of relevance; the comfort of success; the excitement of innovation. But how is this going to happen? I must walk by faith and not by sight. I must content myself with the knowledge of God’s approval. His applause in my spirit must be reckoned louder than the applause of man in my ears. Apparently, God is not too interested in innovation. If he is not, why should I be?

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” Love is the issue. Following the regulative principle is to worship what marriage is to a man and woman. Many fall to the temptation of the excitement of an affair; to the freedom of non-commitment. It is no different in worship. Following the regulative principle is settling in for a lifetime of commitment. It is a determination to love: a determination to love the law of God and follow it. The road of faithfulness is long. It can be tiresome. It can be boring. But it ends in a good place.

[1] The regulative principle is the idea that God should only be worshipped according to the explicit instruction of Scripture: worship should only include what God has specifically commanded. This is in contrast to the normative principle which states that can be worshipped in any way as long as he has not given a command against it. And in contrast to the seeker-sensitive movement which states God can be worshipped in any way that attracts a crowd.