Posts tagged presence of God
Woah! Something just happened here. In the midst of God creating structure for the worship and lives of his people, Leviticus 8-10 presents us with three stories – the first two offer a simple, easily-understandable view of God. Then the third story comes along and completely rips up our notions of a black and white God.
First, we read about the ordination of Aaron and his sons. This is an incredibly detailed ritual – the instructions for which were given directly from God to Moses. And I think we should note that this was a long time coming. Aaron and his sons had been anticipating (and, perhaps at times, dreading) this day for quite some time. Now the day was here and they followed the ordination process to the letter and began their ministry. And what happened when they had done everything that they were supposed to?
“Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.” (Leviticus 9:23-24)
That’s pretty cool! The people did exactly what God told them to do, he did exactly what he said he was going to do and everything was great.
Then there’s the second story – the story of Nadab and Abihu. Now, this little episode stands in stark contrast to the first story. I think it’s important to remember that these two guys were part of the “Aaron and his sons” crew that went through the ordination process and followed everything to the letter. They weren’t rebels or bad guys. However, in Leviticus 10, we see that they strayed from their instructed duties. Now, the Bible isn’t clear about the motives of Nadab and Abihu or why exactly they offered this “unauthorized fire.” It doesn’t even really tell us whether they knew it was unauthorized fire. After all, they were new on the job. And yet, when they did something contrary to God’s instructions, they paid the ultimate price. What’s up with that?
There are a few quick take-aways here. It’s easy to see that God takes his commands pretty seriously (this, of course, served as a good reminder of that fact). It could also be said that his standard of purity was higher for these priests than for other people. This is an idea that seems to be fleshed out a little in the New Testament. And (this is of particular interest to me and I’ll probably expound upon it at a later date) this is an indication that God simply doesn’t have the same perspective on life that we do. He used these guys an example. Will they burn in eternal torment because they used “unauthorized fire” in the tabernacle? I’m not the judge, but I somehow doubt it. In fact, their death might have actually resulted in a substantial reward for them in an instant.
What I mean is this: While we may think the deaths of these two priests occurred to “teach them a lesson,” they really learned no such lesson. After all, they were dead. Everybody else learned a lesson! Was it fair of God to kill two people to teach a lesson? Sure, if you have God’s perspective of life and death. If you see human life as merely a brief chapter in a massive story about an individual’s spirit and about the entirety of God’s creation.
Either way, the moral of this second story was this: Do something that God doesn’t want you to do and you’re going to pay the price. Again, this enforced the concept of a black and white God. Follow instructions, get rewarded. Fail to follow instructions, get punished. But then look what happens:
When Moses inquired about the goat of the sin offering and found that it had been burned up, he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s remaining sons, and asked, “Why didn’t you eat the sin offering in the sanctuary area? It is most holy; it was given to you to take away the guilt of the community by making atonement for them before the Lord. Since its blood was not taken into the Holy Place, you should have eaten the goat in the sanctuary area, as I commanded.”
Aaron replied to Moses, “Today they sacrificed their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, but such things as this have happened to me. Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?” When Moses heard this, he was satisfied. (Leviticus 10:16-20)
Again, two of Aaron’s sons do something that contradicts the commands of the Lord. And yet, this time, not only are they not killed, but Scripture tells us that Moses, God’s appointed judge of the people of Israel, “was satisfied.” What we he satisfied with? He was satisfied with Aaron’s reasoning for why his sons didn’t eat the sacrificed goat. And so, even though these two men violated God’s command, the weren’t killed by God and they weren’t even punished by Moses.
So what is up here? Well, I think there’s a lot going on here, not the least of which is a presentation, right at the outset of this new religious order, that God is not as black and white as we try to make him. It’s subtle, but this story seems to point out what Jesus would later verbalize. It basically shows us that God’s created order and his laws are actually made for our benefit and that, in fact, there may be times when it’s OK to violate the letter of the law and, instead, obey the spirit of the law. In fact, God has no need to be black and white about following “policy and procedure” because he is a perfect judge. If he says it’s OK, it’s OK – even if it’s not “by the book.”
And so begins this mystery and tension of following the law, what the punishment for sin is and a lasting argument about what, if any, exceptions exist. Now things are starting to get fun!