Problem: Leviticus records, “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. 2 And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (Lev. 10:1-2). What was this strange fire?
Solution: The text doesn’t explicitly tell us what the “strange fire” was. It could refer to being an unauthorized person (Num. 16:40), an unauthorized incense (Ex. 30:9, 34-38), or an unauthorized time (Lev. 16:1-2). In the immediate context, this “strange fire” stands in contrast to the “fire” that accompanied God’s presence when they followed his instructions (Lev. 9:23-24). Whatever the strange fire was, God “had not commanded them” to do this (v.1).
It is interesting that the book of Leviticus is almost entirely rules and regulation for the priests and people. Right in the middle of this book, we have a short narrative on how God killed two priests, because they didn’t follow his instructions. What do you suppose this narrative is here for? Of course, this little pericope exists to remind us that we need to approach God in his prescribed way—not our own. There was to be no innovation in this. God makes the terms of approaching him clear, and we aren’t allowed to invent our own approach. This is particularly important in our post-modern culture, which believes that “all paths are equally valid.” We should be reminded of the lesson of Nadab and Abihu: we need to approach God in his way—not our own.