Sin, Offerings, Mercy
Tragic happenings have a way of waking us up. A terrorist attack reminds us to place our security in the Lord and not in the devices and achievements of men. A sudden death of someone we love reminds us that eternity is not far from any of us and we should make the most of every day. A sudden death of a child reminds us to cherish our own children. A marital breakup reminds us not to take our own relationships for granted.
It would be nice if we never needed these “wake-up calls”, but unfortunately, we do. These painful times sometimes seem like the only way God can get our attention.
This morning we seem to take a big jump in our study from Exodus 35 all the way to Leviticus 10. The reason we make this “jump” is because the purpose of our study is not to move chapter by chapter through Exodus but to follow the journey of the Israelites in the wilderness. The end of Exodus is filled with many details about the construction of the Tabernacle, the central place of worship in the Israelite camp. In the first nine chapters of Leviticus we learn all the specific details of the sacrifices that were required of the Israelites. It’s not that these teachings are not important . . . .they just don’t fit with our survey approach to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
This morning we begin with a look at Leviticus 10. But we are not going to stop there. This morning I’ve chosen three separate “case studies” that are all very similar. From these case studies we will draw some life lessons.
Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10)
We’re not exactly sure when this incident took place. In Leviticus 8 the priests are ordained and commissioned for service. Aaron and his sons were set aside as priests that represented the people of Israel to the Lord. This ceremony lasts for eight days. At the end of chapter eight God warns the priests, “You must stay at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days and do what the Lord requires, so you will not die; for that is what I have been commanded.” (v. 35) In chapter nine the first day of offerings and celebration takes place in the Tabernacle. It was a festive day of worship.
We don’t know if chapter ten happened this same day (which is possible), or whether it was an event at some other time. I am inclined to think that the enthusiasm of this first day may have been the reason for the actions of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. We read their story,
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.'” Aaron remained silent. (Lev. 10:1-3)
There is a great deal of debate regarding what the sin of Nadab and Abihu actually was. There are four very possible suggestions,
They offered their offering in the wrong way. According to the instructions the priests were to take the fire for offerings from the altar. This was a fire that was kept going constantly. It is possible that the brothers produced fire from another source.
They offered their offering at the wrong time. God was very specific on when the offerings were to be made. It is possible that the brothers wanted to duplicate what their father Aaron had done and so they disregarded God’s timing.
They offered their offerings in the wrong frame of mind. Some scholars suggest that in these offerings Nadab and Abihu were actually drunk. They were caught up in the celebration and in their drunkenness made these offerings. This view is based on the warnings about wine in verse 9.
They offered their offering in the wrong place. Some have suggested that these brothers entered into the most holy place of the tabernacle known as the Holy of Holies. This was square room that contained the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. This place was considered the habitation of God. This room was to be entered only once a year and only by the High Priest. In Leviticus 16:1-2 we read,
“The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord. 2The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
We don’t know for sure what happened but we would all agree that it seems that God’s response is extreme. They didn’t follow the rules and they were destroyed by God on the spot!
UZZAH 2 Samuel 6
The next account is from the time of David. David had become King and was moving the Ark of God (a sacred representation of God’s presence that is said to have contained the ten commandments, a jar of manna and the rod of Aaron) to Jerusalem, the new capital of Israel. And this is what we read,
3They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals. 6When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:3-7)
Uzzah seemed to be doing something noble. The people had placed the ark of God on a wagon and it was being transported back to Jerusalem. The oxen hit a rough spot and tripped. This caused the Ark of God to start to fall off the cart. Uzzah reached out to keep the Ark from falling to the ground. And because Uzzah touched the ark he was killed on the spot. (Do you see a pattern developing in these case studies?)
The rules had been quite clear. Rings were attached to the side of the Ark for the express purpose of inserting carrying poles. The Ark was to be carried to prevent something like this from happening. The very act of putting the Ark of God on a cart was a violation of the Lord’s instructions. R.C. Sproul explains the situation,
It was centuries since the law had been given. One of the rules that had been drilled into Uzzah was that he must never, ever, touch the throne of God. God had said, “If you touch it, you die” (Num. 4:15). Uzzah gave lip-service to those rules, but surely they were for another time and place. He knew it would be wrong to touch the Ark, but he thought it would not be as bad as letting the Ark fall to the ground.
God would not have been offended by the Ark touching the ground, for it [the ground] was not defiled. The hand of a sinful human being was. [Sproul, R.C., Before the Face of God: A Daily Guide for Living from the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books) 1994.]
The sin was presuming that it was appropriate for a sinful human being to touch the Holy Ark of God. What Uzzah did was a transgression of the law and showed a lack of reverence for God’s holiness.
If we read on in the text, you will see that David was upset at what happened. He was angry that God put Uzzah to death. David knew that Uzzah was not seeking to be disrespectful, he was seeking to protect the ark. You and I understand how natural it would be to reach out to grab something that was falling.
ANNANIAS AND SAPHIRRA (Acts 5)
Our last case study is from the New Testament. The setting is the early church. In Acts four we read about Barnabus. He sold a field that he owned and gave all the money he made for relief efforts. This is when chapter five begins.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. 3Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” 9Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” 10At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. [Acts 5:1-10]
Ananias and Saphirra were not required to give anything to the work of the church other than the customary tithe. The fact that they gave part of what they had received was good and noble. The sin was not that they didn’t give everything. The sin was that they misrepresented their gift. They were representing themselves as giving all they had received. They were lying to the church and to the Lord.
Even though we understand the sin that was committed, we have this sense that the punishment once again doesn’t fit the crime. This couple was given the death penalty because they misrepresented their generosity.
We could continue with other examples. Elisha was ridiculed by a large group of young people who said, “Go on up you bald head”. This was probably more derogatory regarding Elisha’s role as prophet than his hairline. Elisha pronounced a curse on the kids and two she bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of the youths. (You might want to throw away your bald preacher jokes!)
David committed adultery and God put the child of that union to death. (2 Samuel 12); King Uzziah wanted to lead his own worship service one day and God gave him leprosy (2 Chronicles 26); Kind Herod became arrogant and we are told that God struck him and he was eaten by worms. (Acts 12:23). Hopefully you get the idea. What are we to make of such accounts as these? I think there are some very important lessons.
SIN IS MORE SERIOUS THAN WE THINK
The reason that these punishments seem so severe to us is because we don’t see these particular events as being so bad. And this alerts us to the problem. We don’t see sin as the serious rebellion that it really is. It may seem like “no big deal” to us, but it is an affront to our Holy God. It is treason. It is an assault against God’s authority.
In each of the cases mentioned, the sin was committed publically. These were leaders who were committing these sins. This made the sin that much more heinous. When the example of the leaders is corrupt the behavior of the people will soon follow. If God lets the leaders play loose with His law, the spiral toward spiritual anarchy will have begun. God cares about holiness. All sin is an offense to a Holy God.
Let’s face it, you and I have gotten soft. Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.” (Mark 9:43) That’s not our attitude. If our right hand leads us to sin we will say things like,
- Oh well, no one is perfect
- I meant well
- I didn’t mean to hurt anybody
- It could have been worse
- It all turned out OK
Each of these accounts in Scripture remind us that sin is deadly. All sin brings death. Sometimes that death is instantaneous. Sometimes it’s not. But all sin separates us from God. And spiritual death is the worst kind of death of all. Sin erects a barrier between us and the Almighty. And that barrier keeps us from God’s blessings.
Sin also brings heartache. It makes us miserable. It may be enjoyable for a season but that season will pass. The summer of play will turn into the winter of remorse. These passages remind us that taking sin lightly is a fools game. We should repent of ALL sin.
GOD EXPECTS US TO TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY
What would happen if a soldier didn’t show respect to his superior? There would be a severe price to be paid! That soldier would be taught a lesson they would never forget. If those lessons were not learned the soldier could face a court martial. The reason is simple. Authority is essential if the troops are going to be able to do their job.
A ballplayer who disrespects a coach will sit on the bench or be cut from the team. There can only be one person calling the plays. If everyone does their own thing a team cannot be victorious. A player must trust the preparation and the experience of the coach.
In the same way God expects us to respect Him. When God gives us instructions, He expects us to obey them. . . . all of them. When we disregard God’s command we show great disrespect,
- we imply that God is not loving (He is really seeking to make our lives miserable)
- we imply that God is not wise (We know better)
- we imply that God is not supreme (We must decide for ourselves making us the ultimate authority)
- we imply that God is not truthful (We act like He didn’t mean what He said)
- we imply that God is not holy (He will let us get away with sin)
It doesn’t matter how small the offence seems to be, we are still showing God disrespect. The real question is not “Why did God act so decisively?” the question should be, “Why are we surprised that God acted so decisively?”
GOD’S USUAL COURSE IS MERCY
We have focused on some difficult accounts this morning. But they really are more the exception rather than the rule. Most of the time God does not act in such a fierce manner. Most of the time God shows us mercy. He withholds punishment . . . .at least for a season. Once again, the question is not: “Why did this happen to these people?” The question is really, “Why doesn’t this kind of thing happen to me?”
How is it that you and I are still standing? Have we ever disobeyed the Lord? Have we ever acted in a disrespectful way? Have we ever treated sin as if it is no big deal? Of course we have. And it is only the grace and mercy of God that has kept us from being destroyed as we deserve. By contrast these accounts underscore the wonderful grace of Jesus. And that leads me to some conclusions.
We should never take this mercy for granted. The thing about mercy is that it is a gift. It is a gift that is offered at the will of the giver. At any moment God could say “enough!” At any moment he could make our next sin, our last sin. And if He did, God would be just in His actions. Mercy must never make us lazy.
God usually acts with mercy but it is a dangerous thing to assume that He will continue to show mercy regardless of how much you ignore Him. It is a foolish thing to put off that decision to trust the Lord Jesus as the payment for your sin and as the leader of your life. We think we will always have tomorrow. I wonder how many people get to the doors of Hell and say, “I thought I had more time.”
God owes us nothing. Have you grown so accustomed to His grace that you have begun to presume upon His mercy?
Every once in a while when I substitute teach at the school I run into a problem. Someone who knows me as their friend begins to feel that this friendship will allow them to ignore the rules that others must obey. They have taken our friendship for granted. They have treated me with disrespect as a teacher. They have presumed that I will always act with mercy rather than justice. And they find out that it is an erroneous and often costly assumption.
The same is true for us. Just because we are friends with God doesn’t mean that He is no longer God. He is still the ruler. We must never . . . ever . . . forget that.
If you have not made the decision to trust Christ alone for your salvation, if you have not received Him as your Savior and Lord, then I plead with you to do so today. Don’t continue to presume that there will always be time. Don’t delay. Maybe today should be the day you pray something like this:
Father, today I recognize that I have taken the goodness you have shown me for granted. I acknowledge right here and now that I deserve your wrath. I admit that I have rebelled against you day after day and hour after hour. It staggers me to think that after all of this you could still love me. Yet, this is what the Bible says. So today I receive the forgiveness and the new life that is offered through Christ. Thank you for my Saviors sacrifice. I ask now that you would not only forgive me and cleanse me, I pray that you would lead me and empower me, not just today, but for the rest of my life.
We should be grateful. If we read these case studies with any sense at all, we should live every day realizing that our life is an undeserved gift. Every breath of fresh air, every smile, every insight, every relationship, every hope, every dream, and every victory is a gift. If God had treated us as our sins deserved, how worn would our headstone at the cemetery already be?
In our gratitude, we should be eager to obey God’s instructions. A so-called Christian who is not willing to obey God shows that they have not appreciated their status. They have not understood the devastating nature of sin, nor the staggering offer of mercy and grace. True gratitude is not just words we say. True gratitude is shown in our attitude and in our living. If we are really grateful then we will serve the Lord with every ounce of strength we have.
We should be careful. If nothing else, these case studies remind us that some of the things we think of as “little things” aren’t so little. A child may think that the rule not to put a piece of wire into the outlet, is an inconsequential rule . . . until they disobey. A person may think the speed limit laws are unimportant until they can’t make a curve because they are driving too fast. We might think that it’s unnecessary to stop at a stop sign when there is no traffic coming. Until we find out the hard way that the reason the stop sign was put there was because people often pulled out in front of traffic they didn’t see coming.
We may think God’s instructions about purity, honesty, discipline, consistency, worship, prayer, money and more are little things. But we would be wrong. You don’t have to believe me . . . . you can ask, Nadab, Abihu, Uzzah, Ananias and Saphirra and even the kids with the bald jokes.