Four Kinds of Fire (Leviticus 9, 10)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Leviticus 9:1–10:20
Four Kinds of Fire
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
January 7th, 2018
I. Did You Know?
A fire extinguisher is a fire extinguisher is a fire extinguisher. Right?
Wrong. Did you know there are four different kinds of fire extinguishers? They are divided into four classes (A, B, C, and D), and each was designed to be used on one of four different kinds of fires.
Class A extinguishers will put out fires in ordinary combustibles such as wood and paper. Class B extinguishers are for use on flammable liquids like grease, gasoline and oil. Class C extinguishers are suitable for use only on electrically energized fires. Class D extinguishers are designed for use on flammable metals
Four different extinguishers for four different kinds of fires. Now, fire safety is extremely important. But that's not my main concern this morning. So why are we talking about fire extinguishers and fires? Because I thought it provided an interesting connection to our Bible passage for this morning, a passage in which we also find four different fires.
Take your Bible (or grab a blue Bible) and turn over to Leviticus 9. We are returning once again to our ongoing study in the often neglected book of Leviticus. As I've said before, for modern readers, it is a strange book. But as you begin to understand it, you realize it also a spectacular book.
II. The Passage: "I Will be Sanctified" (9:1-10:20)
Now, before we look together at Leviticus 9, let me remind you, ever so briefly, about the first eight chapters of Leviticus. You may remember that Leviticus includes instructions given to the newly emancipated, but now desert-wandering people of Israel. A year after their escape from Egypt (about 3500 years ago), they had constructed a mobile temple called the “Tent of Meeting”.
It was called the “Tent of Meeting' because this is where the nation would meet with the God of their forefathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the one true God; the Creator God. But because God was and is a holy God, and because the people (like us) were sinners, there had to be a way they could experience His peace without experiencing His justice.
The answer, as we saw in chapters 1-8, was worship through a sacrificial system: animal substitutes would bear the penalty of God's justice against the worshiper's sins, and human priests would officiate. In fact, the entire last chapter, Leviticus chapter 8, was all about the ordination and consecration of priests for the people.
Who were these priests? Well, back in Exodus 28, God chose Aaron (the brother of Moses) and Aaron's sons to be priests, to be mediators before God on behalf of the people. So what we find here in chapter 9, after their dedication in chapter 8, are the first sacrifices offered by these newly installed priests.
Now, if we were to read all of chapter 9 and all of chapter 10, we would read about the four fires I mentioned earlier. But I don't think we need to read every verse here to get a clear sense of God's main point. I would encourage you to go back and read every word, but for now, let me read an abbreviated version. I will let you know which verses I am reading, so please follow along. And be sure to look for, listen for those four fires. Ready? 9:1...
On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel,  and he said to Aaron, “Take for yourself a bull calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without blemish, and offer them before the LORD.  And say to the people of Israel, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both a year old without blemish, for a burnt offering,  and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a grain offering mixed with oil, for today the LORD will appear to you.’”  And they brought what Moses commanded in front of the tent of meeting, and all the congregation drew near and stood before the LORD.  And Moses said, “This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.”  Then Moses said to Aaron, “Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD has commanded.”  So Aaron drew near to the altar and killed the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself.
Verse 12 indicates he also sacrificed the prescribed burnt offering for himself and his sons. Verse 15 tells us he offered the “people's offering”, which included a sin offering, burnt offering, grain offering, and the peace offering mentioned in verses 18-21. We go on to read in the final verses of the chapter, in verse 22...
Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings.  And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people.  And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
But when we move on to Leviticus 10, the opening verse is very troubling. If the book had a soundtrack, this is where the ominous music would begin to play. We read...
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.
In verses 4-7, Moses instructs Aaron and his remaining sons to stay focused and to not mourn the sons/brothers who were killed. The people would do that. Instead, in verses 8-11, we find the only place in the book where God speaks directly to Aaron:
And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying,  “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.  You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean,  and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.”
The remaining verses of chapter 10 are concerned with Moses' concern that the sacrifices mentioned in chapter 9 be completed, which included the priests eating the portion that was set aside for their provision. But lo and behold, the goat that was offered as a sin offering was not eaten, as chapter 6 prescribed. So when Moses presses Aaron on this, we read (v. 19)...
And Aaron said to Moses, “Behold, today they have offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD, and yet such things as these have happened to me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would the LORD have approved?”  And when Moses heard that, he approved.
Even though the priests offered sacrifices for their own sin, divine judgment took the lives of two of his sons. Therefore Aaron was overly, but understandably cautious. And Moses is okay with that instinct, apparently believing that cautiousness was safer than carelessness.
Okay, there's a lot there. But did you see the four fires described in those chapters? Let me point them out to you. So, throughout the majority of chapter 9, we heard about...
1. A Fire of Faithfulness (9:1-21)
As you find in the closing chapters of Exodus, and as we saw in chapter 8, chapter 9 is extremely concerned with chronicling how Aaron and his sons faithfully carried out God's commands. If you go back and read some of the verses we skipped over, you will hear how they offered each sacrifice 'to the letter' of the God's law. You also can sense how concerned Moses is that everything be done correctly/
So this 'fire of faithfulness' is the altar fire, or the fire outside the camp; any of the fires by which the priests were faithfully carrying out their duties. Keywords here would not only be “burned” and “burnt”, but also a phrase like “as the LORD commanded”.
But at the end of chap. 9, we encounter another kind of fire. In verses 22-24 we read about...
2. A Fire of Glory (9:22-24)
This is the fire mentioned in verse 24, a supernatural fire that consumed what was left of the sacrifices that were left on the large altar in the outside court. Clearly, this fire was a sign of God's approval. On commentator on this verse points out parallels to this amazing event:
On three other occasions God showed his approval of a burnt offering by sending heavenly fire to burn it up: when the birth of Samson was announced to Manoah and his wife (Judges 13:15), when Solomon dedicated the temple (II Chr. 7:1), and when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:38). Each time, confronted by the awe-inspiring reality of God, the worshipers fell to the ground and praised God. (Gordon Wenham)
Many commentators also connect this fire, and the glory that shone from the Tent of Meeting, with the pillar of fire that was said to accompany Israel at night through the desert. All were gracious signs of God's presence with his people.
But as we move into chapter 10, we knows there's more. In 10:1, sadly, we read about...
3. A Fire of Rebellion (10:1)
We are told in that verse that Nadab and Abihu offered “unauthorized” or “strange” fire before God. This would have involved placing hot coals mixed with incense into a bowl-like censer. Now, we are not told what they did with this, or why they did it, or where exactly they were, or how long they did it. The details are scant.
But I think that's to stress the main point, which is the foolishness and sinfulness of what they did. Why was it wrong to offer this kind of “fire”? All we need to know is what the closing phrase of verse 1 tells us: it was fire “which [God] had not commanded them”. It was a fire of pride, of human invention, of dishonor, of carelessness.
And it was that fire which led to the last fire we hear about, specifically in verse 2. It was...
4. A Fire of Judgment (10:2-20)
Nadab and Abihu knew better. Exodus 24 tells us how they went with their father and uncle to meet God on Mount Sinai (two out of four sons). They knew why the careful prescriptions were given. They knew why the blood was shed and splattered. And they knew the regulations and the rituals. They had just performed them faithfully in chapter 9.
And so, because of what must have been arrogance and conceited carelessness, they were judged. Moses' reminder in verse 3 is key: “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.’” The priests were those who drew nearest to God, on behalf of the people. If they failed to sanctify God, that is, to treat God as holy, they would bear a harsher judgment. You see, they were always instructing the people, sadly, even by their sinful examples. Therefore, their deaths would also be instructive.
Please listen: our God is holy. He is to be revered as holy. His commands are not suggestions. His regulations are not a joke. His word makes all the difference when it comes to navigating reality. And He won't bear with rivals and rebels forever. The more we understand of the seriousness of God's holiness and glory and beauty and character and the stakes involved with His will and His ways, then we will be able to accept the seriousness of the consequences handed out to those who reject and resist Him, the ultimate good.
III. Therefore, Be Careful
Four fires: number one, a fire of faithfulness; number two, a fire of glory; number three, a fire of rebellion, and number four, a fire of judgment. So where should they lead us?
Brothers and sisters, friends, be encouraged this morning! The bad news concerning the priests in Leviticus 10 has been overwhelmed by good new, by the Good News about a great High Priest. Turn to and listen to what Ephesians 5:1, 2 tell us about His priestly work:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The Good News is this: Jesus was consumed by fire number four on the cross, in order to bear our guilt for foolishly living in the spirit of fire number three. And He suffered for us, that we might see and enjoy, forever, the warmth and light of fire number two. And so, with love and gratitude, we should, everyday, blaze brightly, consumed by fire number one.
But even Paul doesn't want us to forget the main thrust of Leviticus 9 and 10. Listen to how he drives the same point home, the same point I hope you felt in light of the four fires of we just read about. Look at where Paul goes in verses 15-17 of Ephesians 5...
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,  making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15–17)
Looking carefully is something we do all the time: we look carefully before crossing a busy street, we look carefully when filling out important documents, and we look carefully when carrying a baby down a flight of stairs. But somehow, the mercy, grace, and love of God can lead us to carelessness instead of carefulness when it comes to knowing and serving God. Is that true for you? Is careful a word that describes you spiritual life? Your faith?
And “careful” is a good word to describe Leviticus 9. And “careful” is precisely what was lacking in Leviticus 10. But interestingly, we find “careful” right here in Ephesians 5. And like Leviticus, “careful” is connected to wisdom and the “will of the Lord”. Nadab and Abihu were foolish because their pride pushed out God's words about sacrifice. But to be “careful” when it comes to your spiritual life is to hold tight to God's word.
To be careful is to be completely sober and serious when it comes to God's words about money and power and gossip and sex and humility and service and envy and church and ambition and time and children and idols and forgiveness and marriage and anger, and above all Jesus and the gospel of grace. And we are careful “because [v. 16] the days [this age, this time] is evil”; because the world, because our Enemy wants to destroy us.
Brothers and sisters, as Aaron came to understand in a profound and painful way, our obedience matters. Listening to God matters. And the gospel, the Good News of Jesus, points us to the holy love that breathes out this holy word. If you were a renown surgeon, but had been in a terrible accident with your child, though you could not operate on him yourself, you could guide another surgeon through a difficult procedure, in order to save his life. And you would guide him or her...”carefully”, right? Why? Because of love.
The gospel has not given us a tame God. No. But it has given us promises from God; promises of everlasting love. So come to Him this morning with love and gratitude. But came with humility. And come ready to listen carefully, and then to “look carefully” in terms of how you live your life. Let's ask God to help us follow Christ “carefully”.