Terminated and Fired

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Terminated and Fired – Audio Version
Illustration from The Bible Project, The Book of Leviticus

What did Nadab and Abihu do wrong? 

Aaron’s eldest sons Nadab and Abihu served in the tabernacle as duly ordained, incense-offering priests, just like their father. But one day Nadab and Abihu took a bad turn. They became priests gone bad. They offered something strange to the LORD.

It is not entirely clear in Leviticus Chapter Ten what Nadab and Abihu did wrong with their offering. But Nadab and Abihu did do something wrong. Whatever they did wrong must have been pretty bad. It was bad enough to result in their immediate termination. They got fired. 

We know from the incident report that Nadab and Abihu’s dereliction got them summarily fired. They had not followed proper procedure. They had not adhered to clearly stated guidelines. Consequently, they were terminated. They lost their jobs. They were no longer priests.

We know from the same incident report that Nadab and Abihu got fired — fired in the most literal way imaginable. They lost their lives. They lost their lives in a hot, searing blast of flaming, consuming fire. They were burnt alive. They were burnt to death, incinerated. 

So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them; and they died before the LORD.

Leviticus 10:2

Thus Nadab and Abihu were terminated. They were executed. They were literally fired, incinerated.

The whole point of this account is to instill respect — no, something more than mere respect. Try fear. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Do not play games with the Holy One of Israel. Do not mess around with the LORD, for our God is a consuming fire (per Hebrews 12:29).

Someone may protest that this is just an Old Testament account. Everything has changed. Everything is different now. We’ve gone from B.C. to A.D. God does not behave this way anymore. God’s hot wrath has been entirely appeased. As a result of the beautiful and yet gruesome cross of Christ, the LORD has been placated and pacified, once and for all; right? 

Well, yes and no. Yes, the crucifixion of Christ does completely satisfy God’s holy, burning anger against our sin. God’s anger has been dealt with, once and for all. Through Christ’s self-sacrifice on our behalf, God’s burning wrath has been appeased. The big seminary word for that is propitiation. God has been propitiated. And it’s true. And it’s wonderful. It’s why we say that the cross of Christ is not just gruesome, but also beautiful. We can rejoice in that. 

Ultimately, Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment.

And yet the Holy One of Israel is still holy; and Holiness means He is hostile to sin. That has not changed. Sometimes we are too quick to forget that God still hates sin. No, that’s not too strong a statement. God hates sin. God abhors sin. God detests sin — even A.D., even now, regardless of what some may say. 

A conspicuous counterpart to the Old Testament’s account of Nadab and Abihu is the New Testament’s account of that duplicitous husband and wife duo, Ananias and Sapphira. Their rather scary incident report can be found in Acts 5:1-11. Just as Nadab and Abihu had displeased the LORD by means of what they were offering, so Ananias and Sapphira displeased the LORD with their dishonest offering. And just like Nadab and Abihu before them, Ananias and Sapphira promptly wound up dead and deceased. God punished them severely. God pulled the plug on them. Their deaths were meant to serve as an example to their contemporaries and to us. Do not play games with the Holy One of Israel. Do not mess around with the LORD. God can still play tough, as we shall see in forthcoming blog posts about the Book of Revelation.  

Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Acts 5:11


Monday, April 27th, 2020

Audio Version

When Moses met God, what does the Book of Exodus say happened? What did Moses see? Moses saw a bush aflame, yet not consumed. Why did God reveal himself to Moses from fire or perhaps even as fire? Why does God appear in the midst of fire again and again in Exodus? Does fire have specific scriptural symbolic significance?    

I would like to suggest here that fire is indeed an important scriptural symbol. Fire does have symbolic significance, beginning in Exodus, if not before. And fire continues to have the same symbolic significance through the whole Bible. Somewhat cryptically, Hebrews 12:29 says, “Our God is a consuming fire.” What does that mean? How is God a consuming fire? 

We need to understand that fire signifies something. Fire is a symbol.

So what does fire signify in scripture? What does it symbolize? Some say that fire signifies or symbolizes judgment. Granted, to see judgment makes a lot of sense. Fire often implies God’s wrath and thus judgment. But in scripture fire does not always imply judgment and wrath. For example, consider the burning bush encounter. Through most of the passage the LORD appears in the fire, yet does not initially evince anger — not until Moses repeatedly attempts to refuse the LORD’s commission. Then yes, the passage says that LORD’s anger burned against Moses (see Exodus 4:14). At the very beginning of the burning bush encounter, though, God calls attention to another of his characteristics. A divine attribute is specifically brought to the fore and emphasized. In Exodus 3:5 Moses is told to take off his sandals for a reason. Moses is standing on holy ground.   

Here’s my suggestion: How about seeing fire as holiness, instead? Maybe holiness is a better fit. Judgment is not out and out wrong. It’s just not broad enough. In scripture, holiness is what is signified by fire. I’ll say it again, and for the record: Holiness is what is signified by fire.

Why does it matter? It matters because it will help you understand how the symbolism is used throughout the Bible and in the Book of Revelation. When you hear or read fire in Revelation, think in terms of holiness. It will help. It will help you make sense of what you read.

Another thing comes to mind. If you’re willing to consider the possibility that fire does symbolize holiness, then go back and ponder what you already know about fire. 

Fire is terrifyingly destructive. It can completely consume. It hurts. It even kills. It is incredibly dangerous. It needs to be approached with deliberate forethought and great care. 

But, if approached properly and handled correctly, fire is hugely and positively transformative. Fire means heat. It can heat ovens, rooms, houses, cities. It can also purify and purge. It can empower. It can transform. It can be exchanged and transferred without loss, over and over and over. It gives off light. It’s easily one of humanity’s most important tools. Civilization depends on fire. 

And fire is also intrinsically fascinating. It is beautiful to behold, thus the allure of campfires. And it is mysterious, even paradoxical. What even is it? Thinkers have asked that for aeons.

Given all these qualities of fire, we return to scripture. In scripture God intentionally and often associates himself with fire. It’s an important symbol, a symbol he chooses for himself. Our God is a consuming fire, which is another way of saying God is holy. We are wise to treat him accordingly. And as we read through Revelation, keep that symbolism in mind. It will help.

For further study, read this brief but terrifying account.

P.S. The Bible Project video on the theme of holiness is really good: https://bibleproject.com/explore/holiness/