Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’” So Aaron held his peace. Lev 10:1-3
What is profane fire? Why did Nadab and Abihu die? Exo 30:1-10 contains the law of offering incense:
“You shall make an altar to burn incense on; you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit shall be its length and a cubit its width—it shall be square—and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay its top, its sides all around, and its horns with pure gold; and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around. Two gold rings you shall make for it, under the molding on both its sides. You shall place them on its two sides, and they will be holders for the poles with which to bear it. You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you. Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it. And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement; once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.” Exo 30:1-10
The word “strange” in Exo 30:9 and the word “profane” in Lev 10:1 are the same word in Hebrew: Strong’s H2114, zuwr, zayin + vav + resh, “strange.”Its root is an agricultural term from winnowing grain. When grain is winnowed, the grain is tossed in the air while there is a slight breeze. The seed falls down into the basket, while the chaff, or the unusable skin that covered the seed, is blown away by the wind. That scattering abroad over the land of the chaff, is the root of “strange.” The seed stays home, the chaff is scattered abroad. So a “stranger” is one who comes from abroad, not home. An adulteress in Hebrew is a “strange” woman, the woman not at home.
The admonition is Exodus is against offering strange incense on the altar of incense, i.e., incense not made in the prescribed manner, which was most holy to the LORD. In today’s reading, the incense was probably the holy incense for the incense altar, but it was offered in censors, not on the incense altar, i.e., not on the fire which was on the incense altar, so it was offered on strange fire.
Nadab and Abihu perished before the LORD because they did not regard Him as holy or set apart, so as to obey Him. This reminds me of Ananias and Sapphira, whom we just read about in Acts 5: also two who perished before the LORD because they did not regard Him as holy or set apart. The end result was the same in both cases: no one at the church in Jerusalem lied to the Holy Spirit or to Peter again, and the remaining sons of Aaron were careful to serve the LORD according to His instructions.
Beloved, we are those who draw near to the living God to serve and worship Him (Jam 4:8). Do we regard Him as holy (obey His instructions) so that He is glorified before all?
For further study: Look up in the Blue Letter Bible, the Hebrew word for “come near” in Lev 10:3. Find its primary root. Have we seen this primary root before? (Hint: go back to Lev 1). Meditate on this connection and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal its meaning to you!
Finding Messiah: The anointing oil of the LORD was upon Aaron and his sons, therefore they could not depart from the dwelling place of the LORD to go bury their dead (i.e., incur uncleanness, for touching death imparts uncleanness). Aaron and his sons, while the anointing oil was upon them, offered the sin offering, which made atonement for the people. Aaron was a foreshadow or type of Messiah, for Messiah, the Anointed One (the meaning of the word “messiah” in Hebrew), dwelt in the LORD’s presence and offered Himself as the sin offering for the sins of the whole world.