Among those who approach me I will show myself holy;
in the sight of all the people I will be honored. (Lev 10:3)
Worshippers read this passage and cannot help but wonder why God would refuse to be worshipped. The young priests added incense to their censers, lit them and swung them back and forth, spreading the pleasing aroma heavenward.
Only to have it received by Yahweh as the stench of death.
So offensive was the smell to God that he sent fire down the same path that the smoke travelled, instantly killing the priests as one might remove an annoying gnat. So rapid was the response to the impropriety of worship that Aaron, the mouthpiece of Moses, is struck silent.
In our modern worship mindset we ask, why would God be offended at their worship? Why would God be offended at any worship? The passage is silent about God’s reasons, nor are we in a position to demand explanation. God alone sets the standards for worship. We can speculate as to the details of the breach. Perhaps they entered the sanctuary unprepared to worship or came at an inappropriate hour. The fire that lit the censers may have been improperly sourced or unholy. The incense might have been similarly profane.
We don’t know the reasons for God’s offense in the case of the priests, but the encounter must cause us to reflect upon our own worship. Are we equally impious?
The words of Moses are a warning to communities stretching into our own day. We must learn to worship properly so that we may worship properly.
Grace and peace to you.