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In the Gates

Beware Innovations

Abiding Principles from the Ceremonial Laws: Worshiping God (5)


Our “good ideas” about worship may end up getting us in trouble.

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. Leviticus 10.1, 2

The account of Nadab and Abihu is precisely phrased to demonstrate that these two men deliberately and disastrously departed from the worship of God as He prescribed it. They offered “unauthorized” incense to the Lord, “which he had not commanded them.” Offering incense was part of what God prescribed in worship, as we shall see. But God was clear about the when, how, and who of such offerings. Nadab and Abihu thought to add to what God had commanded for His worship, and it cost them their lives.

We do not know what the motives of these two men may have been. Perhaps they had found so much fullness and joy in the earlier experience of burning incense that they thought to extend that experience somewhat? Maybe their motives were more self-centered, to make a show of religion, either by creating some new use of incense or by doing more than what was required in order to impress people with their piety?

We do not know what their motives were. Thus we must conclude that motives were not at stake here. They may have been very well-intentioned in what they did, but it was not acceptable to God. God had revealed to Israel how He would be worshiped and how and when incense would be used to worship Him. Nadab and Abihu had simply gone beyond that, innovating some new way of worshiping God. But their new way was not acceptable to Him.

If we choose to depart from what God has prescribed in worship, and to introduce into worship anything which we cannot justify on the basis of divine revelation, do we not put ourselves in the place of Nadab and Abihu? And is such practice not tantamount to saying to God, “You must be worshiped on my terms, to my satisfaction, and not Yours”? And is it therefore no wonder that we should expect all such innovations to be greeted with, if not death, at least divine displeasure and a failure of Covenant renewal?

For a fuller study of the pattern of worship revealed in Scripture, order the book, The Highest Thing, by T. M. Moore, from our online store. These studies and brief essays will help you to see how the pattern of sound worship, which began in the Law of God, comes to complete expression in the rest of Scripture. Pastors, we’re getting ready to start the next season of The Pastors’ Fellowship. Write to me today at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for information about how you join in these online discussions. Our theme for the coming series is “The Worldview of God’s Law.” There is no charge for participation, but you must reserve a place for these monthly gatherings. Subscribe to Crosfigell, the devotional newsletter of The Fellowship of Ailbe.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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