For the week of April 18, 2009 / 24 Nisan 5769
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 6:1 - 7:17

Pay Attention to Detail

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. (Vayikra / Leviticus 10:1,2; ESV)

Both this week's Torah and Haftarah portions speak of the dire consequences of neglecting to carefully pay attention to how we relate to God. Following a most dramatic revelation of God to the people in response to their adherence to his word, Aaron's sons offer what the Torah calls "unauthorized fire". Exactly what it was they did, we do not know, but that is not the point. What is clear is that they approached God in a way that was wrong, and it cost them their lives.

I have mentioned on other occasions that there are things I read in the Scriptures that I don't like; this being one of them. That these two men would be burned to death sounds extreme. Perhaps it is, but that's what God did. That's how serious it was. The reader of the story is supposed to understand that. The story is meant to impact us, to shock us, to instill within us the fear of God.

King David should have known this. As a man "after God's own heart", he knew that his directives were meant to be followed. Why he neglected God's word on the occasion of bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, we don't know, but he did. As we read in this week's Haftarah, his neglect resulted in another unnecessary death:

And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:5-7; ESV)

In the case of Nadab and Abihu, we don't know their motive, but in David's case his heart was for God. He and those with him were so happy about restoring the precious Ark to a place of honor. Yet, David failed to do this wonderful thing in the way God had prescribed. Instead of having Levites carry the Ark on their shoulders, they transported it on an ox cart. When this unauthorized mode of transportation malfunctioned, Uzzah did what seemed right to him. He grabbed the Ark and God killed him.

Again, you and I may not like this story. David didn't. Aaron didn't like that God killed his two sons (see Vayikra / Leviticus 10:19). But how we feel about God and his ways is beside the point. God, the Creator of the universe and Lord of all, sees many things very differently from you and me. What we need to accept is that the way life works has nothing to do with how you and I feel about it. We may not like or appreciate how God does things, but seeing that he is God, he may do whatever he wishes.

Neglecting God's directives is killing us today. It may not be as dramatic as these stories, but no less real. Broken relationships, dysfunctional families, disease, lack of purpose and meaning, and addictions are just some of the consequences of our failure to pay careful attention to God's word. That people who have never read the Scriptures don't live according to God's ways is one thing, but that those who claim to know and honor the Scriptures fail to pay attention to its details is another.

We need to learn the lessons of these terrible stories. We need to make sure we know God's directives and follow them carefully. His word may seem to be inconvenient, unreasonable or irrelevant at times. But they are still his ways and to neglect them will result in negative consequences, whereas to abide by them is life.

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