Fire can be tempting for some, especially brothers (and yes, I have a brother). Nabad and Abihu were brothers who played with fire and it cost them. At least a dozen ideas exist for explaining the strange or unauthorized fire these two brothers offered to God in Leviticus 10. The most probable explanations are that the fire originated outside the temple area or that the offered incense did not contain the ingredients specified by God (see Ex. 30:30-34). Whatever it was they offered, they knowingly disobeyed God and they did it together. God set them aside as leaders who were to not only approach God on behalf of the people but were to also set the example for the people. They failed on both counts and it cost them their lives.
This lesson about God’s holiness apparently was not lost on their younger brother Eleazar, who passed the lesson on to his son, Phineas. Phineas stopped a plague among the Israelites by holding others accountable for their disobedience to God (see Num 25). We have to think that Aaron’s family viewed fire a little differently after this experience. They understood the difference between a man-made fire and a God-made fire. Whatever we concoct is no match for God. They also understood more deeply the nature of God and His holiness. The offering the brothers chose to present was unworthy of being presented to holy God. We approach God on His terms based on His character, not on our terms based on our character.
The problem with fire is it purifies, removing that which is impure. It also reveals the true substance of the item. Just as the impurities of a precious metal rise to the top when exposed to fire, so do our impurities. Through faith in Jesus, the impurities are removed and we can approach the Father. If we try to approach God on our terms, our impurities will rise to the top leaving us vulnerable. Nabad and Abihu remind us that there is only one way to the Father, and that is through His Son.