Worshipping God Rightly—Leviticus 6:8-10:20

For the first 17 years of my life, I followed the Jewish traditions of observing the Shabbat, weekly worship at the temple, keeping the Passover, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and Hanukkah. And yet, not once did I experience the Lord’s presence in my observances. But I remember hearing how the rabbi, cantor, and elders carried the eternal flame from the old temple to the new temple, six miles away. They moved as a processional and walked the distance. I found it fascinating, mainly because it was only then that I paid attention to the fire burning over the ark (cabinet) that holds the Torah scrolls. Similarly, we often pass over details or principles in Scripture until something draws our attention to them. We may have never heard about many details in Leviticus, which can make a fascinating study. Every aspect of Israel’s worship was specified by the Lord for a particular reason, to honor him and imitate his holiness, through sincere, personal and corporate fellowship with the him. By the grace of God, he has brought me into Christ’s family, and now I rejoice to see how his calling to Christ started thousands of years ago among his people, Israel. Today’s passage is long, and I will be quoting a minimum number of verses, so I recommend stopping here to scan Chapters 6-10. These five chapters cover instruction for the perpetual fire on the altar (6:8-13); personal holiness through that which is clean (6:14-7:38); consecration of the priesthood (Chapter 8); inaugural worship in the tabernacle (Chapter 9); and Nadab’s and Abihu’s disobedience, a warning to the priests (Chapter 10).

The Importance of God’s Instructions for Worship

Aaron and his sons were to make offerings only after they had been made clean, were clothed appropriately for their sacred duties, and were knowledgeable about God’s requirement for their service to Him. God called Israel to worship according to his instructions, in holiness and purity. Our calling, in these post-incarnation days, having received the grace of God through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, is to worship and serve God in purity through confession, clothing ourselves with Christ’s righteousness, and yielding to the Holy Spirit’s power for our witness. “Here, for the first time in Leviticus, the Lord tells Moses to address the priests directly…focusing on the proper handling, distribution and disposal of the offerings. Such commands were vital to the priests, who, as the very attendants of the holy King, needed to treat his holy property with due reverence…[After] the priests are ordained, the Israelites could begin their public worship of the Lord. The inauguration of this worship was a highly significant event, so the day was marked by a special ceremony in which all the Israelites gathered at the King’s palace where the priests presented offerings on their behalf. Since the King himself was to appear, the entire chapter focuses on the priests and the Israelites preparing themselves for the appearance of the Lord..the King appearing in all his glory and accepting their sacrifices…made clear that he was dwelling in their midst and they were welcome to draw near to him in worship…[But] Nadab and Abihu greatly disrespect the Lord in the context of worship, and experience his judgment as a result…[Then] the Lord warns Aaron, the high priest, to avoid the errors of his sons and to carry out his priestly duties faithfully. Aaron demonstrates his reverence for the Lord by faithfully following his commands in the context of worship. The negative example set by Nadab and Abihu at the beginning of the chapter is replaced by their father’s positive example at the end, emphasizing the importance of priestly faithfulness.” (1).

The Perpetual Fire

“The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it…Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.” (Leviticus 6:8, 13) “For the Israelites fire surely would have evoked thoughts of the presence and power of God. At the beginning of the Israelites’ wilderness wandering, Exodus 13:21 says that the Lord went before them as a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night…Exodus 19 records an awe-inspiring manifestation of God’s presence on Mount Sinai… Moses’ first close encounter with the Lord was when He appeared to Moses by means of a fire in a bush that burned but was not consumed (Exodus 3:2). The Lord also revealed Himself to Ezekiel in a vision of fire (Ezekiel 1:4, 13, 27). Daniel had a vision in which the Lord’s throne was fire, its wheels were burning with fire, and fire came out from the presence of the Lord (Daniel 7:9-10). The New Testament also represents God with fire. Hebrews 12:29 calls God a consuming fire.’…We always have access to God’s presence, and that was symbolized by the perpetual flame on the altar of sacrifice. The fire of God’s presence never goes out. In Isaiah 43, God says, ‘I will be with you when you pass through the waters…you will not be scorched when you walk through fire, and the flame will not burn you…do not fear, I am with you’ (vs. 2-5)…There will never be a time when [believers] don’t have access to the presence of God; Jesus said, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20).” (2)

Our Personal Holiness Matters

“God directed His command to be holy to all of His people. In [Leviticus] chapters 21 and 22 God specifically addressed the priests. He called them to be holy—set apart from the world and consecrated to Him. If God intends for all His people to be holy, certainly He intends for their spiritual leaders to be holy. Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a Scottish pastor in the nineteenth century. With reference to his leadership in the church, M’Cheyne once wrote, ‘The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.’ I believe he was right. The personal holiness of church leaders may not be everything, but without it they have nothing.” (3) In Leviticus 6, we read, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting. Whatever touches its flesh shall be holy, and when any of its blood is splashed on a garment, you shall wash that on which it was splashed in a holy place.” (Leviticus 6:25-27) “Much of the book of Leviticus is devoted to teaching God’s people to observe the boundary between things that were clean and things that were unclean. The distinction between those two was important because God was teaching His people that he wanted them to be different…Throughout God’s Word, God makes it clear that he does not want us to engage in something holy, like worship, when our lives are unholy. He wants us to live holy lives and offer holy worship. When God told His people not to worship after touching something profane, God was giving a physical, visible illustration to teach us to avoid sin and embrace holiness…It was the command of God that made animals clean or unclean. It was not the thing or the animal that defiled people; it was disobedience to God’s command that defiled. Disobedience to God in the matter of touching unclean things was a signal of a a deeper problem of the heart, and that problem was rebellion against God and His command…In the New Testament Paul…wrote, ‘Come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord; and do not touch any unclean thing’ (2 Corinthians 6:17).” (4) Perhaps unbelievers think, ‘What’s the big deal about being holy, after all, we’re only human?’ Holiness is a big deal because God says so repeatedly in his Word. Holiness is a big deal because sin corrupts God’s image. It’s such a big deal that Jesus Christ had to leave his perfect, heavenly abode, live in this sinful, dirty world, suffer, and die an undeserved criminal’s death, separated from the Godhead on the cross. But sin is no longer the biggest deal for unbelievers since Christ was resurrected, overcoming the corruption of sin and the consequence of condemnation for all who believe.

Consecration of the Priests

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments and the anointing oil and the bull of the sin offering and the two rams and the basket of unleavened bread. And assemble all the congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.’ And Moses did as the Lord commanded him, and the congregation was assembled at the entrance of the tent of meeting…And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. And he put the coat on him and tied the sash around his waist and clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him…And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moses. Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and consecrated them…And Aaron and his sons did all the things that the Lord commanded by Moses.'” (Leviticus 8:1-10, 36) “Generally, a ceremony brings about a change in status for the main participants through a series of rites directly related to the ceremony’s purpose. The purpose of a wedding ceremony, for example, is to change the status of the bride and groom from being single to being married, and this is done through a series of rites directly related to this purpose: exchanging rings as a symbol of their love, taking vows of lifelong faithfulness, and so on. In this chapter, the purpose of the ordination ceremony is to set Aaron and his sons apart as ritually holy priests…through a series of rites directly related to this purpose…By having the ordination ceremony take place before all the Israelites, the Lord made clear to them that they needed representatives before him. And, by providing such mediators, the Lord assured the Israelites that he desired them to enter his presence and enjoy covenant fellowship with him. This is the Lord’s heart for his entire creation, for ‘he desires all people to be saved’ and has now provided the ultimate mediator—Jesus Christ, the righteous one—to save us and bring us into covenant fellowship with him…The ceremony emphasizes that [the priests] could not enter into this state proudly. The elaborate series of rites they went through to become ritually holy indicated that they were not holy in and of themselves; they were just as sinful and impure as the other Israelites and just as much in need of atonement. This underscores the contrast between these priests and Jesus Christ, our great High Priest. Instead of needing atonement for a sinful life, he makes perfect atonement by his holy life, offering himself as the ultimate atoning sacrifice for sinners.” (5)

The first tabernacle service

“Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces…This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” (Leviticus 9:22-24; 10:3) Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons made offerings only after they had been made clean, were clothed appropriately for their sacred duties, and were knowledgeable about God’s requirement for their service to Him. Only then were they fit to bless God’s people as models of personal holiness. “What is the most memorable, powerful worship experience of your life?… I’m not referring to man’s power but to God’s power. Leviticus 9 describes a manifestation of God’s power. It happened in worship at the tabernacle…God manifested His presence. He visited His people. That’s powerful worship—not the power of man but the power of God that’s expressed when we invite Him to worship and He shows up and does in us what only He can do. When He comes, He can convict us, break us, forgive us, restore us, call us, transform us, direct us, empower us, save us, and sanctify us…We plan the content of each worship service based on the content of God’s Word that we will read on that day…However, the experience of worship is always better than the plan…when God visits us He does what no person can do. Only God can send fire from His presence and light the altar…powerful worship is the result of God’s presence, not man’s.” (6) We are called to worship God by clothing themselves with Christ’s righteousness and yielding to the Holy Spirit’s power to experience God’s presence.

The Nadab’s and Abihu’s Mistake

“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 incident with Nadab and Abihu is mentioned in Numbers twice and in 1 Chronicles once as a warning. “Next to Moses and Aaron, none were more likely to be honorable in Israel than Nadab and Abihu. There is reason to think that they were puffed up with pride, and that they were heated with wine. While the people were prostrate before the Lord, adoring his presence and glory, they rushed into the tabernacle to burn incense, though not at the appointed time; both together, instead of one alone, and with fire not taken from the altar. If it had been done through ignorance, they [would have] been allowed to bring a sin-offering. But the soul that does presumptuously, and in contempt of God’s majesty and justice, that soul shall be cut off. The wages of sin is death. They died in the very act of their sin. The sin and punishment of these priests showed the imperfection of that priesthood from the very beginning…Though Aaron’s heart must have been filled with anguish and dismay, yet with silent submission he revered the justice of the stroke. When God corrects us or ours for sin, it is our duty to accept the punishment, and say, It is the Lord, let him do what seems to him good.” (7) “The New Testament affirms that those who teach God’s people are held to higher account (James 3:1). This story serves as a strong exhortation to pastors and preachers in particular to be diligent in their duties and faithful in their lives, crying out for help and strength to Jesus, our great Hight Priest, ‘who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.’ (Hebrews 4:15)” (8) “In Leviticus 8:35 Moses had warned Aaron and his sons to obey the Lord’ so that you will not die.’ Nadab and Abihu did not heed Moses’ warning. They did not obey the Lord, and they died…Nadab and Abihu failed to treat God as holy, and to fail to treat God as holy is to treat Him as if He is like us. God judged them by striking them dead. It was a strict judgment for a strategic moment. These were the first days, possibly still the first day, of worship in the newly erected tabernacle. God had given specific directions as to how He wanted His priests to conduct worship. If God allowed priests like Nadab and Abihu to lead worship in any way they wanted, that would have established a pattern of disobedience for years to come—perhaps for generations to come…When we observe what is happening in the world, virtually every day it seems everything is spinning out of control. On that day in the tabernacle God demonstrated that He is in control…He does not allow us to overrule where He has ruled. He is in charge…God’s judgment of Nadab and Abihu stopped a pattern of sin that would have continued and increased…The death of Nadab and Abihu is a warning not to trifle with the commands of God or misrepresent the glory of God…[But] rhe fire of God’s wrath does not have to consume us. God has already poured out His wrath on Jesus on the cross…All we have to do is take our stand where the fire has already burned, where God’s wrath has already been expressed, on Jesus…The fires of God’s judgement burned themselves out on Jesus, and all who are in Him are save forever; they’re standing where the fire has been.” (9) “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) Praise the Lord, we have the risen Christ! Happy Easter.

Related Scripture: Exodus 28:40-43; Numbers 3:1-4; Leviticus 21; Ezekiel 44:19; 1 Chronicles 24:2; 1 Timothy 2:1-5; 4:11-12; Hebrews 4:14; 7:27; 9:12, 14, 26; 10:19-25; 13:5; 1 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 1 John 2:1; Revelation 1:5-6.


1. Sklar, Jay, Leviticus, An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Chapters 6-10 Context, IVP Academic, 2014.

2. Sklar, Leviticus 6:9-13, Ibid.

3. Moseley, Allen, Exalting Jesus in Leviticus, Christ-Centered Exposition Series, Leviticus 21-22 Introduction, B&H Publishing Group, 2015.

4. Mosley, Leviticus 7, Ibid.

5. Sklar, Leviticus 8, Ibid.

6. Mosley, Leviticus 9, Ibid

7. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Leviticus 10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mhn/leviticus-10.html.

8. . Sklar, Leviticus 10, Ibid.

9. Mosley, Leviticus 10, Ibid

April 5, 2023

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