A Holy God

Torah Portion: Sh'mini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)
Gospel Portion: Hebrews 9:13-14; 10:19-22; 12:18-29
Commentary By: Matthew Day

"Our God is a consuming fire." Nadab and Abihu experienced this truth firsthand when they walked into the holy place drunk with unauthorized fire. Up until this point in Scripture, God has been instructing us in how to draw near to Him. Indeed, this seemingly unending detail about sacrifices comes to a climax in Leviticus 9 as on the eighth day the "glory of HaShem 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." Immediately after this, the story relates how Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron the High Priest, attempted to draw near to God. Unfortunately, they did so without the fear and reverence instilled into Israel at Mount Sinai. It is on this point that we turn to boundaries of holiness and separation--sanctification.

As we enter the section of Leviticus known as the holiness code, full of various detailed instructions on clean/unclean meats, leprosy, relations, etc. the question before us is how does all of this relate to the Gospel? What is the meaning of it all? The story of Nadab and Abihu underlines the central point--if we're going to approach God, we have to do so on His terms. He has a protocol. He is holy and He will not suffer to have uncleanness in His presence.

Yet, when you begin to read the long list of things that make one unclean, it becomes quite apparent that this is not simply a matter of staying away from a few select items--uncleanness pervades society so much that that it even comes from within us. Only through various washings and sacrifices can we be made clean again to enter into God's holy Temple. And even then, we do not have permission to enter the holiest place, except the high priest and only once in the year and only with a cloud of incense blocking the view to the mercy seat. It is with this background that the writer of Hebrews says,

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. - Heb 10:19-22 (ESV)

Woah! Didn't Nadab and Abihu just get toasted for acting like that? The writer isn't just urging us to enter into the holy places, but to do so with confidence. Confidence based on what? Nadab and Abihu's confidence was apparently misplaced (perhaps resting on some grape juice left out too long). Where is the writer of Hebrews drawing his confidence to enter into the intimate chambers of God?

It is on the blood of Messiah,

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. - Heb 9:13-14 (ESV)

This blood which "speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" is the blood of the New Covenant, one not made at a mountain "that may be touched a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest," but in the very presence of the living God, surrounded by "innumerable angels" and the "assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven." If they feared for their lives at the mountain, how much more should we stand with awe and trepidation in the presence of the Almighty. This is not the confidence of drunkenness or flippancy, but one that is sober-minded and humble. It is the confidence that counts the cost, that takes up the cross and crucifies oneself with Messiah. For to approach the throne of grace means to die. There is fear in His mercy.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. - Heb 12:28-29 (ESV)