Understanding God’s Holiness

10:1 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. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “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.’” And Aaron held his peace.

Nadab and Abihu made the mistake of approaching God in an unacceptable manner. Because they did this, condemnation came upon them. One could only wonder what Aaron, Nadab and Abihu’s father, thought after this happened. Perhaps he was mad that God struck his children down or maybe he wanted to make an alleged charge that God unjustly killed his children.

Whatever he was thinking, Moses decided to provide the rationale behind God’s action. Since Moses was the mediator between Israel and God, he had the authority to speak on behalf of God. His response is very important because it affirms God’s status as the Supreme Holy One. God would be recognized as “sanctified” which could mean set apart or declared holy.

We have to keep in mind that God isn’t human. He isn’t anything like us. When Isaiah beheld a vision of God on the throne, he exclaimed, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Isa 6:5).” Isaiah acknowledged that in comparison to the Being he was in front, he couldn’t possibly measure up to this person’s standard due to his filth.

No one could say what Isaiah said to someone who is simply human. It wouldn’t make sense to give the highest standard of moral righteousness to a mere human. The Roman Centurion gave Jesus the best response when he acknowledged his sin compared to Jesus’ holiness (Mat 8:8). Also, so did St. Peter (Lk 5:8).

Some religions of the ancient Near East created their definition of God in a way that resembled all of human frailty and nature. They were backbiting, vengeful, and often times very capricious. However, the God of the Old Testament is the epitome of Holiness, being set apart and hallowed, and desires those that he elects to pursue that standard he perfects and created ( Deu 7:6; Lev 11:44).

God created proper boundaries for His Holiness many times in the Old Testament such as Exodus 19:21-25 when God prohibited the Israelites from approaching Mt. Sinai since he had descended upon it. If the people of Israel didn’t listen then the Lord would “break out against them (22)”, so Moses warned them about God’s parameters.

What happened to Abihu and Nadab, although tragic, was a mishap on their part for offending God’s holy character. We too must remember that we can offend God’s holiness when we fail to acknowledge our own sin and need for divine mercy. Isaiah received mercy from God as the seraphim touched his lips with coals to purify him (Is 6:6-7).

Ask the Holy Spirit to make known God’s holiness in your life.


  1. Unfortunately, many use these Bible stories as reasons why God isn’t God or why some who claim to be Christians find the Old Testament “not relevant for today.” I have heard both arguments. But the story is taken out of context if that’s all we see from reading it.
    In the previous chapter, Moses had laid out very specific instructions on what was needed as sacrifice and how it was to be offered to give glory to God. It seems Nadab and Abihu wanted their own glory and their desire was fatal for them.
    So it is with us, though perhaps not consumed by earthly fire. When we seek our own glory, we offend God and do not give Him the glory due only to Him.
    God is not like us, perhaps, but we are made in His image and in His likeness. We are to be like Him–holy and perfect. When we fail, we can depend on God’s mercy. But when we fail and seek our own glory, we have shut out God and without a change of heart–metanoia–we will perish.

    Liked by 2 people

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