Fire was important to Israel’s worship, both in the Tabernacle and the Temple, as it was to be kept burning continually on the altars of incense and of the burnt offering. In both the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and the Temple in Jerusalem, fire on the altar was set ablaze by God himself (Leviticus 9:24; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3). This fire was special; this fire was sacred; and it was to be tended continually.
But in the wilderness, at the very institution of the priesthood, came tragedy born of human foolishness:
Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying:
‘By those who come near Me
I must be regarded as holy;
And before all the people
I must be glorified.'” (Leviticus 10:1-3).
Our great God is love and mercy and goodness; he is filled with lovingkindness, and he pardons sin and iniquity. But we must never forget that he is holy and pure, and evil cannot dwell with him (Habakkuk 1:13; Psalm 5:4-5).
The body of Christ has entered a season of increased consecration, where the Holy Spirit is causing all of his people to live a greater maturity in the faith. His call has always been that we would walk in the truth he has shown us, and believe the written Word and the promises he has quickened to our hearts. As the coming of our Lord draws nearer, and this present age nears its completion, it is vital that we know him and trust him, finding our life and strength in him.
There are many powerful promises God has revealed to us, and encounters with his presence to comfort and encourage us, reminding us of his power and his commitment to our welfare. But when we find ourselves consumed with vain imaginations such as regrets from the past (I wrestle with this) or fear of the future or insecurity about the Lord’s love for us, are we not coming before him with “profane fire”? When our identity is determined by our accomplishments or the fleeting approval of men, and we find ourselves consumed with fleshly desires and grasping after security, isn’t this placing before the Almighty an offering that he has not commanded?
And when we come before him, seeking to pray the right way, or repent correctly, or worship with the right forms and words; when we demand that he answer our questions so we can understand and believe; when we think we can somehow find favor in his sight through our devotion or our religious activities; are we then not just as guilty as the sons of Aaron, kindling strange fire on the altars of our hearts?
Our Father knows us intimately, and he wants us to bring him our cares, our fears, our doubts, our anger. We cry out to him from our brokenness, and in mercy he heals us. We pour out our anguish because we only know in part, and see in part, and there is so much we just don’t understand.
There is a place we are to bring all our wickedness, our unbelief, our fear, our foolishness, our pain, and our emptiness. It is the cross of Jesus. We lay it all down; and then, when our backs are unburdened of our load of care, our shoulders untethered from the yoke of slavery, and our hands emptied of our own accomplishments, we lay ourselves prostrate before him, knowing that he has taken upon himself every agony, every filthy action, every injustice from every instant of human history–past, present, and future. Then we arise, having boldly entered the Holy of Holies, the very presence of our eternal God, knowing that our hearts have been made clean and our bodies have been washed with pure water. The flame that we then find kindled within is like that inferno that roared from heaven upon the wilderness altar; the glory that flattened Solomon and all Israel at the Temple dedication; the wildfire that exploded on Mount Carmel, silencing the shrieking of Baal worship; the blazing eyes of Jesus that caused John the beloved to collapse as though dead.
We glorify him and he burns within us as he reveals his passionate love, the flaming heart of holy mercy that gives light to our darkness and warmth in our coldness.