Recent Posts
How do we decide between these competing definitions of beauty? As Christians, we would firstly [more]
Titus 1:6–9 is a key passage for determining who may or may not be a [more]
The way that you live will be controlled ultimately by your image of the good [more]
Defining beauty is no easy task. A definition of beauty or the beautiful has eluded [more]
Understanding Ephesians 5:22–33 is essential for every marriage. Paul commands wives and husbands how to [more]

Improper Worship

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series

"Faulty Worship"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

Faulty worship is not often a topic of discussion in today’s Christianity. Many Christians seem to think that God is only concerned that our hearts are sincere in our worship of Him. However, from a biblical perspective, that is just not correct. Don’t misunderstand me; God is concerned about the heart of worship. Isaiah 1 makes that very clear. A person can go through the motions of right worship practices without a right heart in worship, and God will not accept it.

Making sure that we are worshipping the right object is also of utmost importance. Jeremiah 7 proclaims that truth to us. We cannot go through life as practicing idolaters and expect God to believe that we are worshipping Him on Sundays at church. We must be thoroughly monotheistic and theocentric in our worship.

But what about how we worship? If our hearts are sincere and if we are seeking to truly worship God, does it matter to God how we do it? So many times people proclaim 1 Samuel 16:7 to be the final statement in this matter, that “God sees the heart” in our worship and that is all that matters. But is it? If a person’s heart is apparently devoted, or sincere, but his actions are not proper, will God accept that worship? That is the question that Leviticus 10 (among other texts) answers for us.

Leviticus 8 and 9 are all preliminary to the event at the beginning of chapter 10. In those chapters God gave specific instructions to Moses regarding the tabernacle worship. There are at least ten times in chapters 8-9 that we are told that God commanded Moses regarding certain aspects of worship. Chapter 9 describes the inauguration of Aaron and his sons in the priesthood responsibilities in the tabernacle, doing what God commanded.

This would have been a time of great celebration when the tabernacle worship was officially begun. Aaron and his sons were involved in sacrifices, each one doing his part, according as God commanded through Moses. Verses 23-24 of chapter 9 recount the response of what took place. God’s glory appeared to the people, consuming the altar with fire from heaven. God’s people shouted and fell on their faces in worship of God.

However, this glorious and celebratory scene would quickly change.

After being closely involved in the offerings by Aaron in chapter 9, Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, took their censers and put fire in them, laid incense on them, and offered them to the Lord. The text, though, tells us that something was very different about this offering compared to those of chapter 9. Verse 1 says it was “unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them.” The previous chapters make it repeatedly clear that everything was done as God commanded. However, this offering was not commanded by God.

God’s response to this offering was strikingly similar in nature to that of chapter 9, but with a completely different meaning. Fire once again descended from God, but this time it consumed Nadab and Abihu rather than the offering. Whereas before it was a fire of acceptance, this was now a fire of judgment and disapproval.

So what was the problem with this offering? The censer, fire, and incense were not wrong in and of themselves; they were all appropriately used in the sacrificial system at later times. Some have thought that they got the fire from the wrong place, or that they offered this at the wrong time of day, but the text doesn’t say either of those two things. The significance of the text lies in the phrase “which he had not commanded them.”

Were the brothers offering this fire to the right God? Yes they were. Were they offering it with the right heart motive and sincerity? We are left to assume that they were, for nothing in the text leads us to believe otherwise. The fact that they were doing something not commanded by God is the issue here. They were worshipping the right God, with the right heart, but in the wrong way.

This story is of great significance for 21st century believers. First, we see that innovation in worship is not acceptable to God. These brothers were doing something that was not commanded by God in worship. They were seeking to be innovative and add to what God had already laid out as proper worship. But God was not interested in their innovation.

Another point of significance is that God’s holiness and glory are of supreme importance in worship. In each of these events of fire, there are mentions of God’s glory. Leviticus 9:23 states, “and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.” Then in Leviticus 10:3 we read, “before all the people I will be glorified.” God’s glory is at stake when it comes to worship. He alone will be glorified as the exclusive object of worship, the subject of worship, and the prescriber of worship. His holiness is also linked with His glory. In each case, the fire of God speaks of His holiness, for “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28).

A third point of significance is that God honors proper worship, but rejects improper worship. This principle is seen here and in multiple instances throughout the Old and New Testaments. The Scriptures clearly teach us that God rejects improper activities of worship, even if the heart is sincere. God rejects worship done out of a wrong heart. God rejects worship that is not given to Him. God rejects worship that is not done in the right way. How we worship is just as important as who we worship and why we worship. We must worship the right God with the right heart and in the right way. All three components are important.

The implications for us today are obvious. Our worship, both privately, and publicly, must be done in such a way that is pleasing to God, not only done with a right heart. Because they are rooted in the timeless truth of God’s Word, these principles cross generational lines, cultural lines, and geographical lines.

This scene at the beginning of the age of the tabernacle worship stands as a stark warning from God regarding the serious nature of faulty worship. A New Testament example is similar, in Acts 5, where we are told of Ananias and Sapphira. There, they lied against the Spirit of God in an act of worship at the beginning of the church age, and God struck them dead as well, serving as a warning for all.

One of the foundational truths of worship is that worship is not about us, but it is all about God. He alone deserves our exclusive worship, done with the right heart and in the right way. It is not a matter of what we get out of worship, nor is it a matter of how we feel after the worship service. The real question is “was God honored by our worship today?”

God is not looking for worship innovators, but for people who will worship Him in the manner in which He has prescribed in His Word. This text in Leviticus is written for our learning and admonition and is profitable to teach us not only what is right, but what isn’t right. It encourages us to evaluate our own worship to God and continue on a path of true worship.

Worshipping the right God with the right heart is important, but it must also be done in the right way, according to the teaching of His Word.

Series NavigationPreviousNext
Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

3 Responses to Improper Worship

  1. Dear sir/Madam
    I am an author and writing a book on worship. While searching for materials, I came across your ministry website and saw some important articles that I believe would be a great help to my book. The articles I came across are(Worldly Worship, Improper Worship,Godless Worship and Hearth Worship). I am soliciting for your permission to use some portions of your articles and give you the credit.

  2. So what was the problem with this offering? The censer, fire, and incense were not wrong in and of themselves; they were all appropriately used in the sacrificial system at later times. Some have thought that they got the fire from the wrong place, or that they offered this at the wrong time of day, but the text doesn’t say either of those two things. The significance of the text lies in the phrase “which he had not commanded them.”

    why oh why do educated people think they have to go off into Biblical la-la land?

    (Lev 10:1)  And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.

    (Num 3:4)  And Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD, when they offered strange fire before the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children: and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest’s office in the sight of Aaron their father.

    (Num 26:61)  And Nadab and Abihu died, when they offered strange fire before the LORD.

    they offered strange fire that they were not commanded to offer. that is it.

    I came looking for a little insight into faulty worship because this is the time of year when the whole world almost goes through the motions of Christmas, for some it is Xmas, they simply cross out Christ and enjoy the non-religious aspects of Xmas, santa clause, flying reindeer, talking snowman, feasting on all kinds of holiday treats and for a great majority they celebrate this day without Christ being involved in their celebrations period.

    since when does the world accept Christ, they do not.

    anyway, strange fire was fire taken from some other source other than the alter.

    Lev 16:12  And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: 
    Lev 16:13  And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not:

    Num_16:46  And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the LORD; the plague is begun.

    it is obvious that the fire to put on the censers was to come from the altar.

    Exo_25:9  According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.

    Heb_8:5  Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

    everything done in the OT as far as worship, the Tabernacle, sacrifices and the various procedures were done after a very specific pattern that God laid out.

    Col 2:16  Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 
    Col 2:17  Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

    those things were a shadow of Christ, that is why king Saul and Uzziah were rejected, they offered before God against God’s order for offerings

    1Sa 13:8  And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. 
    1Sa 13:9  And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering. 
    1Sa 13:10  And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him.

    1Sa 13:13  And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. 
    1Sa 13:14  But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.

    2Ch 26:16  But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense. 
    2Ch 26:17  And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the LORD, that were valiant men: 
    2Ch 26:18  And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the LORD God. 
    2Ch 26:19  Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, from beside the incense altar. 
    2Ch 26:20  And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the LORD had smitten him.

    only Christ could be, King of Kings, Prophet, and High Priest

    those Kings that made offerings when they were not supposed to, violated the true shadow, of those things which Shadow is Christ.

Leave a reply