Holiness and Justice

“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” (v. 3).

- Leviticus 10:1–3

Most Christians would be hesitant to admit as much, but many believers struggle to reconcile the Old and New Testaments. A lack of knowledge about the riches in both Testaments leads some to see an irrational God of wrath revealed in the Old Testament and a gentle God of love revealed in the New.

Without a doubt, we do find much about the wrath of God in the Old Testament and much about His love in the new. But the reverse is true as well, for the Lord shows love in the Old Testament, and He pours out His wrath in the New (Deut. 7:6–8; Rom. 1:18). God’s wrath is not inconsistent with His love, for His love includes a love for what is righteous and just. Therefore, His justice—His love for what is right and true—demands that He punish the unrepentant.

We see this principle illustrated in today’s passage, which records the occasion when Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu did their priestly duties before their Creator in a manner He had not approved. This lapse in judgment proved deadly, for God killed them (Lev. 10:1–2). To keep Aaron from complaining about the Lord’s actions and inviting divine wrath on his own head, Moses reminded Aaron that God’s priests may sanctify Him only in the manner He has ordained. Thus, Aaron saw the justice of the Lord’s wrath against his sons and held his peace (v. 3).

Uzzah’s death for attempting to keep the ark of the covenant from falling off an ox cart likewise shows God’s justice and holiness (2 Sam. 6:5–11). Plainly, he had insufficient regard for the Lord because he and the other priests were transporting the ark on a cart and not on their shoulders as God had commanded (Ex. 37:1–5; 1 Chron. 15:1–15). That was bad enough, but in trying to steady the ark to keep it from touching the ground, he assumed that his sinful hands were cleaner than the ground. His death was a reminder to Israel that no one can approach God irreverently and hope to survive.

Considering all that the Bible says about the Lord’s holiness, the mystery is not why God is wrathful but why He endures sinners at all. His long-suffering is plainly the fruit of His grace, for He promised humanity only wrath for breaking His law (Gen. 2:16–17). We must never ask God for what we deserve, for Uzzah, Nadab, and Abihu reveal that immediate death is the only thing we have merited.

Coram Deo

Many people complain that the doctrine of election is unfair and deny it because they think fairness demands that we all have the ability to believe the gospel. But if we are sinners, the one thing God would be fair to do would be to condemn us all to hell. It is only by grace that anyone is rescued from eternal damnation, so we should be grateful that the Lord is sovereign in salvation. Let us never fail to give Him thanks for choosing to redeem the undeserving.

Passages for Further Study

Numbers 12
1 Kings 18:1–40
Acts 5:1–11; 12
2 Peter 3:9

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