Reverent Worship

“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

Leviticus functioned as a manual for the ancient Israelites regarding the offering of sacrifices and other elements of worship. Although Christ has fulfilled the old covenant sacrifices, there is still much that we as new covenant believers can learn from Leviticus about how God is to be worshiped. The story of Nadab and Abihu found in today’s passage certainly ranks as one of the most important lessons about worship.

Nadab and Abihu were sons of Aaron and thus part of the old covenant priesthood tasked with leading the worship of God’s people. Sadly for them, on one occasion they offered “unauthorized fire” before the Lord (Lev. 10:1). In recounting this story, Moses does not tell us of what this unauthorized fire consisted. It could have been fire offered at the wrong time, fire made with the wrong combination of spices, or something else. What is most important about this unapproved fire is that it was fire that God “had not commanded them” (v. 1). Nadab and Abihu took it upon themselves to worship our Creator in a way that was against what He commanded, and the result was their deaths (v. 2).

This text supports the idea that our worship must be consonant with divinely revealed principles. Moreover, it stresses the importance of reverence in worship. We are to come before the Lord with a reverent attitude, remembering who He is and who we are. But our intent to worship God reverently means little if we worship Him contrary to His commands. To show true reverence to God is to remember that He is the Lawgiver, and those who are truly reverent will do whatever He commands, not adding to it or subtracting from it (Deut. 4:2).

Leviticus 10:3 captures the importance of reverence in thought and action in our worship. God must be sanctified before His people by those who lead in the worship of the Creator. John Calvin, in his commentary on today’s passage, stresses the importance of worshiping rightly in thought and deed. He suggests that Nadab and Abihu did not intend to be irreverent, but they actually were irreverent by not worshiping according to God’s prescriptions. We may think we are doing well, but if a particular worship practice is contrary to biblical principles, we are in danger of offending the Lord and reaping disastrous consequences. Irreverent worship can lead to death even under the new covenant (1 Cor. 11:27–30), so we must take care to worship God reverently according to His Word.

Coram Deo

Strikingly absent from much of Christian worship today is an atmosphere of reverence that takes God seriously and seeks to glorify Him according to His Word. Much of this is due to the fact that we have downplayed the holiness of God and the lordship of Christ in the covenant community. As you attend worship, endeavor to remember who God is and to approach Him with reverent thanks for His goodness to you.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 19:30
Psalm 89:5–18
Hebrews 5:7
Hebrews 12:28–29

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.