Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored. [Lev. 10:3]
God consecrated Nadab and Abihu as priests to assist their father Aaron, but for some reason they offered “strange fire” before the Lord. We don’t know for certain what this meant, but we do know that “fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (Lev. 10:2). Aaron must have been devastated by the loss of two sons. Moses had to remind Aaron of what God had said (Lev. 10:3), and Aaron held his peace.
Another biblical story that shows the frightening holiness of God is found in 2 Samuel 6, the story of Uzzah the Kohathite. The ark, God’s earthly throne, was transported to Jerusalem in great celebration on an oxcart with the Kohathite priests walking alongside. Suddenly one of the oxen stumbled, and the cart began to teeter. It appeared the ark of God might slide into the mud and be desecrated. Instinctively, Uzzah reached out to steady it.
As Uzzah touched the holy ark, God struck him dead. While this may seem out of character for God, we can understand if we look at the history of the Kohathites. They were part of the tribe of Levi, set apart to be responsible for the priesthood and other religious duties. The particular task of the family of Kohath among the Levites was to take care of the sacred vessels. One of the rules drilled into them from childhood was never, ever, to touch the throne of God. God had said, “If you touch it, you die” (Num. 4:15).
What was Uzzah’s sin? He assumed that his hands were less polluted than the ground, that it would be better to touch the ark than for it to come into contact with the ground. But there is nothing defiling about the earth. It was the hand of man that God did not want touching his throne. Uzzah broke the law of God, and God justly took his life.
God’s justice demands the death of each sinner. As he did with Uzzah, God could already have required this of you for any of innumerable sins. To ensure that you understand and can rightly distinguish justice from mercy, define both words according to their biblical meaning. Consider, with gratitude, how long-suffering God must be.
For further study: Genesis 18:22–25; Deuteronomy 32:1–4; Acts 5:1–11; Acts 10:34–35; 2 Timothy 4:6–8
Sproul, R. (2000, c1992). Vol. 1: Before the face of God : Book One: A daily guide for living from the book of Romans. Includes indexes. (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Before the Face of God. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries.