This is a sobering passage.
The Lord expects his people to worship him on his terms. And he is holy.
Aaron is the high priest of Israel. His two oldest sons are next in line and have been anointed accordingly. But they take too lightly the importance of doing everything exactly as the Lord commands. They disobey the Lord and pay the consequences.
They burned incense before the Lord in a way that was, "Contrary to his command." "So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD."
This is a difficult passage to read. Even though we know that the Lord is holy, we sometimes feel like this punishment was over-the-top, not fitting the crime. But this is because we have such a low view of God, his holiness and, therefore, our sin.
We do not fully appreciate how offensive it is to a holy God when we disobey his commands. Any of them.
Think back to Adam and Eve. Their sin of eating the fruit caused them to die...them and all their descendants (besides Enoch and Elijah) including us.
And for what sin? What sin did they commit?
They disobeyed their dad.
Once again, it seems like too extreme a punishment for the crime to our American and human sensibilities, doesn't it.
But God is holy. "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of his glory." (Isaiah 6:3) Those angels do nothing but repeat that phrase over and over and over again in heaven. Forever. He is holy.
Holiness means without sin. Pure. Without blemish. Perfectly righteous.
If you fix yourself, say, a 3-egg omelet, are you still going to eat it if you find out one of the 3 eggs was rotten? Just 1 of 3. Will you still eat it? Probably not. You will likely declare your omelet ruined.
Sin does that to us. Even just one sin. But instead of a sickly omelet we die. Sin leads to death. It's a big deal. Because a holy God is a big deal.
Aaron's response is appropriate in this passage.
"Aaron remained silent."
He knew there was nothing that he could say against a holy God even though he likely grieved and maybe was angry with God (I would have been).
Moses explains God's actions by reminding Aaron of Exodus 14:4. God will treated as he should be or there will be consequences. God will either be honored by his people or he will honor himself through judgment.
I doubt that comforted Aaron but it served as a reminder to all (us included) that we only approach God on his terms and live.
We have a choice. We can trust and obey the Lord or we can disobey. But we will pay the consequences. We will reap what we sow (Gal 6).
It comes down to do you really believe he's not only all-powerful but all-good. He is. "His love endures forever."
But he is holy too. We must not forget this. And we must be holy as he is holy. It's how we follow him.
If you have unconfessed sin in your life, I encourage you to confess it to God right now. Repent (not just being sorry but changing your thinking about this disobedience) turning from your ways to God's ways. He will forgive you.
"If we confess our sins he faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse (purify) us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9
What is God saying to you right now?
What will you do about it?