A man is caught gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Within moments he is brought before Moses and Aaron who wait for God to make clear what should be done. The Lord responds that the man must be killed–stoned by the entire community. So, the man is put to death for picking up sticks.David orders that the ark of the covenant be transported to Jerusalem on a cart pulled by a team of oxen. When the oxen stumble, Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark of the covenant …. BAM!! No more Uzzah (I Chronicles 13:9-10).And then there are Nadab and Abihu. Those faithless sons of Aaron who violated God’s worship by offering strange fire in the house of the Lord. After nearly thirty years in the church I can no longer even count the number of times I have heard these men used as examples of what happens to those who violate God’s law, who disregard his pattern for acceptable worship.
But how many sermons have you heard on Aaron’s violation of God’s commands in Leviticus 10? How often has someone preached on King Hezekiah leading the entire nation of Israel to celebrate the Passover in the wrong month?!!!!! God did not put Hezekiah to death, even though He did not authorize such deviation from the pattern. The King had no authority for changing the day of the Passover. Rather, it just “seemed right to the king and the whole assembly” (I Chronicles 30:4).
When we begin to see that God does not always punish violations of law, one could wonder whether God is consistent. Aaron’s disregard for God’s command is overlooked while his sons are put to death. God strikes down Uzzah for steadying the ark, but does nothing to King David who commanded that the ark be put on a cart for transport–a clear violation of God’s command. One man picks up wood on one Sabbath day and dies, while a king leads a whole nation to celebrate a feast on the wrong day and lives.
But it is we–not God–who are not consistent. We point to one story to make our point about acceptable worship, but conveniently overlook passages that show God accepting worship which is “contrary to what is written” (I Chr. 30:18). God is still consistent, but it is because he is not judging the external actions, the outward matters of worship. For if he were, Aaron would have been buried on the same day as his sons.
Rather, God must be judging worship to be acceptable according to some other pattern. For it is God who sees the heart, who knows the worshipper, who sees beyond the external to truly acceptable worship. It is God who reminds us, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).
In “The Anchor” 2/18/96