There are times when we need to tremble. If we neglect to do so, it can mean the death of our life, but more importantly, our faith. God has wired us to tremble for a reason, and to ignore the warning sign is to rush head-strong into dangerous territory.
If we are out in a public place and someone comes up behind us too closely, we instantly become aware of potential danger and raise our guard against it. If we are walking on a trail and hear a rattle in the leaves, we automatically stop to determine the risk. These are appropriate times to tremble because the emotion of fear is meant to guard us if we pay attention and heed it. Only a fool overlooks such an emotion and proceeds determinedly without examining the situation more closely.
In Leviticus 10:1-3, we see Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, offer “unauthorized ” fire before the LORD, contrary to His command. In essence, this means they took it upon themselves to do what they determined was right. They “approached” God on their own terms……and they paid the price with their lives. Instantly! No warnings! No second chances! No “let’s go over the commands one more time”.
Because God is Holy and was establishing Himself as such to His chosen nation, He responded with immediate consequences. He explains this to the people in verse 3, ” Among those who approach me I will show myself holy, in the sight of all the people I will be honored.”
God had to establish His Righteousness and Holiness first and foremost to the priests, who were to serve Him daily and set the example of reverence for the people to follow. If the priests did not get it right, how would the nation know how to respond appropriately to a Holy, True God?!
This incident reminds me of what Moses was trying to teach the Israelites earlier in Exodus 20:18-20. God had just given the Ten Commandments, and the nation experienced first-hand the proximity of their God up close and personal. When the people saw the thunder and lightning, and heard the trumpet, with the mountain in smoke as God descended upon it , they trembled with fear and stayed at a distance. Fearing for their very lives, they pleaded with Moses to speak with them and not God Himself.
Moses’ response was so enlightening about appropriate fear and trembling and the God-given purpose of it. He explains in verse 20 that the fear of God will be with them to keep them from sinning. And there it is! The gracious reason for fear is meant to protect us, including our fear of God.
We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). The context of this verse has to do with obedience. God expects our cooperation with His commands and He even gives us a healthy dose of motivation through awareness/recognition of His Powerful, Awe-inspiring Nature. When we see up close the expanse of the Grand Canyon, we are fearful of getting too close to the edge. We are extra cautious. So it is predictable as we see this example in nature, how much more so as we see it in God’s Nature?! When we see Him as He really is, we are overwhelmed and we tremble, just like the Israelites.
The problem is when we forget……..As our Lord reveals Himself to us, it becomes our responsibility to remember. He has done His part. We are to do ours.
The Israelites gave evidence of their tendency to forget and break covenant with their God who delivered them. Out of sight was out of mind. Disobedience and disregard jeopardized their physical life as well as their spiritual life. This truth applies to us as well.
We cannot accept the salvation Jesus offers us through the cross, the New Covenant, and then try to live life on our own terms. God is Holy and He will not be mocked by “unauthorized ” values and views that do not reflect His commandments. What God says, He means, and He will hold us accountable to it whether we agree with Him or not. When we try to assert authority that is not ours, just as Aaron’s sons did, we risk the swift and powerful consequences just the same.
Political correctness or societal declarations of what is right is foolish and meaningless in the presence of an Almighty God! We would do well to remember the judgement coming one day, sooner for some than others. By living in response to the grace extended to us through Jesus Christ with reverence to His Word, we have no need to fear what God may do. We tremble at the thought of trampling on such a precious, costly Gift paid on our behalf. But when we lose our reverence for God and His authority, we are in peril of diluting our belief system to such a point that is not Biblical faith at all anymore.
1 Corinthians 15: 1-2 explains the importance of holding firm to what we have been taught. It says, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” The Apostle Paul was trying to teach the necessity of holding firm to God’s Word for that is the basis of true, saving, Biblical faith. A healthy dose of fear and trembling protects our faith against the onslaught of the world’s attempt at redefining what is “right”.
The realization of the gift of being God’s chosen came too late for Aaron’s sons. They did not tremble early enough, but make no mistake……they trembled soon after.