Priestly Failure And Priestly Privilege
Samuel Ridout

Lev. 10

The first part of the book of Leviticus is devoted to setting before us in an orderly way the various sacrifices of the Lord exhibiting, as we know, the fullness of the work of Christ in all its aspects. In the burnt-offering, we see Him as the one offering Himself up in death, as a sweet savor to God. In the meal-offering, which accompanied that, we have the Lord's perfect life on earth, which exhibited Him as the one fitted to be the burnt-offering. In the peace-offering, we have communion and fellowship between God, His priests and the people. Of the other offerings, which speak not of sweet savor and fellowship, but of the need of man met, trespass is met in the trespass-offering and sin in the sin-offering.

Then we have the high priest brought in, clothed in his robes of glory and beauty, and his sons clothed in their appropriate garments, placed at the altar, and ministering the holy things of God. Everything is arranged according to God -- sacrifices offered, censers waved, and God answering by fire from His holy presence consuming it all. What a lovely sight! everything done according to the mind of God, everything pleasing to Him, and blessing the result. Now we come to this chapter (10) -- what a solemn and what a sudden contrast! Here the fire seems to have come out of God's presence to consume the offering on the altar in one moment, and very shortly after, fire from the same source, shall we not say the same fire, comes out to consume, not the offering according to God's order, but those in judgment -- in chastening -- who would dare ignore that order, or substitute their own thoughts for His.

The sin of Nadab and Abihu was not in offering to strange gods. It was not like the golden calf; there was no idea of substituting any person in the place of the living God. It was not that there was anything evil in the fire itself -- which was doubtless the proper fire for all their ordinary uses; but it was not the fire which the Lord had commanded, not the fire which had been kindled upon the altar, the fire that had already fed upon the sacrifice, and having done that, was now ready to consume the incense, and carry it up as a sweet savor to God. It was strange fire which the Lord had not commanded --something added to God's Word, or a substitute for God's Word. It was their own thought, which outwardly might seem all right. What was the difference? The difference was obedience to God, recognition of their dependence on God, and it made all the difference between acceptable worship before Him, and being cut off under His chastening hand.

How often we see when God has set up something in blessing, that man's failure quickly comes in. If He has brought an individual like Abraham into the land of Canaan, how quickly he goes down into Egypt. If He bring a people like Israel out of Egypt, and they sing their song of deliverance on the shore of the Red Sea, how quickly does murmuring, unbelief, disobedience, follow.

How soon in the New Testament, we find again sin, failure and disobedience, coming in amongst God's people. Does not that teach us, beloved brethren, that we ought to be on our guard against everything of that kind! Does it not teach us that in every blessing we enjoy, there is the danger that comes from carelessness, from self-will, from independence. It was the blessing, perhaps, which they had enjoyed, the sense of God's presence possibly -- alas that such a thing should be possible -- but the actual enjoyment of the things of God might seem to have opened the way for that carelessness and looseness which succeeded. Not that there is anything in the things of God to produce such result, but our treacherous hearts seem to pass from the enjoyment to the memory of the enjoyment; to pass from that upon which we fed to the recollection of it, in such a way that it becomes a snare to us.

How we find it in Gideon's day, for instance, where his glorious victory over the Midianites and all God's enemies that had presented themselves against the Lord's people is followed by his making the ephod, assuming more than God had given him. God had given him a victory. He refused the kingship which they offered him, but he cannot refuse the priesthood. He makes his ephod out of the gold which he had taken from his enemies, and that becomes a snare to all Israel -- the very blessing succeeded by failure.

Need we not, dear brethren, again and again to be reminded of what God tells us -- to beware lest we fall through carelessness, through indifference, or self-will into the same failure, from which it would be necessary to recover us by His chastening hand, as we see it here? Why not go on with God simply, with His blessed ministry, as He had ordained? Because it meant absolute obedience, absolute dependence upon Himself; because it obliterated man, and set him aside. There is the temptation -- the memory of the blessing, and now we will go on in our own strength; we will devise our own ways, and the result is, God must come in and teach us that He cannot go on with anything but His ways. If He is to bless us, it must be in His way; and if our offerings are to be acceptable to Him, they must be the offerings which He has given us, and it must be in the manner in which He has directed that we offer them.

But then, incense is worship and praise. It expresses the highest form of intercourse with God. It is based, if it be true worship, upon atonement, and is not that one of the great thoughts we have here

-- that this worship was not connected with atonement, not the fire from the altar, but the strange fire of their own kindling which could not be pleasing to God?

If we say their judgment seems to have been too severe to be thus cut off, does He not show us in this what His thought of sin is; how He does not treat lightly things that we treat lightly? Suppose that one worships or serves in his own strength, how easily we pass it over and say, it was fleshly energy. The saints did not enjoy it, there was no freshness about it, there was no vigor, but, after all, that was comparatively a trifle. Suppose God were dealing now as He dealt in those days, would there not be again, perhaps, Nadabs and Abihus to be judged? God has given us principles, He has given His truth. He is not going to cut everyone off, as He has not cut off those who have sinned like Ananias and Sapphira. God is not dealing in that way. He gives us His truth, and shows us His judgment of evil, and then leaves us to act in faith, because He wants us to be guided and controlled by His precious Word.

Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire to God. How different the case of Elijah with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:19-39). He said he would test which was the true God. They built their altar, they put their sacrifice upon it. He tells them to call upon Baal until the going down of the sun. They cut themselves, and cry, "Baal, hear us!" They take hold of every possible means of calling down fire, but it is impossible. Look at Elijah as he draws near to God. Is there any excitement in what he does? He draws near about the time of the evening sacrifice. He tells the people the first thing, "Get water, and pour it out on the sacrifice; drench the altar with water; drench the wood with water; let the water flow all around the ditch;" until it is water, water everywhere -- the very opposite of fire. Now, then, nature's fire is quenched, no danger of human energy. Then the answer must come down from God, and if God does not choose to speak, man cannot. He casts himself absolutely on God, and God is going to speak for Himself. He simply draws near and says, "Let God show that He is God -- let Him show too that He is drawing every heart back to Himself." When he speaks, God answers with His fire; no need for us to stir up excitement and feeling, and talk about having great energy, and making great displays of power. That is not what we want. Let us pour the water on everything that is of nature. Let us drench it all, and then let God's power be manifest. It will be all the more manifest that it is His power.

Is it not just in that connection that we have this necessary direction: God says to Aaron, when he and his sons come near to minister about the holy things, they are not to drink wine or strong drink, not to have any excitement of mere nature, which will deceive them. There is to be nothing of that sort at all; they are to be absolutely without stimulants, absolutely weak, absolutely helpless, so that everything may be manifestly of God. In the epistle to the Ephesians, we have that: God says, "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit." The opposite of nature's excitement, of nature's stimulus, is the Holy Spirit. That is what God's people need, not external excitement, not human strength, not the creature, but the Holy Spirit who dwells in each one of us, and whose ministry is unhindered when there is nothing of nature put in His blessed place. So He tells them here, when they come to minister in His presence, there is to be no wine or strong drink. It must all be of God.

Those two parts seem to go together. The sin of Nadab and Abihu, some have thought was caused by their having been under the influence of strong drink, but it is significant, however that may be, that these two things are put together. God's priests must worship by the Spirit of God. The apostle tells us in Phil. 3: "We are the circumcision that worship God by the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh;" that is, use no wine or strong drink, nothing to stir up the flesh in its strength, but depend only upon the Spirit of God, and worship in simple dependence upon Him.

Then we have in the next part of the chapter, a blessed contrast to all this: He says, "Now you have had judgment for self-will, for independence of God; I have told you what you cannot drink, and now I tell you what you can eat." If we do not need stimulus, we need food. Moses spoke to Aaron and his sons, "Take the meal-offering," that is what they can have for their food (vers. 12, 13). You cannot have wine and strong drink -- that which will stir you up and make you think you are a wonderful people, but you can have the meal-offering. And oh, beloved brethren, how blessed it is to think that if God with one hand takes out of our hands that which would puff us up, with the other He puts that into our hands which will feed our souls -- Christ. If you cannot have nature, you can have Christ. You can have the meal-offering, and that is food indeed, not something that is going to change and pass, and leave you weaker, more helpless than you were before, but something that is going to nourish your whole man, build you up and keep you in communion with God. God had said, the meal-offering was the portion of the priests. We are to feed upon Christ -- feed upon the blessed Lord Himself. The meal-offering, as you know presents to us Christ in His sinless, perfect humanity, as the Man who walked down here with God -- the Bread of God who came down to give His life for the world, as the One who was the fine flour prepared by all the circumstances into which He came, to be the Bread of God's beloved people -- Christ our food in His life.

Then there is more food for us (ver. 14), "and the wave breast and the heave shoulder, etc." These were parts of the peace-offerings which were left from the sacrifices which had been consumed on the altar. The rest of it was for the priests. The breast speaks of the affections of Christ; the shoulder of the strength and the power of Christ; just as in the high-priest's garments of glory and beauty, you have the jewels, the onyx stones, etc.: these last upon His shoulders with the names of the children of Israel engraved upon them; you have these same names engraved on the jewels, and on the breast plate. They speak of the unchangeable character of God, the glory of God, and connected with that glory, graven in that glory as it were, are the names of God's people. Here we have the "shoulder" of the sacrifice -- God says it is food for His people. The everlasting strength that supports His people is to be their food; that strength is to uphold them with its almighty power -- the strength of the good Shepherd, who went out to seek and find the sheep that was lost, and when He found it, put it on His shoulders and carried it home with rejoicing. That shoulder speaks to us of the strength of the Shepherd, who has us upon His shoulders. We gather our strength simply from His strength. Our strength -- perfect contemptible weakness -- nothing in it that man can glory in; but oh, how blessed, beloved, we have the shoulder of the sacrifice to feed upon, we have the almighty power of Christ -- as our strength and our support.

More than that, we have the breast. Who can tell what the love of Christ is? Because, you know, the apostle, in praying for the saints at Ephesus that they might know the height and depth and length and breadth of those wondrous blessings which were theirs, also asks that they might know the love of Christ that passeth knowledge. It is as we feed upon the affections of Christ that we begin to know something of the affections of God. The Son who dwelt in the bosom of the Father -- the Son who knew the affections of the Father -- the Son who ever had communion with His Father, in all His holy life the object of His Father's love: it is that Son who gives us His bosom, His heart, His love to feed upon, to delight in, to rejoice in; and oh, beloved brethren, as you and I feed upon the love of Christ, as you and I dwell upon that simple, precious, old, old story, that simple blessed word, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us" -- as we dwell upon that, nothing but Christ's love to us, utterly undeserving as we are, we are strengthened to be priests. There is worship now, because there is strength for it.

That is the food of the priests. Is it not rich fare? The Person of Christ, the almighty power of Christ, the everlasting love of Christ! God says that is our fare, brethren. But have you been drinking of the wine and strong drink, and wondering how it is God could not accept your worship, and wondering at the cold state of your heart? What have you been feeding upon? Has it been the choice wheat ground into the fine flour, and made into the bread baked in the pan with fire -- the blessed Lord Jesus Christ the fine wheat, the wheat of God -- has that been your food? Then your heart is fresh in the Lord. But if we have not been feeding on that, if Christ Himself has not been our food, why, beloved, no wonder that our worship has been dull, no wonder that we find God seems not to rejoice in it, or to accept our censers of prayer and praise, which we think we are offering to Him, but offering in our own energies and in our own strength. The soul must feed upon the Person of Christ, we must be acquainted with the Person of the Lord. How can that be? Only as we learn more and more of His blessed Person through His Word, and have communion with that Person in His Word and by His Word, can we really feed on the meal-offering and really enjoy the affections of Christ, that wave-breast, and realize we are borne along on the shoulder that will never never let us fall. The Lord give us to feed more and more upon our portion as priests.

If we did this, there would be less strange fire offered to God, there would be less recourse to the pleasures of the world. How often God's beloved people turn to the pleasures of the world, especially young Christians. How often they say, "Well, we must have some enjoyment," as though the things of Christ did not minister enjoyment. Life is short; life is fleeting; too short, too fleeting, to enjoy anything but Christ; too short and fleeting to spend part of it on those things which not only consume the time which we spend upon them, but wholly unfit us for the enjoyment of better things. Is this not true if we are wishing for other things, like the Israelites in the wilderness? How they seemed to dwell upon everything there was in Egypt -- the leeks and garlic and onions and fleshpots. They lost taste for the manna. They called it, "this light bread." There was one thing they did not enumerate, that is the bondage of Egypt. Moses preferred the reproach of Christ to the riches of Egypt. There are pleasures of the world. There is an exhilaration in the wine and strong drink, but when people think of the pleasures of the world, they forget they were snatched from the judgment of the world. They forget the awful groans, the hard bondage of sin. Satan makes them forget that, and lets them remember only the pleasures. I will tell you the opposite of that. When we remember the bondage we were in, the awful fear, the terror, the anxiety we were in, we forget the pleasures of the world. Ah, let us remember, "He that will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." If young Christians just starting out in life want to make the most of life, want to have the best time, let them remember that the way to make the most of life, is to make the most of Christ, it is to have the Lord Himself, His breast and shoulder. While you are enjoying love, you are happy. Nothing else can satisfy. If our hearts are satisfied with the love of Christ, we need not fear that our life will be anything but one constant joy, one constant worship too, as priests, with Christ Himself as the basis of all.

We have been seeing what was the proper food for the priest -- the meal-offering, the wave breast and the heave shoulder, the person of Christ, His affections and His power; but there is other food for them too, and that is what we have in this last section. Moses sought the flesh of the sin-offering and found that instead of its being eaten, it had been burnt. The generic or chief sin-offering, that whose blood was carried within the veil, was always burnt without the camp, as you have it in the sixteenth chapter of this book -- on the day of atonement. But when the sin-offering was not burnt without the camp, the priest was to eat it. That is different, of course, from the peace-offering. The peace-offering speaks of communion, the sin-offering of the judgment of sin.

In one way, the believer has nothing to do with sin; most blessedly the Lamb of God has taken it away; "once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." It is all done away; our own sin, our brother's sin. We look outside of the camp off in the distance, where God's fire was burning, and there we see our sins judged in our blessed Substitute when He bore them on the tree, and we have nothing to do with them in that way; they are carried away forever. But then, in another and very real sense, there is occupation with evil, occupation with sin. It is priestly work. There are two ways of being occupied with sin: the natural way, and God's way. The natural way is that of feeding on that which is unclean; and, dear brethren, this is what the flesh likes; like the raven which went out of the Ark, it could find something to feed upon, the uncleanness floating around. It is the dove which can find nothing to feed upon in the waste and must come back to the Ark, to find something. The flesh naturally delights in any evil. This does not mean merely the flesh of the unsaved; but that which is in you and me still -- it loves to be occupied with sin. What a humiliating thing, beloved brethren, to know if we are not watchful, if we do not check ourselves, that we are naturally occupied with evil, something that is not Christ; something that sets Christ aside. If it is my brother I am occupied with and my soul is not in communion with God, it is not the good in my brother which occupies my heart; it is not his faith in Christ that makes me rejoice. If I am not walking in communion with God, when I think of my brother, I love to think of his sin, of his inconsistencies, of where he comes short. How we are warned against that by the Spirit of God.

He needs to warn us against it. If there is one thing more than another to which the children of God are exposed in their relations with one another, it is the occupation with evil in our brethren. It is there, dear brethren; surely it takes no wonderful discernment to see it. Satan sees it; tells it up there to God, though he does not get a hearing, thank God; and we can see it, very easily. I can see where my brother's faith fails, I can see if he stumbles. It is no sign of deep spiritual discernment, and it is a very easy matter when I see the sin in my brother to go to my neighbor and tell him. Do you think you are doing some wonderful thing when you are talking about the sin of your brother? Anybody can see failure; and it is the easiest, most natural thing in the world if we are not walking with God and judging ourselves, to be occupied with sin in our brother in that way. Do you know what the Word tells us that is? That is evil speaking. "Oh," you say "it is the truth -- he really did such and such a thing. It is absolutely the literal truth I am telling." That may be, but it is evil speaking if it is speaking of evil out of communion with God. Do you think that railing means lying; railing against a brother is not necessarily lying against him; you may say everything that is perfectly true, but it is the object. Is it mere abuse, to injure his character, or is it the desire to act as a priest, to act in communion with God, about the failure of my brother and his sin?

O brethren, when we think of it how much of that unclean stuff there is after all. Take a gathering of God's people -- take almost any gathering of His people -- how much whispering there is; how much talking in secret of not the good, not the things which the apostle speaks of in that fourth chapter of Philippians. We see a man in the third chapter that forgets the things which are behind, reaches forward to those things that are before him, pressing toward the prize which is Christ Himself, and then he comes down in the fourth chapter (v. 8) to practical exhortation, and there is a sweet word there. "Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." That is occupation with the good that is in one another -- what reminds us of Christ in our brethren. But is it not a common thing, have not you and I often eaten of the sin instead of the sin-offering? have we not fed upon some of those unclean birds of prey that God warns his people against in the next chapter (Lev. 11)? Is it not an easy thing to feed upon the vultures that love carion? I am sure everybody needs to be warned against being occupied with failure and sin in our brother in this merely natural way. It is a thing you have got to fight against, to judge as sin, to frown upon, and, "as the east-wind drives away rain, so does an angry countenance a backbiting tongue."

If someone comes to whisper something in our ear, which is only sin and not the sin-offering, let us turn from it with rebuke. But then that is one side; the other extreme would be to be utterly indifferent to the sin and failure in one another. It would be to merely go on in a careless way and say, "the Lord loves him and the Lord will deal with him. I know there are many things in him that are not right; but we will enjoy communion together as far as we can." But we cannot enjoy communion with Christ when sin is unjudged.

If we are to offer incense to God, if we are to enjoy worship, if we are to enjoy feeding upon the precious things of Christ ourselves, and to share them with one another, it is absolutely necessary for us to be occupied with the evil that presents itself to our attention, but in a godly way. Now, what is that way? It is eating the sin-offering. The sin-offering is Christ (not now as a sweet savor to God, offered up in perfect devotedness all to Him in death), but that same death as under the judgment of God against sin; expressing God's abhorrence of sin; of the believerís sin, of all sin. In this eating of the sin-offering, we have the sin of the believer connected with Christ. We can eat the sin-offering, we can be occupied with sin, when we connect it with Christ. You remember in John 13, the Lord is washing the disciples' feet. He is occupied with their failure and girds Himself to wash their feet. "If I wash thee not thou hast no part with Me," He says; without this, none could put their head upon His bosom -- not only John's place, but ours also. His bosom is large enough for all of us. We cannot enjoy unhindered communion with Him unless He is occupied as our Advocate, with our failures, when we have failed. He applies His precious Word to us, to show us our failures. Often, alas, occupation with sin is in contrast to occupation with Christ. But if I am occupied with my brother's sin in communion with Christ, I am safe. It may be sad work, bitter work but, if there is sin, I must be occupied with it, only now with Christ. But what a difference this makes, beloved. In the first place, if I am with Christ, I am on my face, I realize my own failure, my own nothingness. It will not be "God, I thank Thee," etc. It will not be rejoicing we have not fallen into this or that -- we will realize that we are just as capable of it as our brother. But it is in communion with Christ for the purpose of helping him. The Lord says, "If I your Lord and Master have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet." He has left us an example that we should walk in His steps, now to be occupied with sin, in communion with Christ. But, brethren, what exercise that means, to take sin into the Lord's presence, to take it there and confess it to Him, to be before Him, about it. It is a very easy thing to go and pour our tale of scandal in our brother's ear, and find a ready hearing for it; but to take that sin, and tell the Lord about it, there is not joy in that, no worship in that; it is a humiliating thing. And as we tell Him, that blessed Lord reminds us, perhaps, of similar things in ourselves, and we find it is more self-judgment that is called for, than judgment of our brother. The first requisite for all priestly dealing with sin is to take it into the presence of the Lord -- it must be in communion with Himself. If not, it must be in communion with Satan about sin: we are in communion with the accuser of the brethren, and if we are there, what is the result? There will be whisperings, then swellings, then tumults. Ah, have there not been swellings among God's people? have there not been risings up of the flesh? those things that speak of the evil working -- of occupation with sin in that way. Take all that evil and whisper it in the Lord's ear, and there will be no swellings.

There is also an added thought to this feeding upon the sin-offering -- it is feeding upon that which has put the sin away. The sin-offering is the figure of that which has forever blotted out the sin. But, brethren, think of what power it gives to come before the Lord, not merely to have communion with Him about sin, but because He has put the sin away, because it has already been judged in His own blessed Person, and forever put away before God. That leaves us at leisure -- we are dealing with a justified person, with a person cleansed every whit as to His standing before God. It makes us realize the solemnity of all our dealings with that person, while we shall be just as firm, when we have been before the Lord and realized that this is His beloved one cleansed from all sin. How it will make us long to rid him of that sin. There will be no fear. How much fear there is in dealing with one another! Often we feel we are going to injure our brother. How can we injure him if we have fed upon that which is the witness that sin which, in Christ, has been judged and put away? You'll have communion with Christ about it, and the anxiety now will be to get our beloved brother or sister to judge that sin, and be truly delivered from it.

Brethren, do I not voice all our thoughts when I say there is nothing more defiling than occupation with sin? How praise languishes! Instead of sweet worship as incense going up like a sweet savor, there is barrenness, death, strife, or the wine and strong drink. Oh, does it not speak of the fact that we have not been eating of the sin-offering, neither of the peace-offering, and that we have had to resort, alas, to wine? and perhaps strange fire comes in because we have neglected to judge in ourselves or others the evil which God hates, and with which He cannot go along. Think of having communion with Him about it -- of the evil being the actual means of communion with the Lord -- think of being able to feed upon and get strength from what otherwise drags down the people of God! What is the secret? Feeding upon that which has put away the sin, communion with Christ about sin -- getting alone with Him about it; then there is power, the only kind of power that there can be in dealing with it.

The Lord give His beloved people to see their place as priests, their liberty as priests in worship; to see that they can have done with everything that is of nature, and thus enjoy the food for their own souls. If we feed upon Christ for our own souls, we will also want to share Him with someone else. It is like the spies who went into the land and got out great bunches of grapes. And whenever we by the Spirit of God go into our inheritance, and get out thence precious things of Christ, we always want to carry it to others also. It is more than enough for one man; it is our safety for usefulness and service to be always occupied with these precious things of Christ, and we will always have to share them with someone else. If evil comes up, I must feed upon it in a sense, but should never do it apart from that precious work which has put it away forever, and which gives us power to deal with it in love as well as in holiness, till we see it practically put away from God's beloved people.