The punishment that fell upon Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, shows how God regards those ministers who do that which dishonours their sacred office. These men were consecrated to the priesthood, but they had not learned to control themselves. Habits of self-indulgence, long cherished, had obtained a hold upon them which even the responsibility of their office had not power to break.
At the hour of worship, as the prayers and praise of the people were ascending to God, Nadab and Abihu, partially intoxicated, took each his censer, and burned fragrant incense thereon. But they transgressed God's command by using "strange fire," instead of the sacred fire which God himself had kindled, and which He had commanded should be used for this purpose. For this sin, a fire went out from the Lord, and devoured them in the sight of the people. "Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me, and before all the people I will be glorified."[2 SEE LEV. 10:1-7.]
When God was about to send Isaiah with a message to His people, He first permitted the prophet to look in vision into the holy of holies within the sanctuary. Suddenly the gate and the inner veil of the temple seemed to be uplifted or withdrawn, and he was permitted to gaze within, upon the holy of holies, where even the prophet's feet might not enter. There rose before him a vision of Jehovah sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, while the train of His glory filled the temple. Around the throne were seraphim, as guards about the great King, and they reflected the glory that surrounded them. As their songs of praise resounded in deep notes of adoration, the pillars of the gate trembled, as if shaken by an earthquake. With lips unpolluted by sin, these angels poured forth the praises of God. "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts," they cried; "the whole earth is full of His glory."[3 SEE ISA. 6:1-8.]
The seraphim around the throne are so filled with reverential awe as they behold the glory of God, that they do not for an instant look upon themselves with admiration. Their praise is for the Lord of hosts. As they look into the future, when the whole earth shall be filled with His glory, the triumphant song is echoed from one to another in melodious chant, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts." They are fully satisfied to glorify God; abiding in His presence, beneath His smile of approbation, they wish for nothing more. In bearing His image, in doing His bidding, in worshipping Him, their highest ambition is reached.
As the prophet listened, the glory, the power, and the majesty of the Lord was opened to his vision; and
in the light of this revelation his own inward defilement appeared with startling clearness. His very words seemed vile to him. In deep humiliation he cried, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips: . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."
Isaiah's humiliation was genuine. As the contrast between humanity and the divine character was made plain to him, he felt altogether inefficient and unworthy. How could he speak to the people the holy requirements of Jehovah?
"Then flew one of the seraphim unto me," he writes, "having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged."
Then Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" and strengthened by the thought of the divine touch, he answered, "Here am I; send me."
As God's ministers look by faith into the holy of holies, and see the work of our great High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary, they realise that they are men of unclean lips, men whose tongues have often spoken vanity. Well may they despair as they contrast their own unworthiness with the perfection of Christ. With contrition of heart, feeling wholly unworthy and unfit for their great work, they cry,"I am undone." But if, like Isaiah, they humble their hearts before God, the work done for the prophet will be performed for them. Their lips will be touched with a live coal from off the altar, and they will lose sight of self in a sense of
the greatness and power of God and His readiness to help them. They will realise the sacredness of the work entrusted to them, and will be led to abhor everything that would cause them to dishonour Him who has sent them forth with His message.
The live coal is symbolical of purification, and it also represents the potency of the efforts of God's true servants. To those who make so full a consecration that the Lord can place His touch upon their lips, the word is spoken, Go forth into the harvest-field. I will co-operate with you.
The minister who has received this preparation will be a power for good in the world. His words will be right words, pure and true, fraught with sympathy and love; his actions will be right actions, a help and a blessing to the weak. Christ will be to him an abiding presence, controlling thought, word, and deed. He has pledged himself to overcome pride, covetousness, selfishness. As he seeks to fulfil this pledge, he gains spiritual strength. By daily communion with God he becomes mighty in a knowledge of the Scriptures. His fellowship is with the Father and the Son; and as he constantly obeys the divine will, he becomes daily better fitted to speak words that will guide wandering souls to the fold of Christ.