God rejected Cain’s sacrifice. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, lost their lives. So did a man named Uzzah. Why? Because they acted without God’s authority.
Cain sacrificed some of his crops to God and Abel offered livestock, but God did not accept Cain’s offering (Gen. 4:1-4). The writer of Hebrews explains that Abel’s sacrifice was offered by faith, implying that Cain’s was not (Heb. 11:4). Since Abel offered by faith, and since Romans 10:17 says faith comes by hearing God’s word, we can deduce that Abel sacrificed as directed by God. Cain ignored God and offered what he wanted to, and God rejected his offering.
Nadab and Abihu were sons of Aaron who served as priests. As part of the Jewish worship priests burned incense. On one occasion Nadab and Abihu offered incense using “strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not” (Lev. 10:1). God responded to their sin by striking them dead with fire of His own (Lev. 10:2).
Uzzah was a well-intentioned Jew who met an untimely death when he disobeyed God’s command not to touch the ark of the covenant. Inside the ark were the tables of stone containing the ten commandments, Aaron’s rod that budded and pieces of manna God gave the Israelites while they wandered in the wilderness. It was one of the holy things of the LORD that could not be touched without incurring death (Num. 4:15). The ark had a ring on each corner, and the Levites were to place two staves through the rings so they could lift and carry it without touching it.
Trouble came when they decided to transport the ark by placing it on a new cart. As David led the jubilant party bringing the ark to Jerusalem, the oxen pulling the cart stumbled. Uzzah grabbed the ark to keep it from falling, and God struck him dead (2 Sam. 6:1-7).
These Old Testament examples serve as warnings for us today (1 Cor. 10:1-12). If we ignore God’s law or make substitutions in worship and service, we stand spiritually condemned. Paul states the necessity of having divine authority in all religious matters in his letter to the church at Colosse: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17).
To do something in the name of Jesus means to do what He has authorized. It is significant that in the passage just cited Paul refers to Jesus as Lord. This identifies Jesus as our ruler. Since Jesus has all authority (Matt. 28:18), what we teach and do in religious matters must be authorized by Christ.
Christ authorizes in the New Testament (Heb. 1:1-2). Therefore, if our service and worship are not found in the New Testament, we are acting without divine sanction. Although there’s a common misconception that we can do anything we want and claim it is for Jesus, unless He has authorized it we are only doing it to please ourselves. Jesus has told us what He wants, and it is up to us to do it.
Cain, Nadab, and Abihu worshipped God incorrectly. Uzzah thought he was serving God by steadying the ark. They might have meant well, but they sinned and God punished them. If we attempt to worship and serve God apart from Christ’s authority, we will pay with our souls.