Leviticus 10:1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.
Since the beginning of time men have gone beyond what God commanded with innovative ideas. Recent developments in our brotherhood regarding women teachers and classes or seminars have caused many among us to wonder if the ground we conquered many years ago on these matters is at risk once again. Make no mistake, the Truths established many years ago by our Savior are in constant need of being re-established. If we fail to do that, they’ll be lost.
Judges 2:10 And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.
It’s unbelievable that the generation after the great Exodus forgot God who had delivered their fathers from Egyptian captivity, but it happened. It can happen again if we aren’t diligent to keep the ordinances as they were delivered to us.
1 Corinthians 11:2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
On September 7th, 1809, Thomas Campbell read his landmark statement concerning his desire to restore New Testament Christianity. In the opening remarks of his “Declaration and Address”, Campbell used an expression that was first born in the scriptures centuries earlier. “We speak where the bible speaks, and are silent where the bible is silent,” he said.
Today, we make every effort to keep the Word as it was delivered without adding to it or taking away from it.
Revelation 22:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
Not everything was recorded, but we can rest assure that the things that were written were written so we might have life everlasting.
JOH 20:30-31 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
What do you suppose we can prove, religiously speaking, by the things Jesus did that aren’t recorded? Do you suppose there is anything at all that we can prove by the unrecorded deeds done by Jesus?
I think all of us realize that there is absolutely nothing we can prove by the things that aren’t recorded. The question of our age seems to be, “Why can’t we do this or that?” You fill in the blank for whatever it is that men want to do. Why can’t we have women teach in a public capacity as long as it’s not a worship service? Why can’t we conduct seminars on marriage, finances and raising kids? Why can’t we make it the Church’s business to help entertain our young people with wholesome activities? And the list goes on and on.
Apparently, many people desire to have broad liberty to do as many things religiously as possible. The reasoning behind this motivation is quite simple: if we’re permitted to do those things not mentioned in the bible, then not only can we do the things God has mentioned in His Word, but we can do the thousands of things not mentioned in His Word. Evidently, that’s an appealing notion to many people! It allows people the perceived freedom to do numerous things that they’d like to do.
COL 3:17 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.
The question of the ages has been, “What are we to make of God’s silence?” What are we to do when God hasn’t given commandment?
When Nadab and Abihu began to carry out the functions of their priesthood, the scriptures say they “took each of them his censer, and put fire thereon, and offered strange fire before Jehovah, which he had not commanded them.” (Lev. 10)
Incense had been authorized in the worship connected with the tabernacle, but obviously, Nadab and Abihu had introduced a practice that wasn’t authorized. They were speaking where the scriptures were silent. The punishment of God fit the crime and they were devoured by fire from before Jehovah.
If men today had been present to see this punishment, they would certainly have complained that God was unfair. They couldn’t imagine that God would execute such a heavy sentence on such a seemingly light offense.
This sentence made an impression on Aaron, his remaining sons and on Moses. Moses, after these events, made this statement. “This is it that Jehovah spake saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified.” God would be glorified! That’s what He demanded.
It would have been natural for Aaron to have been dismayed at the loss of his two sons, but Moses warned him, “let not the hair of your heads go loose, neither rend your clothes; that ye die not, and that He be not wroth with all the congregation: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which Jehovah hath kindled.”
Aaron and his other sons didn’t leave the service of the Tabernacle, but they continued the rituals of the day. They weren’t coldly indifferent to their loss, but they understood that they couldn’t afford to be loose with God’s will. God’s commands were more important than their personal loss.
Being LOOSE with God’s commandments is far too easy today because God doesn’t render immediate judgment as He once did. Ecclesiastes 8:11 Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
Tell Nadab and Abihu that God’s silence is permissive. Tell them God doesn’t care about how worship is offered. Tell them God doesn’t mean what He says.
Some restoration figures couldn’t discern between their pet projects and the things they opposed. As a result, some of them were dishonest or at the very best – diluted – when it came to understanding the silence of the scriptures.
Moses Lard is a perfect example of inconsistent reasoning when it comes to understanding this important principle. In his Quarterly he wrote a condemning article on the use of instrumental music claiming that God had not prescribed it. But in the same volume of his Quarterly he contended earnestly for the right of brethren to use Missionary Societies by saying they are efficient and they do good.
It makes us wonder what people are thinking when they use the silence of the scriptures to condemn one thing, but neglect to use it to condemn another. Lard was right in condemning instruments of music, but he was wrong in failing to condemn missionary societies.
A year later he would defend his position by claiming that missionary societies were necessary and instruments of music were not. Lame logic indeed for a man so well schooled in the Bible.
But the trend continues today because people use the same logic of efficiency or goodness to justify everything under the sun. Women teachers are a good thing because there are women who are capable. Sunday school is a good thing because homes don’t always teach their kids the Scriptures. Instruments of music are a good thing because not everybody can sing well. Women’s seminars and Bible games are good things because they foster God centered activities. There is a system in place in Africa commonly called the “office” which is nothing more than a quasi-missionary society, but we’re told it’s necessary.
Brethren, the Scriptures don’t authorize any of these things!
King David has ascended to the throne of Israel and Judah. David proposes to fix a permanent site for the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem. He collected the Levites and got their support for the idea. He reasoned the benefit of such a move by saying, “For we sought not unto it in the days of Saul.”
And so, “they carried the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab: and Uzza and Ahio drove the cart.”
At some point in the journey, the oxen stumbled prompting Uzza to put forth his hand to steady the ark. The anger of the Lord was kindled and He struck Uzza dead. David was angry and perplexed by the event. The people had been rejoicing and singing over the project King David had started. When God struck down Uzza it understandably threw a wet blanket on the entire affair. David questioned, “How shall I bring the ark of God home to me?”
Men do the same thing today. God had legislated, but David asks the stupid question, “Well, I just don’t know how I’m going to bring the ark of God home?” It was as though if he couldn’t do it his way – it couldn’t be done. Don’t men do the very same thing today? It doesn’t matter what it is: marriage controversies, fellowship questions…you name it. Don’t men often ask, “Well, I just don’t know how we’re going to solve this?” The problem, brethren, is spiritual ignorance and outright stupidity about what God says and sometimes what God doesn’t say.
Maybe a little research was done by David, but when the story picks up we see that David has learned something! He understands some things about the transportation of the Ark that he hadn’t known earlier, or at least, he hadn’t obeyed earlier. Maybe he went back and read the law from Number 4:15 that no man other than a priest was to handle the Tabernacle and its furnishings. The answer was always there, but David was lifting himself above God’s law by devising his own plan.
There was no prohibition against the use of a new cart. Yet David understood that it was wrong to use the cart. The scriptures just said that the ark had to be carried upon the shoulders of the priests.
So what did David do? He followed that command. He had only priests carry the ark and he had them carry it on their shoulders as God had commanded.
The new cart was an innovation that circumvented God’s command. There wasn’t a prohibition against it. The scripture was silent about a new cart.
Look at a scene as the children of Israel are fleeing from the Egyptians. They’re on the banks of the Red Sea and the moaning has already begun. The story is recorded for us in Exodus 14.
As Pharaoh gets closer, the Israelites realize they have no where to go. Like so many of us, they begin to whine and complain when the chips are down. They start to blame Moses for taking them out of Egypt so they can die in the wilderness.
With no apparent way to escape, Moses addresses them. “And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”
These verses set forth a precedent about the silence of God. The first thing that comes to view is that the Israelites had to wait for God’s answer regarding their escape from the Egyptians. They had to be patient. Moses instructs them to “stand still.” While they’re waiting for God to break His silence, they have to wait. They weren’t to trudge headlong into any course of action until they learned what God wanted them to do.
The Israelites couldn’t presume to know the answer. They had to wait for God to provide the answer. How long were they supposed to wait? Until God spoke on the matter.
Today, we wait until we gain God’s permission, too. Without His permission, we refuse to do the thing in question. We don’t start practicing something without God’s permission.
We realize that we have God’s complete revelation today in the form of His Holy Word. HEB 1:1-2 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
We don’t wait for direct divine revelation, but we do wait until we can gain an understanding of God’s Word. If we can’t find the answer in God’s word to authorize a thing, then we must not do it. When God is silent, the answer is simply NO.
Now what happens if we go ahead with a thing while we try to gain an answer from God? Well, we’re acting without permission and we’re not merely waiting.
Here’s what happens when we go ahead and jump into a thing before we understand what God’s will is. We soon forget the need for God’s authority and God’s permission. Every time we disregard God’s authority and His word, we lose a little more patience to find the authority before we proceed. That’s when we get away from God. Eventually we’ll begin to think the thing (whatever it may be) is authorized somewhere in the scriptures. It must be or we wouldn’t be doing it, right? If we jump headlong into actions that are not God authorized, we’re likely to attempt justification based on our assumptions that they are authorized. Or even more likely, we might assume God really doesn’t care. Some misunderstand the silence of God as God’s indifference. We must be submissive to God’s word, rather than seeking to fulfill our own wishes.
It’s a little like the rebellious teenager who doesn’t ask mom or dad for permission. They just dive headlong into whatever they want to do without regard for their parent’s permission. The problem is one of submission to authority.
When we look at Exodus 14 we find “why can’t we?” questions being asked by the Israelites. They were in effect saying, “Why can’t we go back to Egypt?” Even though they were slaves, they enjoyed the food of Egypt more than the manna of God. In verse 13, Moses tells them to “stand still and see.” Furthermore, he tells them to be quiet. He really is telling them to “shut up and listen to God.”
In EXO 14:15-18 the Lord tells Moses to lift up his rod and stretch his hand over the sea and go forward. That’s exactly what Moses does and the people all travel on dry land to escape the Egyptians.
What if no permission had been given? Moses would have kept God’s people on the banks of the Red Sea until they either died or until God intervened in some fashion. That’s what would have happened.
It was God who provided the way for Israel to go. He directed them. The Israelites didn’t have the authority to direct their own steps. The scriptures tell us that it is not in man to direct his own steps. We allow God to have that dominion over our lives, if we claim to be followers of His. Otherwise, what does it really mean to be a follower of God if we refuse to truly follow Him? You can’t follow God and refuse to obey His commands.
Over in NUM 9:1-14 we find God’s people about to observe the Passover. This is the first Passover since the great Exodus. This Passover brings up a question that Moses must deal with, namely, how can men observe if they’ve come in contact with a dead body? There were men in the congregation who had come in contact with a dead body and they were forbidden to keep the Passover on the appointed day based on the instruction of Numbers 5.
And those men said unto him, We are defiled by the dead body of a man: wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering of the LORD in his appointed season among the children of Israel? And Moses said unto them, Stand still, and I will hear what the LORD will command concerning you.
So Moses waited, but meanwhile these men could NOT observe the Passover.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the Passover unto the LORD. The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
The first thing, again, was to wait. Do nothing until God grants permission. Evidently, they knew better than to go ahead and observe the Passover anyway. This very day of the observance was the day the question came up. Moses didn’t tell these men to just go ahead and participate in the Passover. “I’m sure God won’t mind. I’m sure God really doesn’t care.” That isn’t what Moses did. They couldn’t presume to know God’s answer. They couldn’t dive in headlong without knowing what God’s response would be.
In verses 10-12 God gives Moses special provisions for them. Basically, they were given permission to observe the Passover one month later. Until God had legislated, they could do nothing contrary to God’s original command. Now, with God’s authority, they know they can observe the Passover in one month.
In Deut. chapter 28-30 we find Israel at the plains of Moab just before entering the land of Canaan. Jehovah told Israel that they would be blessed if they would be obedient to His word. Curses, though, including captivity, would befall them if they failed to obey the word of God.
The children of Israel know to obey the word of Jehovah. They knew what God had revealed to them already. Moses told them, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” (Deut. 29:29)
What Moses said centuries ago is still relevant and true. The secret or silent things provide no instruction for action on our part…any more than they did for the children of Israel waiting to enter the land of Canaan. The revealed things of God belong to us and are useful for our lives.
God told Israel, “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” (Deut. 12:32)
This principle is ancient and it was first established by God Jehovah. Man never did originate this doctrine. Heaven breathed it. The problem is that some men claim that the bible view of silence of the scriptures is restrictive. It’s too prohibitive they say. But they fail to realize that God created this doctrine.
Go back almost 200 years to the statement made by Thomas Campbell to speak where the bible speaks and remain silent where the bible is silent. This wasn’t some new, original idea on Campbell’s part. It was bold perhaps, but unoriginal.
Mr. Campbell uttered these words at a private meeting in a home, to a group of people considering a return back to the scriptures. Needless to say, a hush fell over the room. Historians tell us that the silence of the group was broken by a man named Andrew Munro. Mr. Munro was a Scottish bookseller. His response was, “Mr. Campbell, if we adopt that as a basis, then there is an end of infant baptism.” Campbell’s reply was, “Of course, if infant baptism be not found in the scriptures, we can have nothing to do with it.”
These men realized that silence didn’t authorize action. Only God’s revealed word could do that. The restoration movement was based on this notion, founded in God’s revealed word.
Over in the book of Hebrews, the writer gives us several illustrations to show how we are to react to God’s silence. HEB 1:5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?
When God has been quiet on a practice we have no right to engage in it. In this verse, we’re instructed that no angel had a right to claim to be the Son of God because God had not given the honor to any angel. He gave the honor to Christ and Christ alone. Do you suppose an angel could have assumed to be the Son of God by using the same argument some men today use: He didn’t tell me that I wasn’t the Son of God? Of course we know that would be ridiculous.
HEB 7:14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.
Here the principle of silence is at work again. No tribe, other than Levi, could claim the right to the priesthood. Why? Because God had said nothing regarding their being priests. In both of these examples God specified. He specified that Jesus was His Son. That excluded all others. In the other case God signified that the tribe of Levi had the rights of priesthood in the Old Testament days. By specifying that, He excluded all other tribes.
These illustrations show us again the proper principles of bible interpretation. When God is silent we have no right to act!
Let’s look over in the book of Acts. ACT 15:24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:
Luke tells us about some men who went out from Jerusalem teaching that Gentile converts to Christ had to be circumcised and keep the law delivered to Moses. ACT 15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
This controversy created quite a stir. The brethren from Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas and certain others to Jerusalem to confront this issue. When the apostles and elders at Jerusalem wrote the letter to the Gentile brethren, they told them there was no such instruction given! These men were giving false instruction. They had no authority for what they taught.
This is an important phrase… “To whom we gave no instruction.” The word “instruction” is taken from the Greek word translated “commandment”, “command” or “authorization.” Since no instruction had been given to support these claims, the teachers had no right to teach it. They were false teachers. Silence didn’t authorize them to teach these things. Rather, according to Luke’s narrative, it prohibited it. The apostles didn’t support their “liberty” as some might call it, to teach this unauthorized doctrine.
In 1CO 4:6 we have another example of this principle at work. And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.
The ASV renders the verse this way, “Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written…”
Paul’s statement that he had applied these things to himself and Apollos tells us that the real problem at Corinth wasn’t over Paul, Apollos or Cephas, but it was over the divisions that had developed with the church. Paul never did attempt to get people to be his disciples. Instead he always admonished people to follow him as he followed Christ. These sects in Corinth were headed by some of their own teachers there in the congregation. The problem was one of arrogance and superiority on the part of these men. Paul addresses these problems in many of the verses following verse 6.
In Paul’s second letter, the problem evidently became more severe. 2 Cor. 10-13 deals with this problem. We must never exalt men, not even apostles, above Christ. Those of us who teach or lead must not exalt ourselves, or allow ourselves to be exalted above the apostles or what is written. We have to always be submissive to the authority of God, through His Son Jesus Christ. Submission is at the heart of this problem. The Corinthian brethren were not in subjection to God’s authority or to apostolic authority granted by God. That got them in trouble. We’ll get into trouble if we fail to submit to God’s authority, too.
Paul plainly instructs regarding the danger of going beyond what is written. That same message comes out in 2 JO 9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
John warns us to abide in the doctrine of Christ. If we don’t, we don’t have Christ. The original Greek word for transgression, “too far,” means “to go ahead, to progress.” Did the Israelites go ahead in a course of action while standing on the banks of the Red Sea? Did they go ahead and allow defiled men to observe the Passover? Did tribes other than Levi go ahead and push themselves into the priesthood? In every case, to go ahead would have meant violation of God’s word.
Guy N. Woods, noted scholar, commented, “Progress is good only when it is in the direction of Christ, and not away from him; and in some matters it is far preferable to be non-progressive, particularly in not going beyond what the Lord has said.”
Moses and the burning bush. We know it was a burning bush, but we don’t know what type of bush. We might speculate, but it really doesn’t matter.
Nicodemas came to Jesus by night. We don’t know why he came at night. The bible is silent on this matter. Again, it doesn’t matter why he came at night. It’s incidental to the event.
In John 8 we read where Jesus stooped and wrote on the ground. We know he wrote, but we don’t know what he wrote. Perhaps you’ve always been curious about what He wrote, but the fact is…we don’t know.
These things don’t matter. They’re speculative. If you believe Jesus wrote one thing and I believe something different…it really doesn’t pertain to truth. It is speculation and doesn’t matter.
Authority of the scripture is found in what is said, not in what isn’t said. This principle isn’t difficult for us to understand in everyday life.
When a cooking recipe calls for 6 eggs, we understand that doesn’t mean 4 or 8. We don’t have to be told what it doesn’t mean!
If our Lord’s Day morning services begin at 10:30am, we announce that as the time that we’ll begin. People don’t come expecting the services to start at 9 or 11. The time is stated as 10:30 and that’s what people expect. They understand!
We all understand this concept. But when it comes to God’s word, some will handle it more carelessly than they would the directions for a recipe. Certainly the fate of our eternal souls is more important than any cooking project.
The bottom line is, without God’s authority, we have no authority. We’d better render total submission to God’s word and refrain from acting where God is silent. There is plenty to keep us busy in His service. We must focus on the revealed truth.
DEU 29:29 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
It is interesting to me that no one, not even the rankest liberal in the religious world, condemns our practices as we follow the strictness of the scriptures.
Where they condemn us is on our “thus saith the Lord.” And that’s where it must end, on a thus saith the Lord.