Don’t Mix Holy and Profane

incense burning

You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common, between what is ceremonially unclean and what is clean. – Leviticus 10:10 NLT

The Bible makes a clear distinction between holy and profane things. The distinction is starkly evident in the story of Nadab and Abihu is one of those biblical accounts that create both shock and awe. It’s shocking because two young men were killed because they burned the wrong kind of fire before God (Leviticus 10:1-2).

It’s awe-inspiring because it displays the power and majesty of God. It also reminds you of His holiness and how blessed we are not to be consumed because of our sinful natures.

Don't mix holy and profane
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One thing you’ll quickly notice is that God had given Moses very detailed instructions about what He expected from His priests and how they were to behave. He gave distinctions between the things that were available for common use and those that were reserved for use within the tabernacle.

The Israelites were given special instructions on how to build the altar on which the sacrifice was to be burned. There was a special basin for washing before they went into the tent of meeting or near the altar.

There was a special anointing oil that was used to consecrate items, setting them apart for sacred use. This anointing oil was so important that if anyone tried to replicate it, they would be cut off from their people (Exodus 30:32-22).

This punishment of being excommunicated also applied to anyone who tried to replicate the special incense that God had commissioned for use in His service (Exodus 30:37-38). The priests even had a special set of clothes to wear when they were doing God’s work (Leviticus 8-9).

As someone who grew up in a culture that had a distinction between what type of clothing could be worn where (church clothes could not be worn anywhere else), I have an understanding of why some things were distinguished from others.

Profane things belong to the world. They are considered secular and are not connected to religious things. Sacred things have been set aside for God. Now that we understand the difference between the Holy and the profane, we get a better understanding of what Nadab and Abihu did wrong.

Nadab and Abihu’s sin was that they failed to distinguish between the things that were available for common use and the things that were set apart for God. When they offered the wrong kind of fire before God (Leviticus 10:1), they disregarded the instructions God had given to the priests.

Some Bible scholars believe that Nadab and Abihu were intoxicated at the time of their offering which made it difficult for them to distinguish between the holy and the common. The story of Nadab and Abihu is a reminder that God is a holy God and He’s called us to holiness. If we’re to remain blameless before Him, we have to learn to distinguish between the holy and the profane.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where no one wants to set boundaries. If boundaries exist, no one wants to stay within them. And while I agree that some boundaries need to be challenged, as Christians we need to understand that we’re set apart. We need to remember that God has called us for a purpose.

God has given you a set of guidelines to follow. Are you willing to stay within them? Or have you convinced yourself that you know better than God?

Friend, God’s boundaries exist for our protection. Won’t you allow Him to protect you, His beloved child?


Father, You are holy. As Your child, You ask me to be holy so help me to understand the difference between what has been set apart for sacred use and the common things. Teach me how to live in such a way that my life is a living sacrifice. In Jesus’s name I pray, Amen.

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