The Lord cannot be approached any way you choose. He can only be approached on His terms. If Israel attempted to approach him on their own terms, there would be negative consequences.
For example, the garment to be worn by Aaron, the high priest when he entered the Tabernacle, had a golden bell attached: “…and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he does not die” (Exodus 28:31-35).
Aaron and his sons were to wear linen undergarments designed to cover their naked flesh so when they went into the tent of meeting, or when they came near the altar to minister in the Holy Place they did not die (Exodus 28:40-43). When they offered a food offering to the Lord, they were to wash with water “so that they may not die.” “They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die” (Exodus 30:20).
There are other texts containing warnings that could be included, but let’s take a look at some examples.
When Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, offered “unauthorized fire” at the tent of meeting, fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them (Lev. 10:2), much in the same way the same fire consumed the burnt offering described in the previous chapter. The Lord then said, “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die” (Lev. 10:9).
When Israel left Sinai they began to complain in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes.
…and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them (Numbers 11:1-3).
When the Lord’s anger was kindled against the people, he would, on occasion, strike them with “a very great plague” (Numbers 11:33).
On another occasion, a man broke the Sabbath day by gathering sticks. They didn’t know what to do with him so they brought him to Moses. Moses inquired of the Lord, and the Lord said:
The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses (Numbers 15:32-36).
You get the point.
Fred Hoppe worked around high voltage. He worked for the city of Pasadena, the city of Anaheim, and for Hampton Tedder. We sometimes refer to him as “crazy Fred” because his sense of humor, but Fred is nothing but serious when it comes to work. Fred has conveyed in terms I have forgotten how dangerous the environment he worked in was. But I have not forgotten how careful you must be when you enter one of these vaults. (I worked in a few manholes myself.) One wrong move and someone dies. Several did die in Pasadena.
Although no exact parallel can be drawn, there are some comparisons to be drawn. If you approach a high voltage power supply without the necessary precautions, you may die. For the ancient nation of Israel, if you entered the tabernacle or Temple without the necessary precautions, you will die. Some did. Remember Nadab and Abihu. Remember the Sabbath breaker. Remember the number of times a plague broke out in the Israelite camp. Remember those who were bitten by serpents and died.
The writer of Hebrews looks back at the days Israel tested the Lord in the wilderness and writes:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:12-13).
And later he exhorts them to be grateful for the kingdom they had received and to offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for
…our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).