The people have been given instructions on how to draw near to God through sacrifice. They painstakingly follow all the law, to-a-T. Moses notes again and again, "they did everything the Lord commanded". They are truly acting as an obedient and faithful bunch these Israelites, right?! (I think it is really interesting that we miss this truth when we talk about how lame and unfaithful the Israelites are... aren't we all just such a mixed bag!)
Anyway... they have been obedient and have followed the path God has set up for them. In response to these acts of sacrifice, "fire came out of the Presence of the Lord" (Leviticus 9:24). Stop for a minute and just imagine this in real life. We have seen enough CGI to work our imaginations around fire coming out and consuming the offering. Loud, Hot, Red, Fast, ...terrifying, right?
But,... the people are not scared. They are not filled with fear. This surprised me.
In Exodus 20:18, only moments ago in the narrative, God speaks to the people from the mountain. They hear His voice as thunder and they are terrified and afraid. They ask that He never do that again! They remain at a distance and say, "Don't have God speak to us or we will die!" (v. 19)
But, not here. Why?
No, the people's response to this hot-burning-up-consuming-fire of the Lord is joy. Joy fills their hearts! Surprised by joy...
I was surprised by joy.
They see the fire and they are filled with joy and they fall down to worship. I can't help but think that the joy welling in their hearts--- which brought them face down ---brought a wonderfully delightful smile to God's face.
I don't think He was surprised by it---that is what He made for us. Fullness of joy in His Presence... No, God isn't surprised.
I can just picture it... seeing Him in my mind's eye: God smiling; pleased and blessed. They are worshiping Him rightly (if just this once) and they are responding to His presence with joy and awe. For weeks this passage has spoken to me of the Father's heart. What He might really want from my sacrifices, my worship, and my drawing near to His Presence: Awe-filled wonder and joy!
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him..." (Romans 15:13)