In certain circumstances, God accepts deviations from His instructions, when the person's motive is to honor God.
This principle is tricky to articulate. I want to be careful not to mislead anyone by misrepresenting GOD's character and mindset.
We previously established that, when GOD gives specific instructions, He expects those instructions to be executed precisely. GOD struck Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu dead because they did not follow His specific instructions. And there are other examples, such as King Saul and the Amalekites (see 1 Samuel 15), where GOD was displeased at the failure to obey every command.
GOD is the most complex Being. We understand so little of Him. One thing He has made clear, however, is that we must give Him the honor and reverenace that He deserves.
Immediately after GOD struck Nadab and Abihu dead, we see a curious deviation from GOD's prescribed instructions:
12 Then Moses spoke to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons who were left, “Take the grain offering that remains from the burnt offerings of the Lord and eat it without leaven beside the altar; for it is most holy. 13 You shall eat it in a holy place, because from the burnt offerings of the Lord, it belongs to you and your sons by ordinance; for thus I was commanded. 14 The breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the choice portion you shall eat in a clean place, you, your sons, and your household with you; because it was given to you and your sons by ordinance from the peace offerings of the children of Israel. 15 The thigh of the choice portion and the breast of the wave offering they shall bring with the burnt offerings of fat to offer as a wave offering before the Lord; and it shall be yours and your sons’ and daughters’ with you by an ordinance forever, as the Lord commanded Moses.”
16 Then Moses made careful inquiry about the young goat of the sin offering, and there it was—burned up. So he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's remaining sons, saying, 17 “Why have you not eaten the sin offering in a holy place, since it is most holy; and He gave this to you, to bear the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord? 18 For you did not bring its blood into the holy place; you personally should have eaten it in a holy place, as the Lord commanded me.” 19 Then Aaron spoke to Moses, saying, “If they had offered their sin offering and whole burnt offerings today before the Lord, and these things happened to me, and I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been acceptable to the Lord?” 20 So when Moses heard that, he was pleased.
(Leviticus 10:12-20 OSB)
Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar had disobeyed the specific instruction of GOD regarding the eating of the sin offering. Rather than eat it, they burned it.
But their motive was to honor GOD. These new priests had reasoned together as to the purpose of the sin offering. And they had concluded that, to follow through with GOD's instructions regarding the sin offering, in this case, would not have been acceptable to GOD. They perceived a conflict between the letter of GOD's instruction as given through Moses and the spirit (i.e., the motivation or intended outcome) behind the purpose of GOD's instruction.
In this moment, they made a judgment call with the specific purpose of attempting to do the thing that would most honor GOD or that He would most likely respect as the right choice.
Based upon Moses' reaction—and the fact that Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar were not struck dead—it seems GOD was pleased with their choice.
There are other similar examples where the instruction or letter of the Law was violated for the spirit of the Law.
- David and the showbread (see 1 Samuel 21)
- Hezekiah and the ill-timed and extended Feast of Unleavened Bread (see 2 Chronicles 30)
- Circumcision and violation of the Sabbath (see John 7:21-24)
What I am Saying
GOD expects us to use our brain and think for ourselves. GOD expects us to honor Him in our thinking, speech, and actions. Whenever possible, we must obey GOD's specific instructions exactly as He said. There may be times when we must make a judgment call about what is best, what is most honoring to GOD. Based upon the Scriptures, it seems that, when a person makes such a choice with an intent to honor GOD and do as much good as is possible, GOD respects these choices.
What I am NOT Saying
I am not saying GOD will accept our actions, regardless of what we do, provided that we are sincere. Too many people use this argument and the "God wants me to be happy" argument to do that which they want to do rather than that which most honors GOD. We must make every effort to do exactly what GOD has specified or He will not honor our decision.