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Aaron, Moses' brother, is so often overlooked that Mary Jane Chapin Chaignot thought it was time to give Aaron some space. This month's "Bible Characters" section focuses on Aaron.

Bible Characters...

  • Aaron was Moses' older brother (by three years, Ex. 7:7). Aaron married Elisheba and had four sons. He and Moses "sprang" not from the firstborn (Reuben), but from Levi, Jacob's third son. Their father, Amram, was the firstborn of Levi's second son. This all suggests that God's election of Moses and Aaron was not based on any sense of inheritance or privilege. Rather God chose them out of His grace and will.

  • The first mention of Aaron occurs at Ex. 4:14. Moses was resisting God's directive to bring His people out of Egypt. God offered to send Aaron to help him because Aaron could "speak well."

  • God would be with all their words and teach them what to say -- illustrating a very close relationship between God and his messenger.

  • Aaron was already on his way to meet Moses in Midian when God chose him to be Moses' helper. Perhaps Aaron intended to tell him that Pharaoh had died and that it was safe for him to return to Egypt.

  • Aaron was very happy when he saw Moses in Midian, and he kissed him.

  • Aaron performed the signs before the elders once they had returned to Egypt.

  • Moses and Aaron were quite the team -- Moses was like a god to Pharaoh (speaking with authority); Aaron was like a prophet (addressing the people with the words he was told to speak)

  • Both Moses and Aaron went to the first meeting with Pharaoh. It did not go well and resulted in the loss of straw for making bricks. The Israelites were furious with Moses and Aaron when they found out the reason for Pharaoh's order.

  • Scholars really aren't sure how to explain the story whereby Aaron's rod became a serpent. When Pharaoh's magicians repeated the act, Aaron's serpent swallowed up the other serpents.

  • Moses and Aaron stood shoulder to shoulder against Pharaoh throughout all the plagues, the Passover instructions, and the march out of Egypt.

  • After the exodus, Aaron's next big job was to call all the people together and help Moses explain about the manna and quail.

  • Aaron (and Hur) held up Moses' hands during the battle with the Amalekites. When Moses' hands were up, the Israelites were winning; when the hands came down, the Amalekites started winning. They held up Moses' hands until sunset. Joshua overcame the Amalekites.

  • Aaron was one of the elders who ate bread with Jethro (Moses' father-in-law) in the presence of God. (Ex 18:12)

  • Just prior to being given the Ten Commandments, God invited Moses to bring Aaron with him up the mountain. Aaron is not mentioned again for many chapters, but does this mean that he was there the whole time? (See Ex 19:24)

  • After the covenant had been ratified, Moses, Aaron, his two sons, and seventy elders were invited up the mountain to worship God. They were allowed to "see" God, without harm to themselves. Then Moses and Joshua went farther up -- Moses to go into the cloud (for 40 days and nights), Joshua to wait patiently.

  • While on the mountaintop, Moses was given his first instructions regarding the Aaronic priesthood, including duties (keep the lamps burning from morning till night) and garments to wear. This is followed by detailed instructions regarding their ordination ceremony. (The idea behind the detailed clothing requirements emphasized the office, not the person.)

  • Aaron was to be the high priest; his sons were to be the ministering priests. They were to be consecrated and pure, so the ceremony included actual washing. They also sacrificed bulls for any sins they might have committed. (See Ex. 28-30)

  • At precisely the same time Moses and God were having this exalted conversation about Aaron, he was fulfilling the Israelites' request to make "gods who will go before us." (Showing that even the holiest of men can be persuaded to do what is contrary to his beliefs.)

  • Furthermore when Aaron had fashioned the golden calf from their jewelry and gold, he proclaimed to them, "These are your gods, O Israel...." (This was a complete and total violation of the second Commandment — not to have any other gods — and was a serious breach of the covenant they had just signed.)

  • Aaron's next step was to build an altar and offer sacrifices upon it. (Some think he might have had a guilty conscience.) The ribald behaviour soon commenced.

  • When Moses put an abrupt end to the festivities by breaking the tablets and grinding up the golden calf, he asked Aaron what the people had done to cause him to commit such a great sin.

  • Aaron's response is pathetic. First he blamed the people for being prone to evil. Next he claimed to have simply thrown all the metals into the fire, and out came the golden calf. Is he possibly suggesting a miracle here!

  • Despite this fall from grace, nothing changes regarding Aaron. Shortly thereafter, God instructed Moses to have the sacred garments made and to enact the ordination ceremony. It appears that Aaron was back on track.

  • Most of Leviticus is a recipe book detailing Aaron as high priest, and his sons as ministering priests. In Chapters 8-10 Aaron and his sons are actually inaugurated as priests. First they are washed and then clothed with the sacred garments. These steps were deliberate and meaningful.

  • Aaron's turban had a golden plate with the inscription, "Holy to the Lord."

  • Aaron, his sons, and the altar were all anointed with oil. Scholars don't exactly know why they did this. Perhaps this was another symbol of being consecrated, of being holy.

  • After being made ready, Aaron and his sons were ready for their first sacrifice. Again the details are painstakingly spelled out. Most interesting, however, is when Moses took some of the ram's blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron's right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and on his big toe of his right foot. The symbolism of this is that his hearing, doing, and walking would all be consecrated to the service of the Lord. He was to hear God's commands, perform them with his hands, and walk in the ways of the Lord.

  • Aaron and his sons remained in the tabernacle for seven days -- in quiet contemplation and prayer.

  • On the eighth day, Aaron and his sons were ready to do their first sacrifice on behalf of the priests and the people. The people were all gathered around watching Aaron go through all the steps. At the appropriate time, fire came down and consumed the sacrifice. This was seen as God's approval. Aaron passed all the tests. He was in. Afterwards he blessed the people.

  • In the midst of all this holiness and joy, two of Aaron's sons overstepped their authority. On their own, they offered fire to the Lord. They were consumed on the spot. So the day that should have been the happiest for Aaron turned out to be a day of great tragedy and personal loss.

  • Aaron and his remaining two sons were told not to participate in the community mourning. Rather they were to maintain their post at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. This they did. (Lev. 10:6-7) Obviously, the office of priest required total personal commitment.

  • Several verses later, Aaron's two other sons messed up a sacrifice. When Moses rebuked them, Aaron came to their rescue, asking for clarification of certain policies. Moses didn't have an immediate answer, so these two sons were spared because of Aaron's intervention.

  • It was Aaron's (and his sons') job to determine whether people in the camp were clean or unclean. The rules were very specific. Needless to say, as high priest, Aaron had to be the most holy of all, and the rules about washing, atonement, etc. were very strict.

  • In the book of Numbers, it becomes apparent that there is a distinction between the priests and Levites. Scholars don't quite know how to explain this, or when it happened. It is taken for granted, but some suspect this is evidence of later development. But as things evolved, the priests and Levites had very separate and specific duties. It appears that the Levites were somewhat subordinate to the priests.

  • The grumbling against Moses (and God) began almost immediately when the Israelites left Mount Sinai. Water and food (for 2 million people) was always of concern. Nonetheless God was up to the task.

  • God instructed Moses to gather 70 elders, and some of Moses' spirit was given to them. This was to help reduce some of his burden in caring for these people; however, it led to opposition by Aaron and Miriam.

  • Aaron's (and Miriam's) complaint against Moses was two-pronged: first, he had married a Cushite, and secondly, had the Lord only spoken through Moses? The first is an attack on Moses' wife, the second a display of sibling rivalry. They were jealous that Moses is God's favorite.

  • Because Miriam's name is listed first, scholars believe she was the prime complainer. However, there is nothing to indicate Aaron, in any way, tried to defuse the situation.

  • Miriam, of course, is the one who is afflicted with leprosy. Aaron would appear to get away with it. He does, of course, plead with Moses on Miriam's behalf, but maybe that's out of fear that the same thing might happen to him.

  • Some scholars see this as evidence of patriarchal bias, but it might have had more to do with Aaron's office of high priest. It simply would not do for the high priest to become unclean -- for whatever reason. This reminds us of the golden calf incident. Despite Aaron's direct involvement, he remained unscathed, even though thousands of others died for their participation. Here again, he gets off without any outward punishment. The text, then, doesn't hesitate to point out Aaron's weaknesses, but given the high standard demanded of the high priest, he is not the object of divine judgment. Fair or not, that's the way it's written.

  • Aaron was one of four people (Moses, Joshua, and Caleb) who spoke on God's behalf during the spy fiasco. He and Moses fell facedown in front of all the Israelites, perhaps to symbolize their complete trust in God and in recognition of His wrath to come. (This is when God proclaimed judgment on the first generation, saying they would wander in the wilderness for forty years.) (See Num. 13-14)

  • The next rebellion involved a Levite named Korah. He and 250 others were mostly angry with Moses, but Aaron was their secondary target. Perhaps Korah thought he should be high priest. Moses proposed a test. They were to all bring censers, fire, and incense. (Only the priests were supposed to have censers.) So this was really a test. Korah and two followers were swallowed up by the earth, vindicating Aaron and Moses.

  • But the grumbling increased the next day. A plague began, but this time it was Aaron who offered incense and atonement for the people. The plague stopped.

  • To settle the matter once and for all, Aaron and leaders of the other eleven tribes all put their staffs in the Tent of Meeting overnight. In the morning Aaron's had "budded, blossomed, and produced almonds." It was kept for a sign to thwart the rebellious.

  • Though such confirmation of Aaron certified him as high priest, it was an awesome responsibility. The people were in real distress; Aaron had the job of atoning for their sins. Though the priesthood oftentimes seems burdensome or cumbersome to modern readers, its institution was a sign of God's grace in providing a vehicle for delivering them from their sins. The role of the priest was integral to the covenant relationship. In light of their obligations, they were honoured and privileged to draw near to God. Most of their work was done in the presence of God.

  • The last story involving Aaron, then, makes virtually no sense. It happened right after Miriam had died; maybe he and Moses were distraught over her passing.

  • The people (again) were grumbling about not having water. God told Moses to speak to a rock and water would gush out. It did all that, but Moses continued (or maybe Aaron was speaking for him) and in the process dishonoured God. Their punishment was that they would also die in the wilderness and would not enter the Promised Land.

  • Moses, Aaron, and his son, Eleazar, went up to the top of Mount Hor. There, Moses transferred Aaron's garments to his son, thus symbolizing the transfer of office and authority. Aaron never came down the mountain. He died up there.

  • The people mourned Aaron for 30 days.

  • Aaron's job was finished.

Next month we will follow the next generation, led by Joshua, as they arrive in the Promised Land -- at last!

— Mary Jane Chapin Chaignot

 

 

 

Bibliography

Ashby Godfrey. "Go Out and Meet God." Exodus. International Theological      Commentary.Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1998.

Farmer, William. The International Bible Commentary. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical      Press, 1998.

Gaebelein, Frank. ed. Expositor's Bible Commentary. Vol 2, Grand Rapids, MI:      Zondervan Publishing House, 1990.

Gispen, WH. Exodus, The Bible Student's Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI:      Zondervan, 1982.

McGrath, Allister. NIV Bible Commentary. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988.

Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA:      Mercer University Press, 1995.

Sakenfeld, Katharine. "Numbers, Journeying With God." International Theological      Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1995.

   
 
   
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