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 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Aaron and his sons remained in the tabernacle
for seven days -- in quiet contemplation and
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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,
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,
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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