Please Help Us Keep These Thousands of Blog Posts Growing and Free for All
Aaron, whose name might mean, a teacher, or lofty, was the eldest son of the Levite Amram by Jochebed, and the older brother of Moses and Miriam, born about 1600 B.C. Num. 26:59; Num. 33:39. (B.C. 1573). He was a Levite and is first mentioned in Ex. 4:14. He was appointed by Jehovah to be the interpreter, Ex. 4:16, of his brother Moses, who was “slow of speech;” and accordingly he was not only the organ of communication with the Israelites and with Pharaoh, Ex. 4:30; 7:2, but also the actual instrument of working most of the miracles of the Exodus. Ex. 7:19, etc.
On the way to Mount Sinai, during the battle with Amalek, Aaron with Hur stayed up the weary hands of Moses when they were lifted up for the victory of Israel. Ex. 17:9. He is mentioned as dependent upon his brother and deriving all his authority from him.
Left, on Moses’ departure into Sinai, to guide the people, Aaron is tried for a moment on his own responsibility, and he fails from a weak inability to withstand the demand of the people for visible “gods to go before them,” by making an image of Jehovah, in the well-known form of Egyptian idolatry (Apis or Mnevis). He repented of his sin, and Moses gained forgiveness for him. Ex. 9:20. Aaron was not consecrated by Moses to the new office of the high priesthood. Ex. 29:9.
From this time, the history of Aaron is almost entirely that of the priesthood, and its chief feature is the great rebellion of Korah and the Levites. Leaning, as he seems to have done, wholly on Moses, it is not strange that he should have shared his sin at Meribah and its punishment. See Num. 20:10-12.
Aaron’s death seems to have followed very speedily. It took place on Mount Hor, after the transference of his robes and office to Eleazar. Num. 20:28. This amount is still called the “Mountain of Aaron.”
The wife of Aaron was Elisheba, Ex. 6:23, and the two sons who survived him, Eleazar and Ithamar. The high priesthood descended to the former, and to his descendants until the time of Eli, who, although of the house of Ithamar, received the high priesthood and transmitted it to his children; with them, it continued till the accession of Solomon, who took it from Abiathar and restored it to Zadok (of the house of Eleazar).
A Deeper Dive Into the History
Aaron is first mentioned in the account of Moses’ vision of the burning bush (Ex. 4:14), where the latter was reminded by Jehovah that Aaron possessed a high degree of persuasive readiness of speech and could therefore speak in His name in his behalf. During the absence of Moses in Midian, Aaron had married a woman of the tribe of Judah, named Elisheba (or Elizabeth), who had borne to him four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar; and Eleazar had, before the return of Moses, become the father of Phinehas (Ex. 6:23-25). Pursuant to an intimation from God, Aaron went into the wilderness to meet his long-exiled brother, and conduct him back to Egypt. They met and embraced each other at the Mount of Horeb. (Ex. 4:27) When they arrived in Goshen, Aaron, who appears to have been well known to the chiefs of Israel, introduced his brother to them, and aided him in opening and enforcing his great commission. (Ex. 4:29-31) In the subsequent transactions, Aaron appears to have been almost always present with his more illustrious brother, assisting and supporting him; and no separate act of his own is recorded, although he seems to have been the actual instrument of effecting many of the miracles. (Ex. 7:1-25; Ex. 19:1-25 sq.) Aaron and Hur were present on the hill from which Moses surveyed the battle which Joshua fought with the Amalekites (Ex. 17:10-12); and these two long sustained the weary hands upon whose uplifting (in order to extend the official rod, rather than in prayer, see Ex. 17:9) the fate of the battle was found to depend. Afterward, when Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the tables of the law, Aaron, with his sons and seventy of the elders, accompanied him part of the way up, and were permitted to behold afar off the symbol of the Sacred Presence (Ex. 24:1-2; Ex. 24:9-11). During the absence of Moses in the mountain the people seem to have looked upon Aaron as their head, and an occasion arose which fully vindicates the divine preference of Moses by showing that, notwithstanding the seniority and greater eloquence of Aaron, he wanted the high qualities which were essential in the leader of the Israelites. The people at length concluded that Moses had perished in the fire that gleamed upon the mountain’s top, and, gathering around Aaron, clamorously demanded that he should provide them with a visible symbolic image of their God, that they might worship him as other gods were worshipped (Ex. 32:1-35). Either through fear or ignorance, Aaron complied with their demand; and with the ornaments of gold which they freely offered, cast the figure of a calf.
However, to fix the meaning of this image as a symbol of the true God, Aaron was careful to proclaim a feast to Jehovah for the ensuing day. At this juncture, Moses’ reappearance confounded the multitude, who were severely punished for this sin. Aaron attempted to excuse himself by casting the whole blame upon the people but was sternly rebuked by his brother, at whose earnest intercessions, however, he received the divine forgiveness. (Deut. 9:20) During this and a second absence in the mountain, Moses had received instructions regarding the ecclesiastical establishment, the tabernacle, and the priesthood, which he soon afterward proceeded to execute. Under the new institution Aaron was to be high-priest, and his sons and descendants priests; and the whole tribe to which he belonged, that of Levi, was set apart as the sacerdotal or learned caste. Accordingly, after the tabernacle had been completed, and every preparation made for the commencement of actual service, Aaron and his sons were consecrated by Moses, who anointed them with the holy oil and invested them with the sacred garments. (Lev. 8:1-36; Lev. 9:1-24) The high-priest applied himself tirelessly to the duties of his exalted office, and during the period of nearly forty years that it was filled by him his name seldom comes under our notice. But soon after his elevation his two eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu were struck dead for daring, seemingly when in a state of partial inebriety, to conduct the service of God in an irregular manner, by offering incense with unlawful fire. On this occasion, it was enjoined that the priests should manifest none of the ordinary signs of mourning for the loss of those who were so dear to them. To this heavy stroke, Aaron bowed in silence (Lev. 10:1-11). Aaron joined in, or at least sanctioned, the invidious conduct of his sister Miriam, who, after the wife of Moses had been brought to the camp by Jethro, became apprehensive for her own position, and cast reflections upon Moses, much calculated to damage his influence, on account of his marriage with a foreigner — always an odious thing, among the Hebrews. For this Miriam was struck with temporary leprosy, which brought the high-priest to a sense of his sinful conduct, and he sought and obtained forgiveness. (Num. 12:1-16).
Subsequently to this, a formidable conspiracy was organized against Aaron and his sons, as well as against Moses, by chiefs of influence and station — Korah, of the tribe of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, of the tribe of Reuben. But the divine appointment was attested and confirmed by the signal destruction of the conspirators; and the next day, when the people assembled tumultuously and murmured loudly at the destruction which had overtaken their leaders and friends, a fierce pestilence broke out among them, and they fell by thousands on the spot. When this was seen, Aaron, at the command of Moses, filled a censer with fire from the altar, and, rushing forward, arrested the plague between the living and the dead (Num. 16:1-50). This was, in fact, another attestation of the divine appointment; and, for its further confirmation, as regarded Aaron and his family, the chiefs of the several tribes were required to deposit their staves, and with them was placed that of Aaron for the tribe of Levi. They were all laid up together overnight in the tabernacle, and in the morning it was found that, while the other rods remained as they were, that of Aaron had budded, blossomed, and yielded the fruit of almonds. The rod was preserved in the tabernacle (comp. Heb. 9:4) as authentic evidence of the divine appointment of the Aaronic family to the priesthood — which, indeed, does not appear to have been ever afterward disputed. (Num. 17:1-13) Aaron was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, on account of the distrust which he, as well as his brother, manifested when the rock was stricken at Meribah. (Num. 20:8-13) When the host arrived at Mount Hor, in going down the Wadi Arabah, in order to double the mountainous territory of Edom, the divine mandate came that Aaron, accompanied by his brother Moses and by his son Eleazar, should ascend to the top of that mountain in the view of all the people; and that he should there transfer his pontifical robes to Eleazar, and then die (Num._20:23-29). He was 123 years old when his career thus strikingly terminated; and his son and his brother buried him in a cavern of the mountain.
The Israelites mourned for him thirty days, and on the first day of the month Ab the Jews yet hold a fast in commemoration of his death. The Arabs still show the traditionary site of his grave (Num. 20:28; Num. 33:38; Deut. 32:50), which in the time of Eusebius was reputed to be situated in Petra, in the modern Wadi Mousa. He is mentioned in the Quran, and the Rabbis have many fabulous stories relating to him.
In Psa. 133:2, Aaron’s name occurs as that of the first anointed priest. His descendants (“sons of Aaron,” Josh. 21:4; Josh. 21:10; Josh. 21:13, etc.; poetically, “house of Aaron,” Psa. 115:10; Psa. 115:12; Psa. 118:3, etc.) were the priesthood in general, his lineal descendants being the high- priests. Even in the time of David, these were a very numerous body (1 Chron. 12:27). The other branches of the tribe of Levi were assigned subordinate sacred duties. For the list of the pontiffs, including those of the line of Ithamar (q.v.), to whom the office was for some reason transferred from the family of the senior Eleazar (see Josephus, Ant. v. 11, 5, 8:1, 3), but afterward restored (comp. 1 Sam 2:30).
Aaron and his sons were invested by Moses with the priestly office, which was to remain in Aaron’s line forever. (Ex. 29:1-46) This was altogether distinct from the semi-sacerdotal character with which his mere seniority in the family invested him according to patriarchal usage. The duty and right of sacrificing to God were thereafter reserved to that family exclusively. The high-priesthood was confined to the firstborn in succession, and the rest of his posterity were priests, simply so-called, or priests of the second order.
Why Was Aaron not Punished for His Idolatry In Making the Golden Calf?
Exodus 20:3-5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I Jehovah your God am a jealous God, visiting the error of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
Deuteronomy 9:19-20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which Jehovah was wrathful against you in order to destroy you, but Jehovah listened to me that time also. 20 And Jehovah was so angry with Aaron to destroy him: and I prayed for Aaron also at the same time.
Clearly, the prayers of righteous men like Moses have “great power,” as we can see in the case of Aaron. (James 5:16) Because of such prayer and for other reasons, it appears that Jehovah answered Moses’ prayer, and so chose to not punish Aaron. One of the other reasons that Aaron was spared was they he had a long record of faithfulness. When God had assigned Moses to lead the sons of Israel out of Egypt, which meant many times going before the Pharaoh, Jehovah called on Aaron to serve as Moses’ spokesman, in essence, God’s spokesman. (Ex. 4:10-16) Moses and Aaron appeared before the Pharaoh many times where they could have been executed at any time, for on many occasions the Pharaoh was enraged beyond comprehension. The hard-heartedness of Pharaoh came down on them as they bravely ventured before the King each time. So, there was a very strong record in Egypt of Aaron evidencing his loyalty to Jehovah, showing his steadfast love for God. – Ex. 4:21.
Jehovah is not blind to our human condition, our imperfection. Thus, there were some circumstances leading up to Aaron’s making the golden calf. Moses has gone up on Mount Sinai and had been gone for 40 days. The enormous pressure from the people persuaded Aaron to make them an idol. Aaron shared in this sin and made a golden statue of a calf.
Exodus 32:1-6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
32 When the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us a god who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 And all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” 5 And Aaron saw, and he built an altar before it, and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “A feast for Jehovah tomorrow.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
However, God was looking at what happened after Aaron’s bad lapse in judgment, which evidence that Aaron was very reluctant to share in this idolatrous sin. He merely had a weak moment and gave into the people. When Moses came down and berated them about their idolatry, Aaron and the sons of Levi supported God. Three thousand idolaters who supported the principal accountability for their idolatrous behavior were slaughtered.
Exodus 32:25-29 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
25 And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on Jehovah’s side, let him come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. 27 And he said to them, “Thus says Jehovah, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword on his thigh, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’” 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. 29 And Moses said, “Fill your hand for Jehovah today, for every man has gone against his son, and against his brother; so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”
Moses then told the people,
Exodus 32:30 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
30 On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to Jehovah, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
We notice that Aaron was not the only person who had some degree of guilt in this sinful act. So, Aaron and other Israelites were shown a measure of God’s great mercy. Also, after the event with the golden calf, God commanded Moses that Aaron was to be made the high priest.
Exodus 40:12-13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 And you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water. 13 And you shall put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and sanctify him that he may serve me as priest.
Obviously, God had forgiven Aaron for his momentary weakness. Being that God can read hearts, He knew Aaron was loyal to Him and pure worship. Aaron like those who were destroyed was not some idolatrous rebel.