Who was Aaron?
In the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament, Aaron was the brother of Moses and Miriam (Num. 26:59; Exo. 6:20); 1574 B.C. Jochebed, mother of Moses and Aaron, bore them three centuries after the death of Levi (Exo. 2:1); "daughter of Levi, whom her mother bore to Levi," means" a daughter of a Levite whom her mother bore to a Levite."
The point of Num. 26:59 is, Moses and Aaron were Levites both on the father's side and mother's side, Hebrews of Hebrews. He was three years older than Moses (Exo. 7:7): born, doubtless, before Pharaoh's edict for the destruction of the Hebrew male infants (Exo. 1:22). Miriam was the oldest of the three, as appears from her being old enough, when Moses was only three months old and Aaron three years, to offer to go and call a Hebrew nurse for Pharaoh's daughter, to tend his infant brother.
The first mention of Aaron is in Exo. 4:14; where, in answer to Moses' objection that he did not have the eloquence needed for such a mission as that to Pharaoh, God answers: "Is not Aaron, the Levite, thy brother? I know that he can speak well: and thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth; and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do; and he shall be thy spokesman unto the people; and he shall be instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God."
Call and Ordination
His being described as "the Levite" implies that he already took a lead in his tribe; and, as the firstborn son, he would be priest of the household. The Lord directed him to "go into the wilderness to meet Moses" (Exo. 4:27). In obedience to that intimation, after the forty years' separation, he met Moses in the "mount of God," where the vision of the flaming bush had been vouchsafed to the latter, and conducted him back to Goshen.
There Aaron, evidently a man of influence already among the Israelites, introduced Moses to their assembled elders; and, as his mouthpiece, declared to them the divine commission of Moses with such persuasive power, under the Spirit, that the people "believed, bowed their heads, and worshipped" (Exo. 4:29-31). During Moses' forty years' absence in Midian, Aaron had married Elisheba or Elizabeth, daughter of Amminadab, and sister of Naashon, a prince of the children of Judah (Exo. 6:23; 1 Chr. 2:10).
By her he had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar (father of Phinehas), and Ithamar. From his first interview with Pharaoh to the end of his course he always appears in connection with his more illustrious brother, cooperating with and assisting him. On the way to Sinai, in the battle with Amalek, Aaron, in company with Hur, supported Moses' weary hands, which uplifted the miracle-working rod of God (Exo. 17:9-13); and so Israel prevailed.
His high dignity as interpreter of Moses, and worker of the appointed "signs in the sight of the people," and his investiture with the hereditary high priesthood, a dignity which Moses did not share, account naturally for his having once harbored envy, and joined with Miriam in her jealousy of Moses' Ethiopian wife, when they said: "Hath the Lord spoken only by Moses? Hath He not spoken also by us?" (Compare Num. 12:1,2 with Exo. 15:20.) But Moses is always made the principal, and Aaron subordinate.
Whereas Moses ascended Sinai, and there received the tables of the law direct from God, as the mediator (Gal. 3:19), Aaron has only the privilege of a more distant approach with Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders, near enough indeed to see Jehovah's glory, but not to have access to His immediate presence. His character, as contrasted with Moses, comes out in what followed during Moses' forty days' absence on the mount.
Left alone to guide the people, he betrayed his instability of character in his weak and guilty concession to the people's demand for visible gods to go before them in the absence of Moses, their recognized leader under Jehovah; and instead of the pillar of cloud and fire wherein the Lord heretofore had gone before them (Exo. 13:21; Exo. 32). Perhaps Aaron had hoped that their love of their personal finery and jewelry, which is the idol of so many in our own days, would prove stronger than their appetite for open idolatry; but men will for superstition part with that which they will not part with for a pure worship.
So, casting the responsibility on them, easy and too ready to yield to pressure from outside, and forgetting the precept, "thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil" (Exo. 23:2), he melted, or permitted their gold to be melted in a furnace, and "fashioned it with a graving tool into a calf." This form was probably designed as a compromise to combine the seemingly common elements of the worship of Jehovah associated with the calf-formed cherubim, and of the Egyptian idol-ox, Mnevis or Apis.
Like Jeroboam's calves long after, the sin was a violation of the second rather than of the first commandment, the worship of the true God by an image (as the church of Rome teaches), rather than the adding or substituting of another god. It was an accommodation to the usages which both Israel and Jeroboam respectively had learned in Egypt. Like all compromises of truth, its inevitable result was still further apostasy from the truth.
Aaron's words, "These are thy gods '¦lohiym (a title of the true God), O Israel, which brought thee up out of Egypt," as also his proclamation, "Tomorrow is a feast to JEHOVAH," show that he did not mean an open apostasy from the Lord, but rather a concession to the people's sensuous tastes, in order to avert a total alienation from Jehovah. But, the so-called "feast of the Lord" sank into gross paganness; "the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play," "dancing" before the calf, "naked unto their shame among their enemies"; they aroused Moses' righteous anger when he descended from the mountain, so that he broke in pieces the tables out of his hand, as a symbol of their violation of the covenant.
Then he burned the calf in the fire, ground it to powder (a process which required a considerable acquaintance with chemistry), strewed it upon the water, and made the Israelites drink of it. Compare Prov. 1:31. Aaron alleged, as an excuse, the people's being "set on mischief," and seemingly that he had only cast their gold into the fire, and that by mere chance "there came out this calf."
Aaron's humiliation and repentance must have been very deep; for two months after this great sin, God's foreappointed plan (Exo. 29) was carried into effect in the consecration of Aaron to the high priesthood (Lev. 8). That it was a delegated priesthood, not inherent like the Messiah's priesthood, of the order of Melchizedek, appears from the fact that Moses, though not the legal priest but God's representative, officiates on the occasion, to inaugurate him into it. Compare, for the spiritual significance of this, Heb. 7. Aaron's very fall would upon his recovery make him the more fit as a priest, to have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way, for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity (Heb. 5:2); compare the case of Peter, Luke 22:31,32.
The consecration comprised a sin offering for reconciliation, a burnt offering to express whole-hearted self-consecration to God, and a meat offering (minchah), unbloody, of flour, salt, oil, and frankincense, to thank God for the blessings of nature (these marking the blessings and duties of man); then also the special tokens of the priestly office, the ram of consecration, whose blood was sprinkled on Aaron and his sons to sanctify them, the sacred robes "for glory and for beauty," breastplate, ephod, robe, embroidered coat, mitre, and girdle, and linen breeches (Exo. 28); and the anointing with the holy oil, which it was death for anyone else to compound or use (Exo. 30:22-38), symbolizing God's grace, the exclusive source of spiritual unction.
Aaron immediately offered sacrifice and blessed the people, and the divine acceptance was marked by fire from the Lord consuming upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat, so that the people shouted at the sight and fell on their faces. Nadab and Abihu, probably (see Lev. 10:8,9) under the effects of wine taken when about to be consecrated, instead of taking the sacred fire from the brazen altar, burned the incense on the golden altar with common fire; or, as Knobel and Speaker's Commentary think, they offered the incense in accompaniment of the people's shouts, not at the due time of morning or evening sacrifice, but in their own self-willed manner and at their own time.
God visited them with retribution in kind, consuming them with fire from the Lord; and to prevent a similar evil recurring, forbade henceforth the use of wine to the priests when about to officiate in the tabernacle; the prohibition coming so directly after the sin, if the cause was indeed intemperance, is an undesigned coincidence and mark of genuineness: compare Luke 1:15 and 1 Tim. 3:3 for the present application. The true source of exhilaration to a spiritual priest unto God, is not wine, but the Spirit: Eph. 5:18,19; compare Acts 2:15-18.
Nothing could more clearly mark how grace had raised Aaron above his natural impulsiveness than the touching picture, so eloquent in its brevity, of Aaron's submissiveness under the crushing stroke, "and Aaron held his peace." Moses, in chronicling the disgrace and destruction of his brother's children, evinces his own candor and veracity as an impartial historian. The only token of anguish Aaron manifested was his forbearing to eat that day the flesh of the people's sin offering: Lev. 10:12-20. All other manifestations of mourning on the part of the priests were forbidden; compare, as to our spiritual priesthood, Luke 9:60.
Miriam, in a fit of feminine jealousy, some time afterward acted on Aaron so as to induce him to join in murmuring against Moses: the former relying on her prophetic inspiration (Exo. 15:20), the latter on his priesthood, as though equal with Moses in the rank of their commission. Their pretext against Moses was his Ethiopian wife, a marriage abhorrent to Hebrew feelings.
That Miriam was the instigator appears from her name preceding that of Aaron (Num. 12), and from the leprosy being inflicted on her alone. Aaron, with characteristic impressibleness, repented of his sin almost immediately after he had been seduced into it, upon Jehovah's sudden address to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, declaring His admission of Moses to speak with Him "mouth to mouth, apparently," so that he should "behold the similitude of the Lord," a favor far above all "visions" vouchsafed to prophets. At Aaron's penitent intercession with Moses, and Moses' consequent prayer, Miriam was healed.
Twenty years later (1471 B.C.), in the wilderness of Paran, the rebellion took place of Korah and the Levites against Aaron's monopoly of the priesthood, and of Dathan, Abiram, and the Reubenites against Moses' authority as civil leader. It is a striking instance of God's chastising even His own people's sin in kind. As Aaron jealously murmured against Moses, so Korah murmured against him.
Fire from the Lord avenged his cause on Korah and the 250 priestsn with him burning incense: and the earth swallowed up the Reubenites with Dathan and Abiram. Possibly Reuben's descendants sought to recover the primogeniture forfeited by his incest (Gen. 49:3,4; 1 Chr. 5:1). The punishment corresponded to the sin; pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. His numbers were so reduced that Moses prays for his deliverance from extinction: "Let Reuben live, and not die, and let not his men be few."
A plague from the Lord had threatened to destroy utterly the people for murmuring against Moses and Aaron as the murderers of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and their accomplices, when Aaron proved the efficacy of his priesthood by risking his own life for his ungrateful people, and "making atonement for the people" with incense in a censer, and "standing between the living and the dead," so that the plague was stopped (Num. 16). To prevent future rivalry for the priesthood, God made Aaron's rod alone of the twelve rods of Israel, suddenly to blossom and bear almonds, and caused it to be kept perpetually "before the testimony for a token against the rebels" (Num. 17; Heb. 9:4).
Inclined to lean on his superior brother, Aaron naturally fell into Moses' sin at Meribah, and shared its penalty in forfeiting entrance into the promised land (Num. 20:1-13). As Moses' self-reliance was thereby corrected, so was Aaron's tendency to be led unduly by stronger natures than his own. To mark also the insufficiency of the Aaronic priesthood to bring men into the heavenly inheritance, Aaron must die a year before Joshua (the type of Jesus) leads the people into their goodly possession.
While Israel in going down the wady Arabah, to double the mountainous land of Edom, was encamped at Mosera, he ascended Mount Hor at God's command. There Moses stripped him of his pontifical robes, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died, 123 years old, and was buried on the mountain (Num. 20:28; 33:38; Deut. 10:6; 32:50). The mountain is now surmounted by the circular dome of the tomb of Aaron, a white spot on the dark red surface. For thirty days all Israel mourned for him; and on the 1st of the 5th month, Ab (our July or August), the Jews still commemorate him by a fast.
Eleazar's descendants held the priesthood until the time of Eli, who, although sprung from Ithamar, received it. With Eli's family it continued until the time of Solomon, who took it from Abiathar, and restored it to Zadok, of the line of Eleazar; thus accomplishing the prophecy denounced against Eli (1 Sam. 2:30). For the Jews' opinion of Aaron, see the apocryphal Ecclesiasticus 45.
His not taking the priestly honor to himself, but being called by God (Heb. 5:4,5), his anointing with incommunicable ointment (compare Ps. 45:7 and Ps. 133:2), his intercession for his guilty people, his bearing the names of his people on his shoulders and breast (Exo. 28:12,29,30), his being the only high priest, so that death visited any other who usurped the priesthood, his rod of office (compare Ps. 110:2; Num. 24:17), his alone presenting the blood before the mercy-seat on the day of atonement, the HOLINESS TO THE LORD on his forehead in his intercession within the veil (compare 1 Cor. 1:30; Heb. 9:24), the Urim and Thummim (Light and Perfection), all point to the true High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Aaron's descendants, to the number of 3,700 fighting men, with Jehoiada, father of Benaiah, their head, joined David at Hebron (1 Chr. 12:27; 27:17); subsequently, Zadok was their chief, "a young man mighty of valor."
IBSE, "Isaac" (in the public domain) with minor edits.