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 Vol. 7, No. 8 

August 2005

~ Page 11 ~

Aaron, First High Priest of Israel

By Jay Launius

Image Aaron, the brother of Moses, was one of the central figures found in the Mosaic account of the great Exodus out of Egypt by the Hebrew people. The name Aaron is believed to mean "mountaineer, mountain of strength or illuminator" (WebBible). Others claim that the meaning of his name is uncertain (Harper's 1). In Egypt, Amram took Jochebed, his father's sister, who was a daughter of the tribe of Levi and she bore Aaron and Moses (Exodus 6:20). Aaron also had a sister, Miriam, who apparently was older, but there is little known of the early life of Aaron. Aaron took Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Nahshon, as his wife and she bore him four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar (Exodus 6:23).

As previously stated, Aaron would play a pivotal part in the deliverance of the children of Israel from 430 years of Egyptian bondage. He would be the mouthpiece of Moses and eventually the first priest of the Hebrew people. Many lessons can be learned from a study of the life and adventures of the man called Aaron. He performed the wonders of the Lord, he wielded the rod that became a serpent and he was in the presence of Jehovah God.

After receiving the commission to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, Moses begins to make excuses as to why this will be an impossible task for him to accomplish. "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue" (Exodus 4:10 NKJV). But God's anger is kindled against Moses, how dare he make excuses to the Creator who made man's mouth, the mouth that would convey the thoughts of God to Pharaoh. God then asks Moses, "Is not Aaron the Levite your brother?" (This is the first mention of Aaron within the narrative (Barnes 15).) Jehovah goes on to explain that Aaron is able to speak well. This is to imply that Aaron had both the power and the will to speak (15). At this very moment while the Lord conversed with Moses, Aaron is on his way to meet his brother. Think of the excitement and anxiety that must have filled the conversation as Moses revealed to Aaron the things that the Lord had said and the great quest that they were about to embark upon.

At the age of eighty-three, Aaron was faithful in his duties and stood with Moses in the presence of the Pharaoh. It was Aaron who took a seemingly ordinary walking stick, cast it on the ground and it became a serpent and even though the Egyptian magicians did the same, the serpent that was Aaron's rod consumed the other serpents, thus showing the mighty power of Jehovah (Exodus 7:8-12). But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, thus setting in motion the ten plagues that would eventually defeat Egypt.

Aaron's active participation in the delivery of the plagues upon the Egyptians can clearly be seen. He struck the water with the rod, turning the river to blood (Exodus 7:19-20). Aaron stretched out his hand with the rod over the streams and ponds to bring forth the frogs that would fill the Egyptian houses, bedrooms, kitchens and even the cooking utensils (Exodus 8:3-6). Then again he stretched out his arm, striking the sand with the rod, turning it into lice (Exodus 8:16-17). In every instance of plague, Pharaoh summons both Moses and Aaron in order to bring an end to the present calamity, thus showing Aaron's active part in the proving of God through the plagues brought upon Egypt.

After the deliverance from Egypt, the first conflict of Israel with another nation is recorded in Exodus 17. While in Rephidim, the Hebrews encounter Amalek. Moses instructs Joshua to take selected men and go out and fight Amalek. Moses, along with Aaron and Hur, go to the top of a hill to observe the battle. Moses held up his hands, and as he did so, Joshua prevailed over Amalek, but as Moses' hands became weary and he lowered them, the tide shifted and the battle swayed toward Amalek. But with the assistance of Aaron and Hur, his hands are supported until sundown, thus allowing Joshua to claim the victory for Israel. In this we see that Aaron's participation moved across a broad spectrum, from performing the mighty wonders of God before Pharaoh to the simple task of supporting the hands of Moses, thus showing the range of servitude of the man, Aaron.

Once the children of Israel arrived at the Mountain of Horeb, also known as Sinai, Moses is to once again present himself in the presence of God where he will receive the Ten Commandments. Aaron, as did all the tribes, witnessed the great thunder, lighting and quaking as the smoke covered the mountain as the Lord descended (Exodus 19). Then again in Exodus 24, Aaron, along with his two sons, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, are to go along with Moses, but cannot follow him all the way onto the mount. Yet, Aaron will be allowed to see and marvel at the glory of Jehovah from a distance. As Moses goes on to meet with the Lord, he instructs the elders to wait there, and should any problem arise, Aaron and Hur are there to address the issue. As will be seen, an issue does indeed arise that Aaron addresses, an issue that will cause God's wrath to be upon Israel.

As Moses is receiving the law from the Lord, Aaron's special purpose is revealed in Exodus 28. He is to minister to God as a priest, he and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. It must be noted that up until this time, the priestly functions (offerings, sacrifices) were performed by the patriarchs or fathers of the families, thus making Aaron the first high priest of the Israelites. He is to wear special clothing, meticulously crafted per the Lord's instruction. This clothing is to be "for glory and for beauty," not for Aaron's sake, but for Jehovah's. It is ironic, however, that during this time, while Moses is receiving instruction for Aaron's priestly destiny that Aaron harkens unto the people, showing his weakness and sinning before the Lord.

The incident now mentioned is found in Exodus 32. The people had become restless; Moses had been on the mountain for a long time (forty days and nights, Exodus 24:18), and perhaps the people believed he had been consumed on the mountain within the thunder, lighting and smoke. Their faith had waned and what else was there to do but to return to those things most familiar to them, idols (75). Remember, they had just come from a land filled with gods and their desire to worship had overtaken them. While in the land of Goshen they were surely exposed to the worship of Mnevis and Apis, both ox-like gods of the Egyptians (75).

As previously stated, Aaron had been left in charge of the people in the absence of Moses; therefore, they brought their complaint to him. It is believed by some commentators that Aaron's instruction to "Break off the golden earrings" and "bring them to me" was in fact an attempt by Aaron to stop the people's sin because of the fact that they would be unwilling to part with their valuables. But this was not the case, for the people freely gave the gold to Aaron, thus forcing his weakness in the act of constructing the molded calf. Through Aaron's instruction, we see that the purpose may not have been to "create" a god unto themselves, but rather to worship Jehovah through the image, this too being displeasing to the Lord (Matthew Henry's). It displeased God so that he was ready to destroy the people and was willing to make a new nation from Moses. But Moses intervenes; thus the Lord relented from the harm planned for his people (Exodus 32:14). In the following verses (21-24), we see the rebuke by Moses for Aaron's "people pleasing" actions. But as he describes the events leading up to the making of the idol, we are allowed to see a weakness within the personality of Aaron.

In order to continue this character study, one must now leave the Book of the Exodus, looking into the Book of Numbers the 12th Chapter where once again the sins of Aaron are made known. Aaron and Miriam are found here complaining, murmuring, even backbiting against Moses because he has taken a wife, a woman from Ethiopia. It is assumed that Zipporah, the first wife of Moses has died, thus his marriage to the Ethiopian woman (WebBible). But the Lord hears their complaining and is angered, thus taking vengeance on Moses' behalf, striking Miriam with leprosy. Once seeing the affliction of leprosy that has befallen her, Aaron is repentant, crying to Moses for mercy. Again, Moses intercedes and they are forgiven. But does this incident show once again the ease with which Aaron can be led into sin? Does he lack the fortitude to withstand temptation?

Some twenty years later (WebBible), Korah, Dathan and Abriam come together and stand at rebellion against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16). Complaining that Moses and Aaron had exalted themselves to a place of preeminence, this group set themselves up to receive the wrath of God, being swallowed up by the earth (verse 31); then the others were consumed by fire while fleeing. But the complaining continues as the whole congregation comes to Moses and Aaron, "You have killed the people of the Lord." Again the anger of the Lord is kindled against the people and he strikes them with a deadly disease. But at the command of Moses, Aaron intercedes, standing between the dead and the living, stopping the awful plague, but not before 14,700 people were killed.

The Lord speaks to Moses and presents a solution for the apparent constant complaint of the children of Israel that both Moses and Aaron were self-appointed heads of the Hebrew tribes. A rod or staff from each tribe was to be inscribed with the father's name, this included Aaron's name written on the rod of Levi and placed within the tabernacle. The next day, Aaron's rod had budded, come to life, with buds, blossoms and ripe almonds thus proving the divine appointment of the house of Levi to the priesthood. This rod would be kept in the tabernacle as a memorial.

Moses and Aaron once again find themselves at odds with the people in the Wilderness of Zin (Numbers 20). There in Kadesh, no water could be found for the people, and they had gathered themselves together to complain to Moses and Aaron. Because of the people's complaints, Moses and Aaron go to the tabernacle of meeting, fall on their faces and appeal to the Lord to provide relief for the Israelites. The Lord gives instruction to take the rod and speak to the rock and it would bring forth water. The people were gathered by the rock after which instead of speaking to the rock as he had been instructed, Moses struck it twice with the rod. Nevertheless it brought forth life-giving water, but not without a price.

The Lord speaks to Moses and because of his disobedience, he will not go into the land of promise. And what of Aaron? In Numbers 20:23-29 the fate of Aaron is sealed. The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and explains that Aaron too is implicated in Moses' sin at the rock. Could this mean that Aaron had the opportunity to correct Moses prior to his striking the rock? Perhaps, and if so this again gives us a glimpse of the same character flaw that was present at Sinai and in the murmurings of Numbers 12. This would lead one to think that Aaron had a passive nature, he was easy going and didn't want to go against the grain. This of course is all conjecture and has no scriptural basis in fact. The Lord foretells the death of Aaron in Numbers 20:24; there he is to be taken along with his son Eleazar to Mount Hor. Moses did as the Lord commanded and they went up to the Mount. There, Moses stripped Aaron of his priestly garments and placed them on Eleazar. Aaron dies there on the mountain and Moses and Eleazar come down from the mountain. The Scriptures tell us that once the house of Israel saw that Aaron was dead, a month-long period of mourning followed. The death of Aaron marked the end of the wanderings of the Israelites; from this point on, they either marched forward or halted but never wandered again (KJV Bible Commentary).

Lessons from the Life of Aaron

The apostle Paul wrote, "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Romans 15:4). And as we have studied through the preceding, the life of Aaron, the brother of Moses, the first high priest of Israel, we can see this teaching becoming quite evident. Though many lessons can be drawn from the experiences of Aaron, we will examine three points that we can apply to our lives in our daily walk in the light.

Aaron Used His Abilities

When we are introduced to Aaron in Exodus 4:14, we see him fulfilling a need through the use of his God-given abilities. Aaron was blessed with the talent of good speech, something Moses was apparently lacking; therefore, he became the spokesman, the voice of Moses. We never read of him wavering or being reluctant to use his ability to speak well. This talent was one that could be seen and heard by other men. Aaron no doubt received praise for his speaking ability, but we never read of such an incident. But on the other hand, we also have an example of his spirit of servitude, assisting Moses during the battle with Amalek (Exodus 17). Surely anyone could have done the simple task of holding up the arm of Moses as the battle was waged; surely the mighty "voice" of Israel could have found a nobler task. Yet, he supported Moses until the victory belonged to Israel. We again see Aaron using his serving spirit in performing the duties of the high priest. God undoubtedly chose Aaron because of his ability to carry out instructions to the finest detail, an ability required of one who would intercede for Israel in his priestly functions.

Through the example of Aaron, we must come to realize that the development and use of our abilities for the service of the Lord is of the utmost importance. Nowhere else in the New Testament is this teaching so evident than that which is shown in the "Parable of the Talents" found in Matthew 25. Just as the servants of the parable were given different amounts of money, you and I have been blessed with various degrees of ability. Whatever those abilities might be, we are obligated to the Lord to develop those abilities by using them in his service. Again, as the parable teaches, those who refuse to step up and take the risk and face the challenges that such endeavors require will find themselves "talentless" and un-useful. We all have our place in the Lord's church, whether we are a fine speaker like Aaron or a simple arm brace; God has placed us where it has pleased him (1 Corinthians 12). We must also remember that as we develop our gifts, we must do it with a mind of humility. It's true, some seem to have been overly blessed with talents and abilities, but we must remember that "to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48). Even though we will sometimes falter, just as Aaron, we must never surrender to those weak moments, but must continue to do the work of the Lord.

Aaron Chose the Popular Path

As previously discussed, Aaron apparently possessed a passive spirit, an attitude that caused him to choose the popular path, even though that path may very well have led him away from God. This attribute is most prevalent in the incident of the golden calf at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32). Aaron attempted to please the general population; the crowd wanted "something" to worship and Moses had apparently let them down by not returning to them. Aaron gave way to their desires. He made for them the molded calf and the people began to celebrate; oh how good Aaron must have felt to see the joy and jubilation of the people!

Is this not the attitude of those in religion and in the church today? As long as the majority desires it, as long as they are sincere in their desires, how can it be wrong? We now see onetime faithful Christians, church leaders and preachers who have given way to error simply because to refuse to do so would have resulted in displeasing the crowd. This should never be so. We know for a fact that the Lord himself said that the "narrow way" would not be the popular way. Jesus said, "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). The Lord knows that men will always want their ears tickled and scratched (2 Timothy 4:3) by preachers and teachers who want to please men rather than please God (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Yes, its true that to go against popular belief can cause us trouble and the masses will never be attracted to us, but we must stand for what is right and what is truthful. On the day of Judgment, there will be many, many people who followed the popular way of religion, doing many great and wonderful works. But the Lord will send them away because they followed there own thoughts rather than the pattern of God. Let us learn from Aaron, let us always choose the right direction and not the most popular one.

Aaron's Disobedience Caused Him to Lose the Promise

At the close of the life of Aaron, we see the result of his disobedience. Because of his part in the striking of the rock to bring water from it, he is refused entry into the Promised Land  (Numbers 20). It was a simple mistake, anyone could have made it. Yet, the results were devastating. Aaron would not live in the land that flowed with milk and honey; he would not see God's promise to Israel fulfilled. What lesson can we learn from Aaron's example? Simply this: we too can lose our promise of eternal life through our disobedience to God.

What a horrifying thought it is to think that we may never see Jesus, walk those streets of gold or live forever with the Lord and all the saints. Yet for many, this thought will become a stark reality. Even though many teach today that once we are a part of God's family we can never fall from that glorious status, the Scriptures say something completely different. For instance, James 5:19 tells us that if someone should turn away from the truth and we help him to turn back to it, we have saved a soul from death. Yes, some will depart from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1), and those who are not obedient and refuse to follow the Lord will find that the promise once given to them, indeed, will be taken away (2 Peter 2:20-21).Image  

Works Cited

Barnes Notes on the Old & New Testaments. Exodus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1942.

The KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville: Nelson, 1994.

Matthew Henry's Commentary. CD-ROM. 1994.

The New Harper's Bible Dictionary. 8th ed. 1973.

WebBible Encyclopedia. <>.

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