Aaron: The Older Brother of Moses and The First High Priest of Israel

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The story of Aaron’s journey from slave to voice of God and the first high priest of Israel is probably one of the strangest series of events in the Bible. When scripture introduces an important person, there is usually some kind of back story. While there are a few exceptions to these brief back stories, Aaron is the one that stands out the most.

When Was Aaron Born?

Aaron, Miriam, and Moses were the children of Amram and Jochebed. When Aaron age is first mentioned in scripture, we’re told that he was 83 years old.

“And Moses was fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh.” – Exodus 7:7

Aaron being three years older than Moses means that he was born three years prior to or just as the Hebrews being put under bondage in Egypt. Knowing Aaron’s age also gives us a bit more insight that points to Miriam being the oldest of the three.

It was Miriam that followed the new born Moses down the river until he was found by the daughter of Pharaoh. Since it was Miriam that suggested their mother Jochebed nurse him, she was likely old enough to be taken seriously. If this was the case, it would make Miriam the oldest, Aaron the middle child, and Moses the youngest of the three.

What Did Aaron Look Like?

We’re never given a description of Aaron, but we know that Moses was mistaken for an Egyptian. It is very likely that he was similar in skin color to Moses, and would’ve been mistaken as an Egyptian as well.

Aaron and The Burning Bush

When the Lord first appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses came up with multiple excuses as to why he couldn’t do what God was asking of him. One of those excuses was being “slow of speech”.

“And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” – Exodus 4:10

After a very short back and forth with Moses, God gets angry and inserts Aaron into the story as his new spokesperson.

“And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart. 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, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.” – Exodus 4:14

Once the hierarchy of God, Moses, and Aaron is laid out, we are then given a little more insight into the calling of Aaron.

The Lord Calls Aaron

There’s only one sentence that deals with the calling of Aaron, but we get a lot of insight into why God chose Aaron to speak on Moses’ behalf.

And the LORD said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him.” – Exodus 4:27

In this single sentence we see a few differences emerge between Aaron and Moses

  • Moses argued with God, but Aaron did not.
  • Moses angered God, but Aaron did not.
  • Moses hesitated to go, but Aaron did not.

Upon meeting Moses, Aaron still doesn’t ask any questions. He just repeated what Moses told him and performed the miracles as instructed:

And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD who had sent him, and all the signs which he had commanded him. And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel: And Aaron spake all the words which the LORD had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed: and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped.” – Exodus 4:28-31

Aaron and Pharaoh

We’ve looked at Exodus 7:7 which tells us that Aaron was 83 years old when he first spoke to Pharaoh, which older, but not as old was we might think in today’s context. At that time, people were still living to be 120+ easily. After their first encounter with Pharaoh, the people were punished, and as a result confronted the pair.

And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh: And they said unto them, The LORD look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us.” – Exodus 5:20-21

This confrontation caused Moses to ask God why he even bothered to send them if he wasn’t going to free them (Exodus 5:22-23).

The Miracles of Aaron – Staff Turned Into A Serpent

Most prophets have miracles recorded in the pages of scripture and Aaron is no different, but the circumstances under which he performed the miracles is what makes his story different:

And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.” – Exodus 7:10-12

Unlike many other prophets, Moses was the one telling Aaron which miracles to perform, when to perform them, and how to perform them.

The Miracles of Aaron – Water Turned To Blood

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.” – Exodus 7:19

The Miracles of Aaron – The Plague of Frogs

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 8:5-6

The Miracles of Aaron – The Plague of Lice

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt. And they did so; for Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 8:16-17

As we read through the plagues of Egypt we see that Moses performed a few, Aaron performed a few, and in the case of the boils, Aaron handed Moses the ashes as a co-miracle. When we see movies and TV shows depicting Moses doing all of the talking and miracles, we know that it is only half accurate. Aaron was a very important part of the Exodus story.

And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.” – Exodus 11:10

Aaron The First High Priest

The first time Aaron is referred to as a priest is during the instructions for the creation of priestly garments. The list of priests garments can be found in Exodus 28

“And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.” – Exodus 28:4

The creation of the objects was assigned to Bazaleel from the tribe of Judah and Aholiab from the tribe of Dan.

“And the cloths of service, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, to minister in the priest’s office…” – Exodus 31:10

As priests, Aaron and his sons were placed in charge of keeping the temple, carrying out sacrifices, and acting as advisors in spiritual matters.

Aaron and The Golden Calf

Even though Aaron spoke for Moses, he is more famous for building the Golden Calf while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the commandments from God.

“And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 32:1-4

Here we see that Aaron is an active participant in the making of the golden calf. There is no attempt to calm the people down or prevent them from wanting to follow new gods. In fact, it is Aaron that suggests making the idol of gold, and it is Aaron that fashions the calf himself.

And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them? And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off.So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.” – Exodus 32:21-24

Upon being questioned by Moses, Aaron quickly placed the blame on the people, and then acted as though he didn’t shape the calf himself by presenting the story as if the calf just came out of the fire that way. This exchange offers two possible insights into Aaron:

  • He may have been a people pleaser. When God called him he went without question. When Moses instructed him to do something he did it without question. When Miriam asked him to confront Moses with her he did it without question. And when the people wanted a new god he made one without question.
  • Aaron fashioned the calf out of molten gold with his own tools, which may indicate that Aaron’s occupation in Egypt may have been blacksmith or something very closely related. Metal working is a skill that has to be developed over time.

Another often overlooked element to the calf worship was that Aaron made the people get naked, dance, and sing to the calf. Throughout the Bible, there is the theme of a sexual component involved with the worship of pagan gods. The Hebrew word used to reference this activity is zanah and the Greek word is porneia, both of which are translated as “fornication” in the King James Bible.

“And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)” – Exodus 32:25

Because of his failure in leadership and decision to make a golden calf, three thousand men were slain for worshiping the golden calf (Exodus 32:28).

Aaron and Miriam Confront Moses

The Bible doesn’t tell us how Moses met an Ethiopian woman or when they got married, but she was likely part of the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt with Israel (Exodus 12:38). Based on how the rest of the story goes down, it would seem that Miriam was the one that wanted to confront Moses, and Aaron went with her because she asked.

And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it. (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.) And the LORD spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out.” – Numbers 12:1-4

There are quite a few things that we don’t know based on the text that we do have:

  • What issue did Miriam and Aaron have with Moses’ new wife?
  • Were they going to attempt to pretend that God was speaking through them to Moses?
  • Was Moses too intimidated by his older siblings to speak up in his own defense?

Whatever issue Miriam and Aaron have with Moses’ new wife is never addressed. God also seems to ignore that issue of Moses marrying an Ethiopian woman, and instead addresses the issue of Miriam and Aaron pretending to speak on his behalf. This is speculation, but based on the context of what Miriam and Aaron said to themselves, it seems as though they were going to feed Moses false information as if it had come from God. Also, the fact that God points out that if he has anything to say to Moses, he’ll speak to him personally, seems to point to their intentions of giving Moses a false message, based on whatever personal issues they had with his Ethiopian wife.

Who Was Aaron’s Wife?

When we study people in the Bible, women are often the most overlooked, but in this case it’s interesting to dig into the lineage of Aaron’s wife.

And Aaron took him Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon, to wife; and she bare him Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.” – Exodus 6:23

Aaron’s wife Elisheba was from the tribe of Judah, but more specifically, she is from the lineage of Christ.

The Family of Elisheba
  • Grandfather: Ram
  • Father: Amminadab
  • Brother: Naashon

It is in the book of Ruth that all of these names are given messianic significance.

“Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.” – Ruth 4:18-22

Other than knowing which line Elisheba was from, the Bible doesn’t say anything else about her except the names of her sons.

Who Were Aaron’s Sons?

In Exodus 6:23 we learn the names of Aaron’s sons:

  1. Nadab
  2. Abihu
  3. Eleazar
  4. Ithamar

How Did Aaron Die?

Because Aaron had quite a few short comings as the first high priest of Israel, he was not permitted to enter the Promised Land. Before he died, God appointed Aaron’s son Eleazar as the new High Priest of Israel.

Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor: And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there. And Moses did as the LORD commanded: and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount. And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” – Numbers 20:25-29

Later in the Bible we’re told that Aaron was 123 years old when he died.

“And Aaron was an hundred and twenty and three years old when he died in mount Hor.” – Numbers 33:39

Suggested Reading – The Family of Aaron

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By Black History In The Bible

"And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God." - John 8:45-47

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