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Who was Aaron in the Bible?

Aaron was the older brother of Moses. Although they grew up in very different circumstances, God reunited them later in life. Together they led the Hebrews out of Egypt and to the Promised Land.

Aaron was three years older than Moses (Exodus 7:7) and likely born before Pharaoh's decree to kill all newborn male babies in the Hebrew community (Exodus 1:15–22). There is no mention of his early life in the Bible, but he would have grown up as a slave among the Hebrew people. Aaron first appears in Scripture when he is around eighty-three years old. At the time, he is respected by his people, aware of their suffering, and desiring to help them. God speaks to him saying, "Go into the wilderness to meet Moses" (Exodus 4:27). Regardless of what Aaron may have thought about his Egyptian-raised, murderous younger brother who had become a fugitive shepherd, Aaron obeyed God and went out to meet Moses.

Moses told Aaron all God had told him at the burning bush. The two brothers then "gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed" (Exodus 4:29–31). God chose Aaron to act as Moses' spokesperson as he confronted Pharaoh and brought the plagues upon Egypt. His staff was used multiple times to carry out miracles in front of both the Hebrews and Pharaoh. He also acted as an intermediary between Moses and the Hebrews. Throughout all of the plagues Aaron stood faithfully beside Moses, trusting in God and encouraging the Hebrews to trust Him as well.

Once the Hebrews escaped from Egypt, Aaron continued to assist Moses in communicating with and leading the nation of Israel. Aaron was the one who called the people before the LORD and He appeared to them in a cloud and blessed them with quail and manna (Exodus 16). During a battle with the Amalekites, the Israelites experienced victory when Moses' arms were raised. Moses became exhausted, so Aaron and Hur each held up one of his arms (Exodus 17:8–16). Aaron was a faithful helper to Moses and committed to his people.

Aaron's most important role in the Israelite camp was as high priest. God instructed Moses to anoint Aaron and his family to serve as priests in the tabernacle and later the temple (Exodus 28—19). The Levite tribe would be responsible for maintaining the dwelling place of God's Spirit within the camp and atoning for the sins of the nation through the sacrificial rituals. All the priests were to be from the tribe of Levi, as Moses and Aaron were. The high priests were to come from Aaron's family line, specifically. The Levites served this way until the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70.

During the rebellion of Korah some of the Israelites rejected the leadership of Moses and Aaron. They wanted to be priests as well. The next day a test was set up to demonstrate whom the Lord had chosen. The rebels were swallowed up by the earth in God's judgment. But other Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron. God was prepared to consume them all, but Moses instructed Aaron to make atonement for the people and the plague stopped. Then God told Moses to take staffs from each of the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel and put them in the tent of meeting; the staff that sprouted would be from the man God had chosen. God performed a miracle, and almond blossoms sprouted from Aaron's staff, thus confirming the Aaronic and Levitical priesthoods (Numbers 17:1–13).

While Aaron obediently followed God throughout most of his life, he also had moments where he strayed far from the right path. Following the deliverance from Egypt, Moses put Aaron in charge of leading the nation of Israel as God gave Moses the Law on Mount Sinai. At a time when the people should have been worshipping God in thanksgiving, they were doubting and regressing to their sinful ways. Aaron should have been directing them back towards the truth, but instead began to doubt as well. Fearing the people, he submitted to their complaints and built a golden calf for them to worship in place of God. Aaron allowed sin and chaos to enter the camp (Exodus 32).

Later, Aaron and his sister Miriam "spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, 'Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?'" (Numbers 12:1–2). They were filled with pride. God called all three siblings outside of the camp to confront Aaron and Miriam. When the cloud of God's presence moved, Miriam had leprosy. Aaron immediately repented and asked Moses to pray that Miriam would be healed. She had to wait outside the camp for seven days, but then she was restored (Numbers 12).

Aaron's sons followed him into the priesthood, but two of his sons, Nadab and Abihu, disobeyed God's commandments for handling the sacrifices and were struck dead. Aaron, however, was not angry with God, but submitted to Him, knowing that his sons had sinned and God's justice is right (Leviticus 10).

Aaron's apparently quick obedience to God's initial call to join Moses in leading the Israelites out of Egypt and his faithfulness during the long years of wilderness are exemplary. Certainly Aaron fell in many ways; he sinned, as do all humans. But Aaron also repented. Neither Moses nor Aaron was permitted to enter the Promised Land due to their sin at Meribah (Numbers 20:2–13), yet it did not take away Aaron's family's right to the priesthood. As Aaron was dying, he climbed up Mount Hor with Moses and there the role of high priest was bestowed on Aaron's son Eleazer (Numbers 20:22–29).

The New Testament book of Hebrews talks at length about the differences between the Levitical priesthood and the priesthood of Jesus. Jesus is the only perfect High Priest. He was sinless and His sacrifice was made once and is complete (Hebrews 4—10). Jesus accomplished what Aaron's priesthood was never intended to. Aaron is a demonstration both of what it looks like to follow God and what it looks like to disobey. In his sin, Aaron brought destruction upon himself and caused others to stumble. Aaron's sin highlights for us the holiness of God and our need for lasting atonement. However, in his obedience Aaron led others towards freedom, turning their hearts to repentance as he was a faithful witness to God. In Aaron's life we understand that we will never be holy apart from God; we see how prone humans are to fall, even when we've witnessed God in mighty ways. We also see how faithful God is to restore. Aaron repented and matured. He was vital to the exodus of the Israelites and the leadership of the people. Ultimately Aaron filled the role God gave him. Aaron's life exemplifies to us God's holiness and His grace.


Related Truth:

Who was Moses in the Bible?

Who was Miriam in the Bible?

How is Jesus our High Priest?

What is the basic timeline of the Old Testament?

Why is knowing about the various characters in the Bible important?


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