AARON (âr'ŭn, Heb. ’ahărôn, meaning uncertain). The oldest son of Amram and Jochebed, of the tribe of Levi, and brother of Moses and Miriam (Exod.6.2; Num.26.59). He was born during the captivity in Egypt, before Pharaoh’s edict that all male infants should be destroyed, and was three years older than Moses (Exod.7.7). His name first appears in God’s commission to Moses. When Moses protested that he did not have sufficient ability in public speaking to undertake the mission to Pharaoh, God declared that Aaron should be spokesman for his brother (Exod.4.10-Exod.4.16). So Aaron met Moses at “the mountain of God” (Exod.4.27) after forty years’ separation, and took him back to the family home in Goshen. Aaron introduced him to the elders of the people and persuaded them to accept him as their leader. Together Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh’s court, where they carried on the negotiations that finally brought an end to the oppression of the Israelites and precipitated the Exodus from Egypt.
During Moses’ forty years in the wilderness Aaron had married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, a prince of the tribe of Judah (Exod.6.23; 1Chr.2.10). They had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar (Exod.6.23).
After Israel left Egypt, Aaron assisted his brother during the wandering in the wilderness. On the way to Sinai, in the battle with Amalek, Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands (Exod.17.9-Exod.17.13), in which was the staff of God. Israel consequently won the battle. With the establishment of the tabernacle, Aaron became high priest in charge of the national worship and the head of the hereditary priesthood.
In character he was weak and occasionally jealous. He and Miriam criticized Moses for having married a Cushite woman (Num.12.1-Num.12.2). This may have been an intentionally insulting reference to Zipporah. (See Hab.3.7 for a linking of Midian and Cush; Zipporah is always elsewhere described as a Midianite.) Behind this personal slight lies a more serious threat to Moses’ position. Aaron was high priest and thus the supreme religious leader of Israel; Miriam was a prophetess (Exod.15.20). The great issue is not whom Moses had married but whether Moses could any longer be considered the sole, authoritative mouthpiece of God. As Aaron and Miriam said, “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Num.12.2). It is in the light of this basic challenge to Moses’ God-given status that we must understand and appreciate the prompt and dramatic response of the Lord (Num.12.4ff.).
We may further note that Aaron’s own authority as priest did not go unchallenged. It becomes clear that when Korah and his company (Num.16.1-Num.16.50) challenged Moses’ leadership, Aaron’s priesthood was also called into question. By the miraculous sign of the flowering and fruitbearing staff, the Lord identified Aaron as his chosen priest (Num.17.1-Num.17.9) and accorded him a perpetual priesthood by ordering his staff to be deposited in the sanctuary (Num.17.10).
When Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the tables of the law from God, Aaron acceded to the people’s demand for a visible god that they could worship. Taking their personal jewelry, he melted it in a furnace and made a golden calf similar to the familiar bull-god of Egypt. The people hailed this image as the god who had brought them out of Egypt. Aaron did not remonstrate with them but built an altar and proclaimed a feast to the Lord on the next day, which the people celebrated with revelry and debauchery (Exod.32.1-Exod.32.6). When Moses returned from the mountain and rebuked Aaron for aiding this abuse, Aaron gave this naïve answer: “They gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (Exod.32.24). It may be that Aaron meant to restrain the people by a compromise, but he was wholly unsuccessful.
Much is made of the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests. The “dignity and honor” (Exod.28.2) of their office was expressed in garments of great beauty and significance: the breastpiece, ephod, robe, tunic, turban, and sash. The ceremony of appointment is described in Exod.29.1-Exod.29.46 and enacted in Lev.8.1-Lev.8.36. It involved offering a sin offering and a burnt offering on behalf of the priests-to-be (Exod.29.10-Exod.29.14, Exod.29.15-Exod.29.18), for though they were priests, they were first of all sinners needing the grace of God in atonement (Heb.5.2-Heb.5.3).
The consecration included three special ceremonies: (1) their ears, hands, and feet were touched with the blood of a ram, signifying the hallowing of the mind and of the acts and directions of life (what they would hear, what they would do, where they would go), respectively (Exod.29.19-Exod.29.20); (2) they were anointed with oil mingled with the sacrificial blood, symbolizing the grace of God in atonement (blood) and endowment (oil) (Exod.29.21); (3) their hands were filled with some of the fat of the slain beasts along with various sorts of bread, and the whole was lifted up in offering to the Lord (Exod.29.22-Exod.29.23). Just as we say that a busy person “has his hands full,” so they consecrated the whole business of living—life’s special duties, seen in the fat of the sacrifices; life’s ordinary cares and needs, seen in the bread—to the Lord. After eight days (Lev.9.1) Aaron and his sons entered their public ministry, offering the sin offering, burnt offering, and fellowship offering on behalf of the people. This first act of ministry received divine ratification in the appearing of the glory of the Lord and the fire of God that fell on the offering (Lev.9.23-Lev.9.24).
At the end of the wilderness wandering, Aaron was warned of his impending death. He and Moses went up Mount Hor, where Aaron was stripped of his priestly robes, which passed in succession to his son Eleazar. Aaron died at the age of 123 and was buried on the mountain (Num.20.22-Num.20.29; Num.33.38; Deut.10.6; Deut.32.50). The people mourned for him thirty days.
The Psalms speak of the priestly line as the “house of Aaron” (Ps.115.10, Ps.115.12; Ps.118.3; Ps.135.19), and Aaron is mentioned in the Book of Hebrews as a type of Christ, who was “called by God, just as Aaron was” (Heb.5.4-Heb.5.5), though the eternal priesthood of Christ is stated explicitly to be derived from Melchizedek and not from Aaron (Heb.7.11).——SB and JAM
AARON ā rŏn (אַהֲרוֹן, H195, LXX ̓Ααρών, G2). The meaning of the name is unknown, as is the case with many Biblical names. A connection with “ark” (’aron) is quite improbable, as are also “mountaineer” (from har, “mountain”), “illumined” (from ’or, “light”). The ending ōn occurs frequently with personal names. This particular name was borne only by Moses’ brother. No explanation or interpretation of it was given in Scripture, which may indicate that, unlike Moses (Exod 2:10), his name had no special significance.
The subordinate role of Aaron, as compared with Moses, is indicated clearly. He was completely ignored until Moses showed almost insuperable unwillingness to obey God’s call to be the deliverer of Israel. “Is there not Aaron your brother, the Levite?” (Exod 4:14, following the word order of the Heb.). The phrasing of the question is remarkable. “Your brother,” indicates that Aaron owed his position primarily to his relationship to Moses. Kinship and descent played a prominent role in Bible history. Aaron was called Moses’ brother eleven times. He was eighty-three years old at this time (Exod 7:7) and the designation, “the Levite,” suggests that he occupied a prominent position in this particular tribe of the enslaved Israelites. What it was is unknown; the text simply says that his ready tongue (Heb., “he can certainly talk”) would make up for Moses’ slowness of speech (Heb. “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue”).
Aaron and the Exodus.
Aaron was constantly associated with Moses in performing the mighty acts which brought about the deliverance (Exod 5-13). The rod as the symbol of authority was sometimes wielded by Aaron. God frequently spoke to both Moses and Aaron, rarely to Aaron alone. Aaron had no part in the giving of the law, but he and his two elder sons, with the seventy elders, witnessed the divine self-manifestation and ate and drank in God’s presence (Exod 24:9-11).
Aaron and the Tabernacle.
Aaron nad nothing to do with the construction of the Tabernacle or the making of the Ark and the sacred vessels. Everything was made, including the vestments of Aaron and his sons, by Bezaleel of Judah and Aholiab of Dan (Exod 31:1-6) and by the willing-hearted among the people (Exod 35:21-35), “as the Lord had commanded...” (Exod 39:43).
Aaron and the priesthood.
The rite in which Aaron as high priest and the high priests who followed him played a distinctive role was the ceremony of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) (Lev 16) when the high priest made atonement for the Tabernacle, the priests and the children of Israel “for all their sins once a year” (v. 34 KJV). The “all” refers principally to sins of ignorance or inadvertence (Num 15:22-29), since for sins of presumption, the sins of the “high hand,” the penalty was death (vv. 30-36).
Aaron vigorously opposed the people at Kadesh-barnea when they refused to go forward to possess the land (Num 14:5), and the Levites had no representative among the twelve spies, from which one may infer that the priests and the Levites were not included in “the generation of wrath” which was condemned to perish in the wilderness for its disobedience and unbelief (vv. 26-38). The rebellion of the Levite, Korah (Num 16) was directed against the exclusive authority of Moses and Aaron, and Aaron was instrumental in the staying of the plague which followed (vv. 46-50). The ritual of the red heifer providing for the purification from uncleanness was the last of the ritual ordinances instituted in the lifetime of Aaron (Num 19).
Aaron’s life had a tragic ending. The sojourn in the wilderness of Zin (Num 20:1) led to one more of the many murmurings of the Israelites, no water! Moses and Aaron were encouraged by the sight of the glory of God (v. 6). They were then commanded to take the rod, to assemble the people and to “speak” to the rock. Instead “he,” Aaron, said to the people, “‘Hear now, ye rebels, is it from this rock we shall bring forth for you water?’ And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice, much water came forth and the congregation drank and their cattle” (Heb.). Then one reads, “And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore....’” The chapter closes with a brief account of Eleazar’s investiture with Aaron’s high-priestly garments, and with Aaron’s death. The narrative makes it quite plain that both Moses and Aaron were involved in this sin of presumption or self-assertion, and this incident serves as a solemn warning to all servants of God, lest they take to themselves the credit for the “mighty works” which God accomplishes through them.
Aaron the man.
If one reads the character of this brother of Moses correctly, he sees that Aaron owed his exalted position to two things, a ready tongue and his kinship to Moses. Aaron’s character must be estimated by two incidents, the first was the supreme test of his life, i.e. the golden calf. Aaron had heard the Decalogue with its “shalt nots” proclaimed by the voice of God. He had “seen God” and had taken part in a sacramental feast (Exod 24:9-14). His brother had gone up into the mountain to commune with God; Aaron and Hur were left in charge. The people, impatient at Moses’ long absence of forty days, demanded gods. Aaron asked for the gold needed to make them. He made an idol of a calf and built an altar for it. Then he announced a feast in honor of Jehovah even though He had prohibited idolatry. When confronted by the fiery wrath of Moses, he laid the blame on the people and disclaimed all responsibility for the shape assumed by the molten image (32:22-24). He expressed no remorse for the “great sin” (vv. 30f.) into which he had led the people; it was only Moses’ intercession (Deut 9:12, 16, 20), not his own repentance, which saved him from the death penalty, which he perhaps deserved more than did the three thousand who perished for, and in, their iniquity.
Aaron, the disloyal brother.
Aaron was apparently fully aware that he owed his exalted position to the fact that he was Moses’ brother. He even called Moses “lord” (Exod 32:22; Num 12:11). Yet he could not entirely forget that he and Miriam were both older than Moses. Hence, on one occasion they followed the example set them by the people who murmured against Moses (Num 12). The occasion was a personal or family matter, Moses’ marrying a Cushite woman. As in many other instances, the Bible states the fact without explanation or argument. Who the woman was, why Moses married her, what had become of Zipporah, were not told. Miriam and Aaron found in this circumstance an occasion or pretext for challenging Moses’ unique authority. The Lord intervened directly and summarily, rebuked Miriam and Aaron, and even smote Miriam with leprosy, the removal of which was granted only in response to Moses’ prayer, at Aaron’s plea. Aaron was not a real leader of men. He owed his position to his kinship to Moses and he needed the support of that wonderful brother to qualify him as high priest.
Aaron and the critics.
G. F. Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament (1883); J. Orr, Problem of the Old Testament (1909), 180ff.; S. R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (1910), 22-69; W. E. Addis, art., “Aaron” in EBi (1914); E. S. Brightman, The Sources of the Hexateuch (1918), 82, 208; O. T. Allis, The Five Books of Moses (1949), 191ff.; J. Bright, A History of Israel (1959).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
ar’-un, sometimes pronounced ar’on (’aharon--Septuagint Aaron, meaning uncertain: Gesenius suggests "mountaineer"; Furst, "enlightened"; others give "rich," "fluent." Cheyne mentions Redslob’s "ingenious conjecture" of ha-’aron--"the ark"--with its mythical, priestly significance, Encyclopedia Biblica under the word):
2. Becomes Moses’ Assistant: When Moses fled from Egypt, Aaron remained to share the hardships of his people, and possibly to render them some service; for we are told that Moses entreated of God his brother’s cooperation in his mission to Pharaoh and to Israel, and that Aaron went out to meet his returning brother, as the time of deliverance drew near (Ex 4:27). While Moses, whose great gifts lay along other lines, was slow of speech (Ex 4:10), Aaron was a ready spokesman, and became his brother’s representative, being called his "mouth" (Ex 4:16) and his "prophet" (Ex 7:1). After their meeting in the wilderness the two brothers returned together to Egypt on the hazardous mission to which Yahweh had called them (Ex 4:27-31). At first they appealed to their own nation, recalling the ancient promises and declaring the imminent deliverance, Aaron being the spokesman. But the heart of the people, hopeless by reason of the hard bondage and heavy with the care of material things, did not incline to them. The two brothers then forced the issue by appealing directly to Pharaoh himself, Aaron still speaking for his brother (Ex 6:10-13). He also performed, at Moses’ direction, the miracles which confounded Pharaoh and his magicians. With Hur, he held up Moses hands, in order that the `rod of God might be lifted up,’ during the fight with Amalek (Ex 17:10,12).
3. An Elder: Aaron next comes into prominence when at Sinai he is one of the elders and representatives of his tribe to approach nearer to the Mount than the people in general were allowed to do, and to see the manifested glory of God (Ex 24:1,9,10). A few days later, when Moses, attended by his "minister" Joshua, went up into the mountain, Aaron exercised some kind of headship over the people in his absence. Despairing of seeing again their leader, who had disappeared into the mystery of communion with the invisible God, they appealed to Aaron to prepare them more tangible gods, and to lead them back to Egypt (Ex 32). Aaron never appears as the strong, heroic character which his brother was; and here at Sinai he revealed his weaker nature, yielding to the demands of the people and permitting the making of the golden bullock. That he must however have yielded reluctantly, is evident from the ready zeal of his tribesmen, whose leader he was, to stay and to avenge the apostasy by rushing to arms and falling mightily upon the idolaters at the call of Moses (Ex 32:26-28).
4. High Priest: In connection with the planning and erection of the tabernacle ("the Tent"), Aaron and his sons being chosen for the official priesthood, elaborate and symbolical vestments were prepared for them (Ex 28); and after the erection and dedication of the tabernacle, he and his sons were formally inducted into the sacred office (Le 8). It appears that Aaron alone was anointed with the holy oil (Le 8:12), but his sons were included with him in the duty of caring for sacrificial rites and things. They served in receiving and presenting the various offerings, and could enter and serve in the first chamber of the tabernacle; but Aaron alone, the high priest, the Mediator of the Old Covenant, could enter into the Holy of Holies, and that only once a year, on the great Day of Atonement (Le 16:12-14).
5. Rebels Against Moses: After the departure of Israel from Sinai, Aaron joined his sister Miriam in a protest against the authority of Moses (Nu 12), which they asserted to be self-assumed. For this rebellion Miriam was smitten with leprosy, but was made whole again, when, at the pleading of Aaron, Moses interceded with God for her. The sacred office of Aaron, requiring physical, moral and ceremonial cleanness of the strictest order, seems to have made him immune from this form of punishment. Somewhat later (Nu 16) he himself, along with Moses, became the object of a revolt of his own tribe in conspiracy with leaders of Da and Reuben. This rebellion was subdued and the authority of Moses and Aaron vindicated by the miraculous overthrow of the rebels. As they were being destroyed by the plague, Aaron, at Moses’ command, rushed into their midst with the lighted censer, and the destruction was stayed. The Divine will in choosing Aaron and his family to the priesthood was then fully attested by the miraculous budding of his rod, when, together with rods representing the other tribes, it was placed and left overnight in the sanctuary (Nu 17). See Aaron's Rod.
7. Priestly Succession: Aaron married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, and sister of Nahshon, prince of the tribe of Judah, who bore him four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. The sacrilegious act and consequent judicial death of Nadab and Abihu are recorded in Le 10. Eleazar and Ithamar were more pious and reverent; and from them descended the long line of priests to whom was committed the ceremonial law of Israel, the succession changing from one branch to the other with certain crises in the nation. At his death Aaron was succeeded by his oldest living son, Eleazar (Nu 20:28; De 10:6).