Biblical characters often have an impact far beyond their own story. The names, events, and lineages found in the Old Testament are often explored, or spoken of, in the pages of the New Testament. This can make it difficult to keep track of everyone in the bible, and why they are important to the faith. Aaron is a prime example of this. We often focus on Moses when we read the story of the Exodus. Moses is the man sent by God; Moses receives the law; Moses leads the Israelites to the Promised Land. It is Moses that is listed in the “Heroes of faith” of Hebrews 11. Aaron, on the other hand, is glaringly absent from this list. Aaron is relegated to sidekick status. He slides into the background.
Is this fair? After all, Aaron accompanied Moses into Egypt and aided in Israel’s liberation. Aaron co-leads the tribe through the desert and performs miracles and mighty feats of faith. Aaron is no mere sidekick. Below are 6 things that you should know about this important biblical character.
1. Aaron in the Bible Is Moses’ Older Brother
The book of Exodus begins with the Lord’s call for Moses to liberate Israel from their Egyptian slavedrivers. Moses, originally, rejects this divine commission. He believes himself to be of no importance, a man of slow speech (Exodus 4:10). After a lengthy discussion, Moses defiantly asks “Please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13). Not a stellar start for this hero of faith.
It is here where the Lord enlists Aaron, Moses’ brother (Exodus 4:14). Not much is known about him prior to this point. Yet several lineages detail how Aaron is the first male child of Amram and Jochebed (Exodus 6:20; 1st Chronicles 6:1-3). In fact, of the three siblings – Miriam, Aaron, and Moses – Moses is the youngest. Moses is the baby of the family.
Perhaps this gives rationale for Moses’ hesitancy to take up the call of God, and why the arrival of Aaron helped Moses accept this divine commission. The arrival of his older brother gave Moses the confidence to step out in faith. Knowing his older brother was there to support him, and speak for him, freed Moses to explore, and accept, the call of God.
2. Aaron Is the First Levitical Priest
At the beginning of the Exodus journey, Aaron is a support for Moses (see Exodus 17). At Mount Sinai, however, Aaron takes on the role of Israel’s priest. We read about this in Exodus 28. Here God commands Moses to “Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests” (28:1). From this point on, Aaron adopts a ministry that is uniquely his own. Furthermore, as Aaron is born of the tribe of Levi, this means he is the first Levitical priest on record.
As priest, it is Aaron who instructs Israel on how they are to approach the Lord in worship and prayer. Aaron becomes dressed in priestly garments containing the names of the sons of Israel. Aaron, quite literally, bears the Israelites upon his shoulders whenever he makes a sacrifice before the Lord (28:12). This is a profound image of the priestly role within the community of faith.
3. Aaron Struggles with Insecurity
Like all biblical characters, Aaron is unabashedly human. Despite being commissioned as priest for the people, Aaron is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Several instances of his life testify to an insecurity within him. At one point Aaron speaks against Moses stating, “has the Lord only spoken through Moses?” (Numbers 12:2). The older brother appears jealous of his younger brother’s popularity, and leadership.
Perhaps the largest testimony to his insecurity is in the case of the golden calf (Exodus 32). With Moses delayed at the top of the mountain, Aaron is requested to cast new gods for the people. Without hesitation, Aaron agrees. Was Aaron tired of being in the shadow of his younger brother? Was Aaron desperate to be liked? Whatever his reasons, Aaron casts the golden calf. Furthermore, he usurps the divine name and declares to the people “Here are your gods who lead you out of Egypt” (32:4). He then leads the people in a festival that includes all types of revelry.
Those who receive a divine commission from the Lord do not leave their flawed humanity behind. People of faith must constantly choose to obey the Lord as opposed to the voice of the crowd around us. Aaron reminds us that even those who have important roles in God’s unfolding plan of salvation need to adopt an attitude of humility, as we strive to remain true to the Lord’s calling.
4. Aaron’s Staff Was in the Ark of the Covenant
Grumbling was a common occurrence during the Exodus. As they journey through the desert, Israel grumbles about many things, the lack of food, the scarcity of water, the presence of enemies. At one point in their journey, however, a group of Levites revolt against Moses and Aaron believing that the two brothers have unduly exalted themselves. In response, the Lord instructs the heads of every family to inscribe their names on a staff and place them in the tent of meeting. Whichever staff blossoms would indicate the Lord’s calling to act as Israel’s priest. Aaron’s staff blossoms (Numbers 17:8). This budding staff is then placed in the ark of the covenant.
In total, three items are placed in the ark of the covenant: Manna, The 10 Commandments, and Aaron’s staff. Each item testifies to an important blessing within Israel’s Exodus journey. The manna declares God’s miraculous sustenance for the people, the tablets of the 10 commandments contain the divine law which would serve to govern their lives in the Promised Land, and Aaron’s staff testified to the spiritual priesthood the Lord raised up for the people. The fact that the symbol of Aaron’s priestly calling is placed alongside the divine Law and the miraculous manna is a testimony to the importance of this man for Israel’s history and the establishment of their religious sacrificial system.
5. John the Baptist Is “the New Aaron”
It can be easy to skip over the many genealogies contained in scripture. Largely they are filled with the names of people we never read about. These genealogies, however, are important to see how God uses particular people and families within the plan of salvation. This is no truer than when it comes to Aaron. The gospel of Luke records that John the baptizer is born to “a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and his wife Elizabeth, also a descendant of Aaron” (Luke 1:5). John stands in the line of the Levitical priesthood.
At his birth, Zechariah declares that John will “be the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him” (Luke 1:76). This verse describes John’s prophetic role. Importantly, Aaron is initially described as Moses’ prophet. The Lord says to Moses “your brother Aaron will be your prophet…your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country” (Exodus 7:1-2). Aaron heralds the salvation inaugurated by Moses.
The significance of this is easily missed today. Many scholars point out that the early church understood Jesus to be a “new Moses.” This goes back to the passage in Deuteronomy declaring that God would raise us “a prophet like Moses” to redeem the people (18:18). Jesus often articulates the themes and events of the Exodus, applying them to his messianic mission. It is thus not insignificant that the birth of the new Moses is preceded by the birth of a new Aaron. Just as Aaron was the prophet to Moses, John becomes the prophet who heralds the salvation inaugurated by Christ.
6. Aaron’s Blessing in the Bible Is Still Used Today
Perhaps the biggest legacy of Aaron’s life and ministry is the blessing attached to his name. As a Levitical priest, Aaron oversees the religious life of Israel. He does not merely perform the sacrifices; he also blesses the people. Aaron is instructed in the precise words he is to use for this blessing. “Aaron’s Blessing” is found in Numbers 6:22-26.
“The Lord Bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.”
This blessing is theologically rich and spiritually encouraging. The profound thing about this blessing is that it is still used today. These verses have found their way into modern praise songs and traditional hymnody. Furthermore, many priests and pastors use this blessing as the benediction for their Sunday services. This blessing is not simply a quaint text of the past. It is a powerful invocation of God’s activity for our lives. Even today these words convey God’s blessing upon the beloved community of faith.
Aaron is not simply the sidekick to Moses. He is a person with a ministry, and an impact, all his own. Yes, he is a flawed person, imperfect, and easily swayed by his own insecurity. Yet more than anything, Aaron’s life provides a vision of what ministry before the Lord is to look like. From bearing the names of the congregation upon his shoulders, announcing the dawning redemption, to blessing the people with divine words, Aaron is a wonderful example for all who would embrace the call to service, love, and ministry.