Watch Mass Online

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages

Who was Aaron in the Bible?

Though many accounts of the Israelites’ flight from Egypt focus on the leadership of Moses, his younger brother Aaron also played an instrumental role in their journey to the Promised Land. Not only did Aaron serve as Moses’s spokesman when they petitioned Pharaoh to free the Israelites, but he also served as the high priest for God’s people. In this latest installment of our Biblical Figures series, learn how Aaron’s failings and triumphs show us that God can use even the weakest of leaders for His purposes.

God Calls Aaron to Serve

Aaron in Crypt Church stained glass
Aaron in Crypt Church stained glass

When Moses protested to God that he was slow of speech, God called Aaron to serve alongside him. Exodus 4:28-31 describes how Moses met Aaron at the mountain of God:

“Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which He had sent him, and all the signs that He had commanded him to do. Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; and Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs in the sight of the people. So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed low and worshiped.” 

Aaron and Moses Plead with Pharoah

Together, Aaron and Moses came before Pharoah on behalf of the Israelites, beseeching him to free them. The Lord warned them that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart and commanded them to speak as He directed. Additionally, he gave Aaron a miracle to perform before Pharaoh: his staff turned into a serpent and swallowed those of Pharaoh’s wise men. Aaron continued to follow the Lord’s instructions, and as they pleaded with Pharoah, Egypt was struck with a series of 10 plagues before Pharaoh finally relented. God also gave Moses and Aaron the institute of the Passover as a sign to His people.

Aaron Makes the Golden Calf

Moses mosaic
Moses on Mt. Sinai portrayed in the Descent of the Holy Spirit Chapel in the Great Upper Church

As God continued to provide for the Israelites, Aaron soon found his greatest difficulty lay not in standing up to the Egyptians, but his own people. After the final plague, the Israelites left Egypt, and were pursued by the Egyptians, whom the Lord drowned in the Red Sea. He provided food and water for the Israelites in the wilderness, but they constantly complained. When Moses went up onto Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, they came to Aaron with their gold and convinced him to construct a golden calf, which they worshipped. Though Aaron claimed he was honoring God in his actions, in reality, he was afraid to defy the people. Moses came down from the mountain, and in his anger, destroyed the tablets of the Ten Commandments and ground the statue into powder.

In this interaction, we see the difference between the Moses’s and Aaron’s relationship with God; though Aaron had faith, he was not as strong in his knowledge and fear of God as Moses. As Deuteronomy 34:10-12 says of Moses:

Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and wonders the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his servants and against all his land, and all the great might and the awesome power that Moses displayed in the sight of all Israel.

Aaron Serves as Priest

Despite Aaron’s great failures, God still appointed him and his sons to serve as priests. As part of his duties, Aaron made intercession for the people before God, and was permitted to come into the Holy of Holies once a year.

The Lord also gave a special blessing for Aaron and his sons to use for His people in Numbers 6:24-26:

The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!

Sadly, the high calling of the priesthood was not adequately served by Aaron’s sons, whose failure to rightly perform their duties cost them their lives.

After Korah’s rebellion, the Israelites bristled under the authority of Moses and Aaron, but the Lord affirmed Aaron’s leadership to the people. Aaron’s staff was put at the head of the tabernacle with those of the leaders of the other tribes, and it budded as a sign that the Lord had still chosen him for the priesthood.

Moses depicted striking the rock in the Crypt Church
Moses depicted striking the rock in the Crypt Church

Aaron Is Kept from the Promised Land

Unfortunately, Aaron would never see the Promised Land. After God led the Israelites out of Egypt, they stopped at Meribah, where the Lord instructed Moses and Aaron to speak to the rock so that it might produce water. However, Moses struck the rock, and the Lord punished them for their unbelief as a result.

When the Israelites came to Mount Hor, the Lord directed Moses to put Aaron’s garments on his son, Eleazar, and Aaron died on top of the mountain at the age of 123.

What We Can Learn from Aaron

Aaron’s story can be an encouragement to us all because it demonstrates God’s ability to work through us despite our weaknesses. Both he and Moses were imperfect leaders, but they still guided the Israelites and brought them to the Promised Land. They made intercession for them in their sins and helped them judge right from wrong.

Aaron’s inadequacies also indicate our need for a perfect high priest in Christ. Aaron misunderstood what it meant to properly worship God and pursue holiness. In making the golden calf, Aaron wanted to believe that he was honoring God with his worship. He refused to challenge the people about worshipping God rightly, both in the incident of the golden calf and at Meribah — God says of him in Numbers 20:12, “ …you did not have confidence in me, to acknowledge my holiness before the Israelites.” He didn’t see that worshipping God as an imitation of the world’s gods shows Him as only a mere shadow of who He truly is in His full glory.

Only Christ could fulfill the role of the Great High Priest to God’s specifications, and it is only through His sacrifice and mercy that we can come before God with proper worship. He is the faultless offering on our behalf, and through His covering of our sins, we will one day be able to come into God’s presence in heaven, perfectly praising Him.

10 Fun Facts About Women Saints
5 Facts About the Founder of the National Shrine