also known as: Aaron the priest, Aaron the Levite
Hebrew transliteration: ahărōn
Meaning: Some explain the name as meaning mountaineer, others high mountain; mountain of strength, lofty; exalted; or illuminator
Aaron is the brother of Moses and Miriam. He was the eldest son of Amram and Jochebed. He was born in Egypt 3 years before his brother Moses, and a number of years after his sister (2:1, 4; 7:7). He married Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab of the house of Judah (6:23; 1 Chronicles 2:10), by whom he had 4 sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
When the time for the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt drew nigh, he was sent by God (Exodus 4:14, 27-30) to meet his long-absent brother, to assist him in all that they were required to do in bringing about the Exodus. He was to be the “mouth” or “prophet” of Moses, i.e., was to speak for him, because he was gifted speaker (7:1-2, 9-10, 19). He was faithful to his trust, and stood by Moses in all his interviews with Pharaoh.
When the ransomed tribes fought their first battle with Amalek in Rephidim, Moses stood on a hill overlooking the scene of the conflict with the rod of God in his outstretched hand. He was assisted by Aaron and Hur, his sister’s husband, who held up his wearied hands till, Joshua and the chosen warriors of Israel gained the victory (17:8-13).
Afterwards, when camped in front of Mt. Sinai, and when Moses at the command of God ascended the mountain to receive the ten commandments, Aaron and his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, along with 70 of the elders of Israel, were permitted to accompany him part of the way, and to behold, from far away, the manifestation of the glory of Israel’s God (Exodus 19:24; 24:9-11).
Golden calf idol
While Moses remained on the mountain with God, Aaron returned to the people; and yielded (through fear, or ignorance, or instability of character), to their demands. He made a golden calf and set it up as an object of worship (Exodus 32:4; Psalms 106:19). When Moses returned to the camp, Aaron was sternly rebuked by him for his part in this matter; but Moses interceded for him before God, who forgave his sin (Deuteronomy 9:20).
Priestly system established
On the mount, Moses received instructions on the system of worship which was to be set up among the people. Therefore, Aaron and his sons were consecrated to the priest’s office (Leviticus 8-9). Aaron was made high priest.
Opposition by his sister
When Israel had reached Hazeroth, in “the wilderness of Paran,” Aaron joined with his sister Miriam in murmuring against Moses, “because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married,” probably after the death of Zipporah. But the Lord vindicated his servant Moses, and punished Miriam with leprosy (Numbers 12). Aaron acknowledged his own and his sister’s guilt, and due to the intercession of Moses, God forgave them.
Conspiracy against Aaron and his sons
20 years after this, when the children of Israel were encamped in the wilderness of Paran, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram conspired against Aaron and his sons; but a fearful judgment from God fell upon them, and they were destroyed. The next day thousands of the people also perished from a terrible disease, the ravages of which were stopped by the intercession of Aaron (Numbers 16).
Divine appointment confirmed by miracle
To give further evidence of the divine appointment of Aaron to the priestly office, the chiefs of the tribes were each required to bring to Moses a rod bearing the name of his tribe. These, along with the rod of Aaron for the tribe of Levi, were laid overnight in the tabernacle, and in the morning it was found that while the other rods remained unchanged, that of Aaron “for the house of Levi” budded, blossomed, and yielded almonds (Numbers 17:1-10). This rod was later preserved in the tabernacle (Hebrews 9:4) as an evidence of his divine appointment to the priesthood.
Aaron was implicated in the sin of his brother at Meribah (Numbers 20:8-13). For this reason, he was not permitted to enter the Promised Land. When the tribes arrived at Mount Hor, “in the edge of the land of Edom,” at the command of God Moses led Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of that mountain, in the sight of all the people. There he stripped Aaron of his priestly vestments, and put them upon Eleazar.
Aaron died on the top Mount Hor at the age of 123 years old (Numbers 20:23-29 and was “gathered unto his people” with God. (compare Deuteronomy 10:6; 32:50)
The people, “even all the house of Israel,” mourned for 30 days. Of Aaron’s sons 2 survived him, Eleazar, whose family held the high-priesthood till the time of Eli; and Ithamar, in whose family, beginning with Eli, the high-priesthood was held till the time of Solomon.
The Arabs still venerate the traditional site of Aaron’s grave on one of the two summits of Mount Hor, which is marked by a Islamic chapel.
Aaron’s name is mentioned in the Koran (Quran/Qur'an), and there are many fabulous stories about him found in the writings of the Jewish rabbis.
Sons consumed by fire from God
Aaron’s two oldest sons were struck dead (Leviticus 10:1-2) for the daring sacrilige of offering unholy fire on the altar of incense, contrary to God’s command.
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. —Leviticus 10:1-2 NASB
Aaron was the first anointed priest. His descendants, “the house of Aaron,” constituted the priesthood in general. In the time of David, they were very numerous (1 Chronicles 12:27). The other branches of the tribe of Levi held subordinate positions in connection with the sacred office.
Aaron was a type of Christ in his official character as the high priest. His priesthood was a “shadow of heavenly things,” and was intended to lead the people of Israel to look forward to the time when “another priest” would arise “after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:20).