Holman Bible Dictionary
Aaron's parents Amram and Jochebed were from the tribe of Levi, Israel's tribe of priests. Miriam was his sister. See Exodus 6:16-26 . With his wife Elisheba, Aaron had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. The first two perished when they offered sacrifices with fire that God had not commanded them to make (Leviticus 10:1-2; Leviticus 16:1-2 ). Two priestly lines developed from the remaining sons: (1) Ithamar through Eli to Abiathar and (2) Eleazar to Zadok (1 Samuel 14:3; 1 Samuel 22:20; 1 Kings 2:26-27; 1 Chronicles 6:50-53 ).
Aaron experienced the joy of starting Israel's formal priesthood, being consecrated to the office (Exodus 28-29; Leviticus 8-9 ), wearing the first priestly garments, and initiating the sacrificial system (Leviticus 1-7 ). He also bore the burdens of his office as his sons were killed for their disobedience (Leviticus 10:1-2 ), and he could not mourn for them (Leviticus 10:6-7 ). He also bore the special rules of conduct, clothing, and ritual cleanness (Leviticus 27:1-22:33 ).
He could not live up to such high standards perfectly. Thus he had to offer sacrifices for his own sins (Leviticus 16:11 ). Then in his cleansed, holy office, he offered sacrifices for others. In his imperfection, Aaron still served as a symbol or type of the perfect priest as seen in Psalm 110:4 , where the future king was described as eternal priest. Zechariah 6:11-15 also speaks of a priest—Joshua—in typical terms. Thus the imperfect Aaron established an office full of symbolic meaning for Israel.
Aaron's life. With all his faults, Aaron was a man chosen by God. We do not know what Aaron did during Moses' forty-year exile from Egypt, but he maintained the faith, kept contact with Israel's leaders, and did not forget his brother (Exodus 4:27-31 ). Ready of speech, he served nobly as Moses' spokesman before Pharaoh. More than once he stretched out Moses' staff to bring God's plagues on the land (Exodus 7:9 ,Exodus 7:9,7:19 ). In the wilderness Aaron and Hur helped Moses hold up the staff, the symbol of God's power, so that Israel would prevail over Amalek (Exodus 17:12 ).
At Sinai, Aaron and his two older sons, Nadab and Abihu, were called to go up the mountain with Moses and seventy elders (Exodus 24:9 ). There they worshiped and ate and drank in heavenly fellowship. As Moses and Joshua went farther up, Moses left Aaron and Hur in charge (Exodus 24:14 ). But as Moses delayed on the mountain, the people asked Aaron for action. They cried, “Make us gods” (Exodus 32:1 ). Their sin was polytheism (worship of many gods) as well as idolatry. Aaron all too easily obliged and made a calf and apparently led in its worship. How far into sin Aaron went we do not know. Was it giving in or active error? The text does not say, but Aaron was not specifically judged. The Levites, the tribe of Moses and Aaron, rallied to Moses and were blessed accordingly (Exodus 32:26-29 ).
On another occasion Aaron appeared in a bad light. In Numbers 12:1 he and Miriam spoke against Moses' marriage to the Cushite (Ethiopian) woman. (Cush was an old name for upper Egypt—approximately modern Sudan.) We are not told if this was a wife in addition to Zipporah, or if Zipporah had died, or even if Zipporah—a Midianite—had Cushite connections. Anyway, Aaron and Miriam were jealous of their younger brother. Really, their murmuring was against God's selection. Second place did not satisfy them.
Miriam was severely judged. Again, Aaron was not as harshly judged. Perhaps again he was not the instigator but the accomplice. He confessed his sin and pleaded for mercy for Miriam. When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram opposed Moses and Aaron, Aaron's intercession stopped the plague (Numbers 16:1 ). Aaron's leadership was vindicated by God in the miraculous blossoming of his staff (Numbers 17:1 ). When the people cried for water at Kadesh in the desert of Zin, Aaron joined in Moses' sin as they seized the power of the Lord for themselves (Numbers 20:7-13 ). In consequence, Aaron, like Moses, was not to enter the Promised Land. Nearby on the border of Edom after forty years of his priesthood, Moses took Aaron up mount Hor, transferred his garments to his son, Eleazar, and Aaron died there at the age of 123 years (Numbers 20:23-28 ). Israel mourned for their first high priest thirty days (Numbers 20:29 ), as they soon would mourn for Moses (Deuteronomy 34:8 ).
R. Laird Harris
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Aaron'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/a/aaron.html. 1991.