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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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Aa´ron, the eldest son of Amram and Jochebad, of the tribe of Levi, and brother of Moses. He was born B.C. 1574 (Hales, B.C. 1730), three years before Moses, and one year before Pharaoh's edict to destroy the male children of the Israelites (Exodus 6:20; Exodus 7:7). His name first occurs in the mysterious interview which Moses had with the Lord, who appeared to him in the burning bush, while he kept Jethro's flock in Horeb. Among other excuses by which Moses sought to evade the great commission of delivering Israel, one was that he lacked that persuasive readiness of speech (literally was 'not a man of words') which appeared to him essential to such an undertaking. But he was reminded that his brother Aaron possessed in a high degree the endowment which he deemed so needful, and could therefore speak in his name and on his behalf (Exodus 4:14). During the forty years' absence of Moses in the land of Midian, Aaron had married a woman of the tribe of Judah, named Elisheba (or Elizabeth), who had born to him four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazer, and Ithamar; and Eleazer had, before the return of Moses, become the father of Phinehas (Exodus 6:23-25).

In obedience to an intimation from God, Aaron went into the wilderness to meet his brother, and conduct him back to Egypt. After forty years of separation they met and embraced each other at the mount of Horeb. When they arrived in Goshen, Aaron introduced his brother to the chiefs of Israel, and assisted him in opening and enforcing the great commission which had been confided to him (Exodus 4:27-31). In the subsequent transactions, from the first interview with Pharaoh till after the delivered nation had passed the Red Sea, Aaron appears to have been almost always present with Moses, assisting and supporting him; and no separate act of his own is recorded. This co-operation was ever afterwards maintained. Aaron and Hur were present on the hill from which Moses surveyed the battle which Joshua fought with the Amalekites; and these two long sustained the weary hands upon whose uplifting the fate of the battle was found to depend (Exodus 17:10-12).

While Moses was absent in the mountain to receive the tables of the law, the people seem to have looked upon Aaron as their head, and growing impatient at the protracted absence of their great leader, they gathered around Aaron, and clamorously demanded that he should provide them with a visible symbolic image of their God, that they might worship him as other gods were worshipped. Aaron ventured not to stem the torrent, but weakly complied with their demand; and with the ornaments of gold which they freely offered, cast the figure of a calf or young bull, being doubtless that of the bull-god Apis at Memphis, whose worship extended throughout Egypt. However, to fix the meaning of this image as a symbol of the true God, Aaron was careful to proclaim a feast to Jehovah for the ensuing day. On that day the people met to celebrate the feast, after the fashion of the Egyptian festivals of the calf-idol, with dancing, with shouting, and with sports.

Meanwhile Moses had been dismissed from the mountain, provided with the Decalogue, written 'by the finger of God,' on two tablets of stone. These, as soon as he came sufficiently near to observe the proceedings in the camp, he cast from him with such force that they brake in pieces. His reappearance confounded the multitude, who quailed under his stern rebuke and quietly submitted to see their new-made idol destroyed. For this sin the population was decimated by sword and plague (Exodus 32).

During his long absence in the mountain, Moses had received instructions regarding the ecclesiastical establishment, the tabernacle [TABERNACLE], and the priesthood [PRIEST], which he soon afterwards proceeded to execute. Under the new institution Aaron was to be high-priest, and his sons and descendants priests; and the whole tribe to which he belonged, that of Levi, was set apart as the sacerdotal or learned caste [LEVITES]. Accordingly, after the tabernacle had been completed, and every preparation made for the commencement of actual service, Aaron and his sons were consecrated by Moses, who anointed them with the holy oil and invested them with the sacred garments. The high-priest applied himself assiduously to the duties of his exalted office, and during the period of nearly forty years that it was filled by him, the incidents which bring him historically before us are very few. It is recorded to his honor that 'he held his peace' when his two eldest sons were, for their great offence, struck dead before the sanctuary (Leviticus 10:1-11) [ABIHU]. Aaron would seem to have been liable to some fits of jealousy at the superior influence and authority of his brother; for he at least sanctioned the invidious conduct of his sister Miriam [MIRIAM], who, after the wife of Moses had been brought to the camp by Jethro, became apprehensive for her own position, and cast reflections upon Moses, much calculated to damage his influence, on account of his marriage with a foreigner—always an odious thing among the Hebrews. For this, Miriam was struck with temporary leprosy, which brought the high-priest to a sense of his sinful conduct, and he sought and obtained forgiveness (Numbers 12).

Some twenty years after (B.C. 1471), when the camp was in the wilderness of Paran, a formidable conspiracy was organized against the sacerdotal authority exercised by Aaron and his sons, and the civil authority exercised by Moses. This conspiracy was headed by chiefs of influence and station—Korah, of the tribe of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, of the tribe of Reuben [KORAH]. But the Divine appointment was confirmed by the signal destruction of the conspirators: and the next day, when the people assembled tumultuously and murmured loudly at the destruction which had overtaken their leaders and friends, a fierce pestilence broke out among them, and they fell by thousands on the spot. When this was seen, Aaron, at the command of Moses, filled a censer with fire from the altar, and, rushing forward, 'he stood between the dead and the living,' and the plague was stayed (Numbers 16). This was in fact another attestation of the Divine appointment; and, for its further confirmation, the chiefs of the several tribes were required to lay up their staves overnight in the tabernacle, together with the rod of Aaron for the tribe of Levi; and in the morning it was found that, while the other rods remained as they were, that of Aaron had budded, blossomed, and yielded the fruit of almonds. The rod was preserved in the tabernacle in evidence of the Divine appointment of the Aaronic family to the priesthood (Numbers 17:10).

Aaron was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, on account of the distrust which he, as well as his brother, manifested when the rock was stricken at Meribah (Numbers 20:8-13). His death indeed occurred very soon after that event. For when the host arrived at Mount Hor, the Divine mandate came, that Aaron, accompanied by his brother Moses and by his son Eleazer, should ascend to the top of that mountain in the view of all the people; and that he should there transfer his pontifical robes to Eleazer, and then die. He was 123 years old when his career thus terminated; and his son and his brother buried him in a cavern of the mountain [HOR]. The Israelites mourned for him thirty days; and on the first day of the month Ab the Jews still hold a fast in commemoration of his death.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Aaron'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​a/aaron.html.
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