Aaron and Moses

1. This morning we are looking at someone who is often overlooked because he falls in the shadow of his brother. We meet Aaron early in the book of Exodus when the Lord speaks to him and tells him to go into the desert to meet Moses. They have not seen each other in 40 years and for both of them this is an extraordinary reunion. From that moment on until he dies 40 years later this is a partnership of brothers – but one that is complicated like many relationships of brothers.

Can you think of others?

Some are funny – like the Smothers Brothers. Some are tragic, like Cain and Abel. Others are the basis of some of our greatest literature – like Cal and Aron in “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck.

There is love, respect, rivalry, jealousy and forgiveness. At the close of their lives, one of the most touching scenes in Scripture is Moses and Aaron together on Mount Hor. They both know they will not enter the Promised Land for the exact same offense but they are brothers to the end.

2.  It is Aaron who is able to give Moses credibility with the elders of Israel. Without Aaron they would not have listened to Moses. It is like Barnabas and Saul in Acts. Without Barnabas to vouch for him, Saul would have never been accepted. It’s not noticed very often but Aaron is a key figure in the first several miracles in chapters 7 and 8:

His staff swallows those of the Egyptians
He changes water into blood
He is responsible for the frogs
He is responsible for the gnats

From that point on, it is only Moses who is responsible for the next four plagues in chapter 10:

Boils, hail, locusts, and darkness.

But one plague, that of the death of the firstborn is attributed to neither – only to God alone.

Then, look at the progression of the miracles in the rest of Exodus.

Who parts the waters and brings them back together to destroy the Pharaoh’s armies? Moses
Who holds up his hands to defeat the Amalekites? Moses
It is Aaron and Hur who stand on either side of Moses to keep him from lowering his arms.

Yet, in chapter 19 God specifically calls for Aaron to accompany Moses to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. I think there was a reason for this because it is in this passage that God says to Aaron, “Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” This was said directly to Aaron so he could never say he did not hear that command.

Later, Moses leaves Aaron in the camp when he takes Joshua with him to meet with God. There is always this tension between who is closest to Moses. Is it Aaron his brother or Joshua his aide? We are never quite sure but there is an argument that it was Joshua.

But, then in chapter 28 of Exodus Moses is instructed to make Aaron the chief priest and to be given sacred garments to give him “dignity and honor”. This is probably the origin of the phrase “clothes make the man” or “we salute the uniform and not the man” because there are clearly issues in the character of Aaron. He is fine for a time and then is susceptible to the influence of others.

But, I do love this description of his role as the High Priest because it is the same as that of Christ and, hopefully, that of every priest, pastor and teacher. Exodus 28:29-30 reads:

“Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord. Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord.”

I love that! I love the fact that the High Priest bears our names over his heart when he enters the Holy Place for us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16

3.  But, as the writer of Hebrews says, the high priest Aaron, in spite of his position and sacred garments that gave him dignity and honor, is weak. He gives in to the people while trying to hold on to what he knows to be true. It happens to pastors far more than prophets. Pastors are connected to the people. Prophets are connected to the message they have been given. Pastors understand their weaknesses and share them. Prophets are typically concerned more with the reputation of God. Aaron gives in to the fear and confusion of the people. How is that?

”He took what the people handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward, they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”

The first part of the service was traditional -even orthodox. It was burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. But then, something that should not have been part of that service was introduced. We could call it a calf or an idol or today we could call it an “ism”. It might be patriotism or capitalism or socialism or nationalism or any number of ideologies that have a place but not in worship. They are right in their place but not in the church. When we introduce anything that demands a competing loyalty we are on a dangerous slope toward idolatry.

What did he do? He did not lead the people to worship false gods and abandon God. He combined the worship of false gods with the worship of the Lord. He made it possible for the people to believe they were worshiping the true God by engaging in idolatry. He made himself believe he could do both to win the approval of the people and to remain dedicated to God. We are surrounded by the same heresy today. People want to combine the worship of gods they make and believe they are doing so in the name of God. The result will be the same. The people who do such things and encourage others will become corrupt. That word for revelry can mean “sexual immorality” but it can also mean they rose up and mocked God. They boasted about their power to get what they wanted from idols they made and still say it is in the name of the Lord.

So we read at the end of chapter 32. “And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.”

4.  After that, we hear very little of Aaron. There is no permanent split in the brothers but there are times when Moses goes into the Tabernacle to meet with God and instead of Aaron he takes Joshua. Two of his sons who are also priests, Abu and Nadab, drop dead at the altar because they made an offering with “unauthorized fire”. Like Eli in 1 Samuel, whose sons Hophni and Phineas, were killed because they made themselves contemptible by sleeping with women dedicated to the service of the tabernacle and by serving themselves the best parts of the sacrifices that were brought. They were corrupt.

But, when we do see him again, it is not good. In Numbers 12 we read that “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.” (A Cushite was an Ethiopian and therefore a black woman). “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” They asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?”

You can see what has happened with the resentment that has been building up for years. In the beginning it was Moses and Aaron and then later it is Moses which becomes Moses and Joshua. It’s human nature. We start off as equals and one becomes more prominent than the other for whatever reasons. Moses and Aaron both spoke for God to Pharaoh but then later it is only Moses. Aaron becomes one who holds up the arms of Moses but it is Joshua who wins the battle. They turn to others (like Joshua) who replace us and it festers.

Moses represented God to man while Aaron represents men to God.

Moses told men what God wanted them to hear while Aaron told men what they wanted to hear.

Moses led while Aaron, the older brother and the more articulate of the two, becomes a follower.

Moses led by principle while Aaron was impulsive and fearful. You might have read Oswald Chambers yesterday. “Impulsiveness is a trait of the natural life, and our Lord always ignores it, because it hinders the development of the life of a disciple. Watch how the Spirit of God gives a sense of restraint to impulsiveness, suddenly bringing us a feeling of self-conscious foolishness, which makes us instantly want to vindicate ourselves. Impulsiveness is all right in a child, but is disastrous in a man or woman— an impulsive adult is always a spoiled person. Impulsiveness needs to be trained into intuition through discipline.”

Moses was willing to sacrifice himself while Aaron was willing to sacrifice his beliefs and blame the people.

5.  Aaron dies before seeing the Promised Land. But, it one of the most touching scenes in Scripture for me as Moses removes the priestly garments and puts them on Aaron’s son, Eleazar. “And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, the entire house of Israel mourned for him for thirty days.” That’s the same amount of time they mourn Moses and that says something. It says that by the time he died he had earned the honor and dignity he had been given by his position. He had honor and dignity as a man and not just the one who wore the trappings of a priest.

I wonder if there isn’t some redemption in his life like we saw in the young man, John Mark, who becomes one of the first saints of the early church?

Priests are not prophets but they need each other.

Psalm 85:10 reads:

“Love and faithfulness meet together;
Righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.”

You could read that as “Truth and Mercy”. Prophets need priests. Each one has different temptations and strengths.

Numbers 16 tells the account of when the fire of the Lord consumed 250 men who rebelled and questioned the authority of Moses. “And Moses said to Aaron, “Quick, take a censer and place fire in it from the altar; lay incense on it, and carry it quickly among the people and make atonement for them; for God’s anger has gone out among them—the plague has already begun.”

Aaron did as Moses had told him to, and ran among the people, for the plague had indeed already begun; and he put on the incense and made atonement for them. And he stood between the living and the dead, and the plague was stopped.”

Finally, in the book of Hebrews the image of Jesus is not that of the prophet but that of the High Priest – the one who carries the names of the people with him over his heart

And, in the end, it is like Mark, Peter, Paul, the woman at the well and the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus. Those who have been forgiven much love much. And, in the end, that is what should mark our lives.

“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?” John Steinbeck in “East of Eden”

And then he goes on to say what I would say about Aaron and you and me. “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” Now that you know those who have been forgiven much are able to forgive in return and those who have been forgiven much are able to love.

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