|Topical Bible Study||July 1955|
The People of the Bible
Article VII—Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers
Aaron and His Sons
AARON was the brother of Moses. He was appointed by the Lord to be a “mouth” for Moses. (Exod. 4:16) Because of this, his services and experiences for the most part parallel those of the great lawgiver. With the giving of the Law, Israel’s priesthood was instituted, and Aaron was appointed the first high priest, his four sons serving as underpriests. As spokesman for Moses, he was to a large extent the actual instrument in working most of the miracles of the Exodus.
Aaron was dependent upon his brother and received his authority from him. When Moses went up into Mount Sinai to receive the Law, Aaron was left on his own responsibility, and he displayed weakness by yielding to the demands of the people to make the golden calf and to worship it. He repented of this sin, and Moses gained forgiveness for him.—Deut. 9:20
It was immediately following the making and worshiping of the golden calf that “Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.” (Exod. 32:26) Aaron was of the tribe of Levi, and later this entire tribe was substituted for the firstborn of all the families of Israel, to be the religious servants of the people.—Num. 3:41,45
The Aaronic family of the Levites was chosen as the one from which the priests of Israel would be taken, by succession from father to son, Aaron being the first high priest. God’s authority to Moses for appointing Aaron and his sons to the priesthood is recorded in Exodus 28:1. The text reads: “Take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.”
In Hebrews 5:4 and 5, where it is explained that Jesus did not exalt himself to the high position which he occupied in the divine plan, Paul says that “no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee.”
From this we see that Aaron’s position as high priest in Israel was typical of the position occupied by Jesus. In God’s arrangement with Israel the principal work of a priest was to offer sacrifice and, upon the basis of his sacrificial work, to extend blessings to the people. Thus Aaron’s position was typical of the manner in which, through Christ, the blessings which God promised through the “Seed” of Abraham will be extended to “all the families of the earth.”
The priests of Israel offered animals in sacrifice, but Jesus offered himself. And, just as in the type, both Aaron and his sons served as priests, so in the antitype, both Jesus and his followers lay down their lives in sacrifice, Jesus dying as the Redeemer of the world, and the church being planted together in the likeness of his death, their sacrifice being made acceptable through his. Peter wrote, “Ye also … are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”—I Pet. 2:5
Not only were Aaron and his sons appointed by God to be Israel’s first high priest and underpriests, but a rather elaborate service was prescribed for initiating them into office. This service is outlined in the 8th chapter of Leviticus. It was a service which was repeated each time a new priest was installed into office.
First of all, Aaron was clothed in his garments of glory and beauty, while his sons were clothed in their white linen robes, with bonnets on their heads. Aaron’s garment is described thus: “A breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle.”*—Exod. 28:4
*NOTE: See Tabernacle Shadows for the significance of the various parts of these garments.
In the service of consecration three animals were offered in sacrifice—a bullock for a sin offering, a ram for a burnt offering, and the ram of consecration. The sacrifice of the bullock for the sin offering pointed forward to the sacrifice of Jesus and his body members, the church. Aaron and his sons laid their hands on its head, indicating that it represented them. Hence everything from that time on prefigured the experiences of the antitypical priesthood in their sacrificial work during the Gospel age.
This bullock was then delivered up to Moses, who represented the Law. To meet the demands of the Law the bullock had to be slain, “and he [Moses] slew it.” Its blood was applied to the horns of the altar, thus pointing out that the power of Christ’s earthly altar of sacrifice is in the blood, and that our sacrifice offered on this altar is acceptable to God. (Rom. 12:1) The blood poured at the base of the altar suggests that through the power of the antitypical blood, even the curse which is upon the earth because of sin will be removed as a result of the sacrificial work of Christ.
Moses took the hide and flesh of the bullock and burnt them with fire without the camp. This suggests that through the sacrificial work of the antitypical priesthood, Christ and his church, the world of mankind will ultimately be delivered, the merit of this sacrifice being, of course, in the sacrifice of the perfect man, Christ Jesus. This sacrifice is a vile thing in the eyes of the unbelieving world, but God accepts it and is pleased with the heart devotion which prompts the sacrifice. The spirit of this devotion is described in the prophecy concerning Christ, which reads, “I delight to do thy will, O my God.”—Ps. 40:8
The ram for the burnt offering indicates the manner in which God accepts the sacrifices of the antitypical priesthood. It was cut into pieces and laid on the altar, the head first, followed by the other parts, and the fat. Thus Jesus, the “Head” of the church, was first sacrificed, and throughout the Gospel Age the remaining parts of The Christ are being sacrificed. God’s acceptance is shown by fire.
The ram of consecration reveals the effect of the spirit of consecration upon the antitypical priesthood. After slaying this ram, Moses took of the blood and put it upon each of the priests separately, thus showing that our consecration is an individual matter and places upon us an individual responsibility.
He put the blood upon the tip of the right ear, upon the thumb of the right hand, and the great toe of the right foot. Thus through our consecration we are given the hearing of faith and are enabled thereby to appreciate God’s promises as no others can. Our hands are consecrated so that we do with our might what our hands find to do. Our feet are also consecrated so that we “walk in newness of life.”
The choice portions of the ram, its “inwards” and “fat,” represent our heart sentiments, our best powers. These were taken in the hands of the priests and “waved”—passed to and fro before the Lord—representing the fact that a consecrated offering is not given to the Lord merely for a moment, or a day, or a year, but that we consecrate to keep our affections and powers continually uplifted, never ceasing until our sacrifice is accepted by him.*
*NOTE: For further details of this consecration service, and their significance, see Tabernacle Shadows.
Being installed in office, Aaron and his sons were then prepared to conduct the various sacrificial services which God had outlined to Moses while in Mount Sinai. Just as their consecration pointed forward to the dedication of the antitypical priesthood and the effect it would have upon the lives of Jesus and his followers, so the sacrificial services which they subsequently conducted were typical of the “better sacrifices” of this Gospel Age, this being particularly true of the services outlined in the 9th and 16th chapters of Leviticus.
Significant in connection with the service outlined in the 9th chapter is the fact that after the work of sacrifice was over, Aaron, clothed in his garments of glory, came out and blessed the people. Thus is shown that after the better sacrifices of this present Gospel Age have been completed, the glorified Christ, Head and body, will extend to all mankind those blessings of health and life promised by the mouth of all God’s holy prophets since the world began, the blessings which God promised would reach the people through the seed of Abraham.
Of special significance in the sacrificial service outlined in the 16th chapter of Leviticus, a service which was repeated each year on the tenth day of Israel’s seventh month, was the fact that there were two animals sacrificed—a bullock and a goat—each one of which was treated in the same way. We believe that in this picture the bullock represented Jesus, and the goat his body members, the church. The bullock was slain first. The priest took burning coals from the brazen altar and incense and, putting these coals on the golden altar in the first compartment of the tabernacle, called the holy, sprinkled the incense upon them. The sweet perfume of this burning incense penetrated into the most holy of the tabernacle, where the blood was then sprinkled upon the mercy seat. The fat of the sin offering was burned on the brazen altar in the court of the tabernacle, and its skin and flesh were then burned without the camp.
The goat was sacrificed in the same way, and Paul identifies the followers of Jesus with this picture, when in Hebrews 13:13 he says, “Let us go forth to him [Jesus] without the camp, bearing his reproach.” Thus Paul shows the significance of the fire and the burning of the carcass of the animals “without the camp,” as well as revealing that the church shares these experiences with Jesus.
That the followers of Christ are thus shown to be fellow sacrificers with him explains the real purpose of the Christian life, that it is not merely a matter of accepting Christ and living righteously; but, as Paul explains, it is also given unto us to “suffer for his sake,” as well as to “suffer with him.” (Phil. 1:29; Rom. 8:17; II Tim. 2:11,12) It also reveals one of the principal reasons that the blessings of life promised to come through the Messiah have not yet been offered to the world. It is because the foretold and prefigured work of sacrifice is not yet finished. The church is still filling up that which is behind of the “afflictions of Christ.”—Col. 1:24
The Rebellion of Korah
In the 16th chapter of Numbers there is an account of a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, led by Korah. Korah challenged the right of Moses and Aaron to have full charge of the religious affairs of the nation. Moses properly left the matter in the hands of the Lord to decide. His decision was against Korah and his sympathizers, and an earthquake opened the ground under them and they went down into the “pit” and were destroyed.—vss. 30-33
But this did not entirely put down the rebellion. The next day “the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord.” (vs. 41) The Lord then sent a plague upon the Israelites, and before it was stayed “fourteen thousand and seven hundred” of the people died. (vs. 49) The plague was halted when Aaron, obeying the instructions of Moses, ran among the people with a censer in which was fire and incense.
After this, Moses gave instructions that the heads of all the twelve tribes of the Israelites bring their rods (denoting authority) to the tabernacle, Aaron’s rod for the tribe of Levi included. These rods were laid up in the tabernacle for a day, with the understanding that whichever rod budded would signify that the tribe for which this rod stood would be the Lord’s choice for conducting the religious services devolving upon the priesthood.
The result was convincing—“It came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.” (Num. 17:8) This served to convince the Israelites that only the house of Aaron, assisted by the Levites, were to serve in the religious affairs of the nation.
While the tribe of Levi had previously been substituted for the firstborn of all Israel and the Aaronic family appointed for the priesthood, apparently the Israelites had not had this sufficiently impressed upon them, and the rebellion of Korah, and the subsequent uprising of the people in sympathy with him, served a needed lesson. Now the Israelites outside of the tribe of Levi who had not been obeying the Lord’s instructions in connection with coming near to the tabernacle were fearful lest they be punished by death, but they were not.
The Lord said unto Aaron, “Thou and thy sons and thy father’s house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary: and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity … of your priesthood.” (Num. 17:12,13; 18:1) Apparently the Lord was willing to forget the past, and from this time on the priestly family was made wholly responsible for the proper conduct of the tabernacle services.
The Lord was very strict with everything pertaining to the tabernacle and its services because it was designed as a “pattern” of better things to come. Concerning the Aaronic priesthood Paul wrote, “Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed thee in the mount.”—Heb. 8:5
The priestly family having been made responsible for conducting the tabernacle services properly, Nadab and Abihu were slain when they offered “strange fire” before the Lord. (Lev. 10:1,2; Num. 3:4; 26:61) The “strange fire” was kindled by themselves for use in their censers, instead of being taken from that which burned perpetually on the altar. (Lev. 6:13) When these two sons of Aaron were slain, the remaining sons were forbidden to mourn, emphasizing that the Lord’s decisions are always just and right.—Lev. 10:6
The Death of Aaron
While Aaron was a faithful co-worker with his brother, Moses, serving as his mouthpiece and, after they left Egypt, as high priest, apparently he was not a strong character. Not only did he readily yield to the clamor of the people in connection with the erection and worship of the golden calf, but in the one instance when Moses lost his patience and failed to give glory to God for bringing water out of the rock, Aaron participated in the wrong with him.
This was at Kadesh, in the desert of Zin. The people were without water for themselves and for their beasts, and, as was their custom, they complained to Moses. Then “Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto them. And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.”—Num. 20:6-8
These instructions were clearly stated, and were applied to Aaron as well as to Moses, but they were not properly carried out. With the people gathered before the rock, Moses did not speak to the rock as instructed, but to the people. He said, “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” Then he smote the rock twice.—vss. 10,11
He asked, must “we” fetch you water? thus indicating that Aaron was sympathetic to his viewpoint, and they both failed to give glory to the Lord. So the Lord not only decreed that because of this Moses could not enter the Promised Land but extended the same punishment to Aaron. (vs. 12) A little later, as the Israelites journeyed from Kadesh, in the desert of Zin, they “came unto Mount Hor. And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in Mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying, Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah.” (Num. 20:22-24) “Meribah” means “strife,” and is the name the Lord gave to the water that came out of the rock at Kadesh.
Then the Lord instructed Moses to take Aaron and his son Eleazar up into Mount Hor and place Aaron’s priestly garments upon Eleazar. This was done, and Aaron died in the mount, being, as the account says, “gathered unto his people.” (Num. 20:26-29) The trio went up into the mountain in the sight of all the people, and after Aaron’s death, Moses and Eleazar returned in full view of the congregation; so it was at once evident that Aaron had died in the mountain.
“And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” (Num. 20:29) Aaron’s death was a great loss to the Israelites, for he had served them faithfully from the time he and Moses first appeared before Pharaoh to demand their release from Egyptian bondage. He had shared with Moses their many accusations of evil intent in bringing them out of Egypt; but the people realized that only by the mercy and power of God manifested through these two faithful servants were they kept alive in the wilderness. It is no wonder that they mourned when he died.
No doubt Moses shared in this mourning, for he had been more closely associated with his brother than any of the others. Only once had Aaron shown anything but friendship and loyalty to Moses, and that was when he joined with his sister Miriam in speaking against him “because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married.” (Num. 12:1) Moses’ marriage to Zipporah was merely the excuse. The real reason for their opposition appears in the next verse, where we find Miriam and Aaron asking, “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?”—vs. 2
Miriam, years older than Moses, had stood and watched the little basket, or “ark,” in which her brother was hidden and put afloat in the waters of the river when he was three months old. She had arranged for his mother to nurse him for Pharaoh’s daughter. She had seen the providences of the Lord in this matter and had observed the wonderful manner in which the Lord had used Moses in connection with the deliverance of her people.
Aaron was also acquainted with these circumstances and, with Miriam, had witnessed the mighty miracles the Lord had performed through Moses in connection with the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea. Miriam, indeed, joined with other women in replying to Moses’ song of deliverance after they had crossed the Red Sea.—Exod. 15:20,21
She had some prophetic powers; so did Aaron, and apparently she became jealous of the prominent manner in which the Lord was using Moses, and Aaron permitted himself temporarily to be influenced by her. But the Lord revealed himself to them both, and they repented, although Miriam was severely punished, being stricken with leprosy.
Aaron, recognizing his wrong, said to Moses, “Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.” (Num. 12:11) On behalf of his sister he said, “Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb.” (vs. 12) Moses revealed the true nobility of his character by effectually praying to the Lord to heal his sister, indicating that he had graciously forgiven both Miriam and Aaron.
But this was the one exception to Aaron’s forty years of loyalty to his brother. He was by his side as a “mouth,” or spokesman, and was faithful in his service as high priest. An intimate, loving service which Moses doubtless remembered was the occasion when Aaron and Hur kept his weary hands uplifted to assure the victory of the Israelites over their enemies, the Amalekites.—Exod. 17:8-14
Now Aaron had been gathered to his fathers, and Moses knew that he also would soon die. The Lord had given him Aaron as a spokesman because he insisted that he was a man slow of speech. But now that Aaron was no more with him, we find Moses in the last days of his life presenting to the children of Israel one of the most beautiful orations recorded in the Bible. It is the “song of Moses,” and is recorded in the thirty-second chapter of Deuteronomy.
The Lord has limitless ways of giving his people the assistance they need. Aaron had been provided to make up Moses’ slowness of speech, and without doubt he very capably filled the need. But now that he was gone, the Lord gave eloquent utterance to Moses’ own tongue. Thus we see fulfilled in Aaron, in Moses, and in the daily experiences of our own lives, as we endeavor to serve the Lord, the fact that the Lord helps his people in all their needs, and sustains them in keeping with the abundance of his grace. Moses expressed the thought in his parting blessings upon Israel, saying, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”—Deut. 33:27