Alphabetically and historically, Aaron was Israel’s number one priest. Older brother of Moses, Egyptian slave turned divine spokesperson, Aaron was individually chosen by God to serve as high priest, Exod. 28. 1. In this article, we will compare and contrast Aaron with the Lord Jesus, our great high priest.
After his solo audience with Jehovah at the burning bush, Moses wanted the reassuring presence of his brother when he returned to Egypt. Aaron helped Moses in negotiations with both Pharaoh and the Israelites. Aaron supported Moses throughout the Exodus narrative, exemplified when he upheld Moses’ intercessory hands at Rephidim, 17. 12.
These episodes demonstrate Aaron’s character to be ‘merciful and faithful’, Heb. 2. 17. Having spent the best part of a century in slavery with the Israelites, Exod. 7. 7, he was able to sympathize with them, as Christ does with us, Heb. 4. 15.
Aaron’s sympathy frequently softened his resolve, making him easily influenced by others. The Israelites incited him to instigate idolatry with the golden calf, Exod. 32. 1-6. In rapid succession, Aaron broke several of the ten commandments before their publication. How remarkable that someone who participated in immoral and false religion should be graciously allowed to have such a major role in the Levitical worship of Jehovah! As Paul told the Corinthians, ‘Such were some of you’, 1 Cor. 6. 11.
Later on, Miriam was the ringleader when the siblings criticized Moses, Num. 12. 1. How inconsistent that Aaron, whose role was to bless God’s people, 6. 22-27, actually spoke against Moses, the man of God. So frequently in human experience, ‘from the same mouth comes both blessing and cursing’, Jas. 3.10.
Aaron must have been grateful that God made provision for sinful priests, Lev. 4. 3, especially when, on the Day of Atonement, he sacrificed ‘first for his own sins, and then for the people’s’, Heb. 7. 27. This is in stark contrast to our sinless Saviour, who is ‘holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners’, v. 26.
We know very little about Aaron’s physical appearance, apart from one tantalizing reference to his lengthy beard, Ps. 133. 2. However, we are given extensive details of his priestly clothing, which was divinely designed and communicated to Moses at Sinai. All priests wore fine linen clothes, indicating righteousness, Exod. 28. 39-41; Rev. 19. 8. The high priest had extra accessories to wear on top of his linen, Exod. 28. 4. Specialist commentaries focus on details. Here we restrict ourselves to a cursory overview. Aaron’s uniform was made from the same fabric as the tabernacle, v. 5, materially linking him with God’s house. Notice the names of the Israelite tribes on his breastplate, showing his heart’s affection, and on his shoulders, suggesting his strength to carry them. However, the name supreme above all others was that of Jehovah, etched on a gold badge on his hat, vv. 36-38. While serving on the people’s behalf, ultimately, Aaron was serving God. The Urim and Thummim marked him as a guardian of the will of God, which he had to obey, v. 30.
His clothing ‘for glory and for beauty’, v. 2, made Aaron a distinctive figure in the wilderness. Christ wore no special clothes but His character was marked by priestly dignity. He came to do the will of God, Heb. 10. 5-10.
Aaron’s apparatus was removed from him just before he died. Eleazar, his oldest surviving son, took over as high priest, commencing a line of Aaronic succession, 1 Chr. 6. 3-15. By way of contrast, the Lord Jesus is ‘alive for evermore’, Rev. 1. 18, so he remains ‘a priest for ever’, Heb. 7. 17.
After a week-long ceremony of consecration, Exod. 29. 1-37, Aaron spent the rest of his life in dedicated service to Jehovah. As high priest, there were unique tasks that only Aaron could do. For instance, on the Day of Atonement, Lev. 16. 12-14, he alone could enter the most holy place where the mercy seat was situated. On another occasion, when Israel was experiencing God’s punishment, Aaron stood ‘between the living and the dead’, Num. 16. 47, 48, offering incense for the people.
Aaron’s duty was to follow divine directions in his priestly work. He did not have freedom to improvise; as his sons tragically experienced, there were severe consequences for ignoring the Lord’s instructions, Lev. 10. 1, 2.
Priesthood was full-time work – priests never had a day off. Their tabernacle tasks of lighting, burning, offering, and serving were continuous, with no time to stop or to sit down! A contrast is set up with Christ, Heb. 10. 11, 12. Having offered a perfect sacrifice for sin, the Lord Jesus sat down – there was nothing more to do, as far as our salvation was concerned. But now, as our great high priest in heaven, ‘he ever liveth to make intercession for’ us, 7. 25.