Exodus 21 – 34
After the Israelites somewhat begin to settle in the desert God starts to give out the rules and regulations for them to follow. He talks about dealing with one another in regards to livestock, property, and interestingly enough slaves. I have a theory on Hebrew slavery and why God decides to regulate it instead of outright banning it. I haven’t completely fleshed out my thoughts on the matter so I’ll talk about Aaron and his calf instead.
Aaron is Moses’ brother and a high priest chosen by God. When Moses goes up to the top of Mt. Sinai he leaves Aaron in charge of the Hebrew people. Moses spends forty nights on the mountain and during that time the Israelites were growing impatient and wanted to build an idol that they could worship and sacrifice to. It’s here when they ask Aaron to build them an idol and Aaron obliges, after collecting all the gold jewelry from the Israeli people Aaron melts it down and builds a golden calf. God’s high priest built a golden calf idol for God’s chosen people.
The story does not say Aaron worshipped the calf along with the Hebrews, but the fact that he built it anyways I think is interesting. Like I mentioned earlier Aaron wasn’t just a run of the mill Israelite who was freed from Pharaoh’s land, no he was a high priest for God and the brother of the exodus leader. Why would God’s high priest build an idol? When Moses comes down from the mountain and sees the calf he burns it, crushes it, and scatters it on the water and he makes the Israelites drink it. He then confronts Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you brought on them such a great sin?” 22 And Aaron said, “[Let not my lord become angry]. You yourself know the people, that [they are intent on evil].”
The high priest passes the buck onto the people and making it appear as though he is blameless and just a victim of circumstance. The Israelites seemed to have lost their faith when Moses was on the mountain and when they approached (maybe threatened) Aaron to build them a calf he obliged. Yet, Aaron doesn’t appear to have been punished for his actions. He was still allowed to be high priest and his sons as well. God’s justice was brought on to the people of Israel and many of them died either by sword or by drinking the calf they worshipped, everyone except the high priest and the creator of the golden calf. What are we to make of this story? Perhaps if Aaron worshipped that calf as well he too would have been executed, however, I imagine creating an idol for God’s people while serving as high priest deserves some form of punishment.
I don’t think we find a concrete answer, but what we do find is a character trait in Aaron that is made clear. He is dedicated to the people of Israel, somewhat. He was there with Moses when they approached Pharaoh, he’s witnessed first hand God’s miracles, and he does take his responsibility as high priest very seriously that he, in some sense, was the high priest of the golden calf. Moses did leave him in a tough spot when he took Joshua and went up the mountain leaving Aaron to be the substitute teacher, and we all know what happens when the substitute teacher is in charge.