Aaron was the brother of Moses and the first high priest of the Israelites. His death is recorded in Numbers chapter 20. Aaron’s death serves as a sober reminder that even great leaders of faith are not exempt from God’s judgment when they disobey.
Aaron played a pivotal role in the exodus of Israel from Egypt and their journey through the wilderness. Along with Moses, Aaron performed signs and wonders before Pharaoh that led to the release of the Israelites from slavery. Once free from Egypt, Yahweh chose Aaron to be the first high priest of Israel. He helped establish the sacrificial system and interceded for the people before God.
Yet for all his accomplishments, Aaron committed a grievous sin that cost him the opportunity to enter the Promised Land. While leading the Israelites through the wilderness of Zin, Aaron rebelled against God’s command regarding bringing water from a rock. As a result, God barred Aaron from entering Canaan. Not long after this incident, Aaron passed away on Mount Hor.
The death of Aaron raises some important questions for believers today:
- Why did Moses and Aaron disobey God’s command?
- What was their sin and how serious was it?
- Why did God punish Aaron with death but allow Moses to live?
- What lessons can we learn from Aaron’s demise?
This blog post will examine the story of Aaron’s death and seek to understand the reasons behind it. Though sobering, Aaron’s downfall contains valuable warnings and lessons for all who seek to follow the Lord.
- Aaron and Moses disobeyed God’s clear commands through anger, impatience and lack of faith.
- They failed to honor God’s holiness and did not recognize the seriousness of their sin.
- Aaron faced immediate consequences for his disobedience while Moses received grace.
- God requires all leaders to uphold His standards regardless of past accomplishments.
- Believers must guard their hearts against pride, anger and lack of faith in God’s provision.
- The wages of sin is death, but God shows mercy amidst judgment.
The Sin of Moses and Aaron
The story leading up to Aaron’s death begins in Numbers chapter 20. The Israelites were camped in the Wilderness of Zin during their final months of wandering in the desert. As was frequently the case, the people began complaining about their lack of water.
Then the children of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the Wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there and was buried there. Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and Aaron. And the people contended with Moses and spoke, saying: “If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink.” (Numbers 20:1-5 NKJV)
The people blamed Moses and Aaron for their troubles and even accused them of leading the people out of Egypt just to die in the wilderness. Their impatience and lack of faith after experiencing God’s provision time and again is striking.
Nonetheless, Moses and Aaron responded by turning to God for guidance.
So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and they fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.”
So Moses took the rod from before the Lord as He commanded him. (Numbers 20:6-9 NKJV)
God presented a solution – speak to the rock and it will bring forth water. This may have seemed unusual, but Moses and Aaron had witnessed God produce water from a rock before using the staff (Exodus 17:5-7). All God required here was for Moses to speak.
Yet Moses and Aaron’s response revealed a heart of unbelief.
And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. (Numbers 20:10-11 NKJV)
Moses disobeyed God’s instructions by striking the rock instead of speaking to it. He also reacted in anger, rebuking the people as rebels. After the water flowed, God immediately confronted the two brothers regarding their lack of faith and disobedience.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12 NKJV)
God accused Aaron and Moses of failing to honor and hallow Him before the people. By not strictly obeying His command, they undermined God’s holiness and authority in Israel.
This was no small infraction. The Lord barred both men from entering the Promised Land as a result of their sin. God’s punishment indicates the seriousness of their transgression.
The Seriousness of the Sin
To comprehend why Moses and Aaron received such severe discipline, we must recognize the magnitude of their wrongdoing. At first glance, striking a rock instead of speaking to it may seem trivial. But in God’s eyes, it constituted a grave offense. Consider the reasons:
1. They disobeyed a clear command
The Lord specifically told Moses to speak to the rock to bring forth water (Numbers 20:8). Yet Moses blatantly disregarded God’s directive by striking the rock twice with his staff. Their defiance showed gross irreverence toward God’s direct instructions.
2. They displayed anger and impatience
Moses did not merely strike the rock accidentally. He angrily rebuked the people before doing so, calling them “rebels.” He and Aaron were clearly fed up with the people’s constant grumbling. In a moment of rage, they lashed out through violence against the rock, violating God’s orders.
3. They failed to trust God’s provision
God had demonstrated His power and provision over and over during Israel’s wilderness travels. Yet when the people complained again about water, Moses and Aaron took matters into their own hands instead of speaking to the rock by faith as God commanded.
4. They misrepresented God before the people
By disobeying, Moses and Aaron portrayed God to the Israelites as either unable or unwilling to provide for them. Their lack of trust undermined Yahweh’s authority and holiness in the eyes of the people.
5. They glorified themselves rather than God
Speaking to the rock would have visibly demonstrated God’s power and glory to the congregation. But by striking it themselves, Moses and Aaron took credit for the miracle rather than magnifying the Lord.
6. They failed to honor God’s chosen mediator
Earlier, God instructed Moses to strike the rock at Horeb to bring forth water (Exodus 17). This illustrated that Moses was God’s chosen mediator between Himself and Israel. But by striking the rock again at Meribah themselves, Aaron and Moses attempted to usurp Moses’ unique mediatorial role.
For these reasons, their transgression at Meribah was no minor mistake. The Lord recognized it as a serious breech of obedience that dishonored His holiness.
The Serious Consequences
Aaron and Moses both received instant reproof from God for their disobedience. Yet their punishments differed. Moses was forbidden from entering Canaan, but allowed to finish leading the Israelites to the border. Yet God decreed that Aaron would die on Mount Hor shortly after the incident at Meribah.
Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”
…And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying: “Aaron shall be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the children of Israel, because you rebelled against My word at the water of Meribah.” (Numbers 20:12, 23-24 NKJV)
Why did God punish Aaron with death but allow Moses to live? Consider a few factors:
1. Aaron was the high priest
As high priest, Aaron bore even greater responsibility to honor the holiness of God before the people. By consenting to strike the rock, Aaron failed in his duties as spiritual leader of the nation. The magnitude of his position accentuated the severity of his offense.
2. Aaron had seen God’s judgment before
When Aaron led the people to construct the golden calf at Sinai, he witnessed God’s wrath unleashed on the idolaters (Exodus 32). He knew the gravity of defying the Lord’s explicit commands. Yet he still rebelled at Meribah.
3. Aaron was older than Moses
Moses lived to be 120 years old (Deuteronomy 34:7), but Aaron was three years his senior (Exodus 7:7). At the time of the water crisis, Aaron was already over 100 years old. His advanced age marked him as ripe for God’s judgment.
4. The priesthood passed to Eleazar
Whereas Israel still needed Moses’ leadership to conquer Canaan, the priesthood could transfer from Aaron to his son Eleazar. Aaron’s death allowed this transition to take place while keeping Moses in charge.
While Moses received mercy, the wages of Aaron’s sin was physical death. God graciously allowed Aaron to ascend Mount Hor and die there in the presence of Moses and Eleazar (Numbers 20:27-29). But he suffered the promised consequence for his disobedience.
Valuable Lessons for Believers Today
The severity of Aaron’s punishment startles many readers. Yet we must remember that in God’s eyes, all sin constitutes rebellion against His holy law. As the apostle Paul wrote: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Aaron serves as a sobering example that even eminent saints still reap consequences when they disregard God’s commands.
But amidst the sadness of Aaron’s downfall, Scripture provides instructive lessons for God’s people today. Reflecting on this account should prompt us to:
- Examine our hearts – Moses and Aaron allowed anger and impatience to override obedience. Believers today must guard against hidden sins that could lead to defiant actions. The Holy Spirit’s conviction and the Bible’s precepts help us maintain pure hearts.
- Flee from pride – Moses and Aaron likely felt they had “earned the right” to disregard God’s instructions just this once. But no matter our accomplishments, pride always precedes a fall. We must cling to humility and accept that God’s commands apply to everyone.
- Nurture faith in God’s provision – The Israelites’ frequent complaints reveal a lack of trust in God to provide for them. Do we turn to God in faith when facing shortages, or complain and take matters into our own hands? Aaron’s failure reminds us to believe in the Lord’s faithful resources.
- Walk in holiness before others – By not strictly obeying God before the people, Aaron and Moses diminished His holiness in their sight. We must be wary of ever portraying God as less than perfectly holy in how we walk and talk before others.
- Fear God’s discipline – Moses and Aaron discovered that God’s judgment falls even on His servants who disobey. We must maintain a reverent fear of the Lord rather than presuming upon His mercy when we knowingly sin.
While sobering, remembering Aaron’s downfall can motivate believers to greater vigilance and faithfulness. His example reiterates that our awesome God demands complete reverence and obedience.
Aaron’s untimely death in Numbers 20 represents a tragedy. This towering Old Testament saint lost his life and position for one act of disobedience. Yet God used his failure to convey urgent lessons about the seriousness of rebelling against the Lord’s commands.
As New Testament believers under the new covenant, we do not face such immediate physical punishments like Aaron did. But Christ’s sacrifice that grants us eternal life also frees and motivates us to pursue greater obedience out of reverence for God’s supremacy and holiness.
May Aaron’s downfall spur us to greater humility, faith and wholehearted devotion to our Lord. Though we may stumble, God remains full of mercy and grace to believers who sincerely seek forgiveness and turn away from sin. Aaron’s life teaches us to cling tighter to our faithful High Priest – the perfect mediator between God and man – Jesus Christ.