Aaron was a man left in charge – and he blew it. Big time.
The background to the story is this: The Lord summoned Moses to the top of Mount Sinai, where God would proceed to deliver His Law to His Prophet to His People. Moses took Joshua with him and told the people to present their concerns to Aaron, Moses’ older brother, who had partnered with him in the showdown with the Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
The people grew restless in Moses’ absence. Their reaction revealed that they had not taken to heart the greatness of their deliverance from bondage nor of the glory of I AM THAT I AM who had brought it to pass.
Freedom must have felt like an awesome gift to the Israelites after more than 400 years of slave labor. But this multitude still had a lot to learn about responsibility. The one person, Moses, who had been telling them what to do was out of sight.
They lost focus and panicked. We can imagine some of the conversations around the compound.
“When will he come back?”
“How long are going to wait here?”
The Need for Leadership
Some among the group came up with the idea that they needed something bright to rally around. They needed a symbol, something to define their purpose.
“Up, make us gods!” This was the demand made to Aaron. These people knew all about gods, for Egypt was full of them. In fact, each of the plagues addressed one of the idols of the empire. The Lord manifested His power and exposed the idols as empty, vain, and inept.
“Up, make us gods, which shall go before us!”
The people were looking for a leader. Here’s the moment where Aaron had an opportunity. He could point the people to God and to His fire upon the mount.
But he didn’t.
Rather than stand for God before them, Aaron choose the path of accommodation. He went with the flow and asked that they bring their golden earrings to him.
To be fair, I am not sure how I would have responded. Think of the murmur and chatter that filled the tents; imagine the atmosphere of dissatisfaction at work then and there. I like to think that Aaron was trying to buy time. The collection of the earrings, the melting down the gold, the fashioning of the molten metal – surely at any point Moses could have arrived and put an end to the escapade.
But then the calf was there, and the people cheered: “These be your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4). The deception was full on now.
Aaron built an altar and proclaimed a feast – to the Lord, of course. Except that the people weren’t listening at all. The day started with burnt offering and degenerated into something of an orgy as the people rose up to play. God’s people turned themselves into Egyptians.
The commandments yet to be presented to them were already being violated. A graven calf idol stood before them as the object of their worship.Leadership failures produce consequences that ripple out to those under the authority. Click To Tweet
Eventually, Moses was sent back to the camp by the Lord and to Aaron, who was asked, “What did these people do to you that you have brought this great sin upon them” (Exodus 32:21). The chapter goes on to say that Aaron “made them naked unto their shame among their enemies.”
Leadership failures produce consequences that ripple out to those under the authority. This principle is as old as the Fall of Adam; the damage done by his failure is driven home at every funeral.
Failure Isn’t Final
What happened to Aaron? Proverbs 29:25 provides the answer: “The fear of man brings a snare.” He allowed the will of the people to crush his spirit, and he led them into sin.
Was Aaron’s career finished? Not at all; God still chose to use this man – in a mighty way. “You shall put the holy garments on Aaron, and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest” (Exodus 40:13).
Mercy does rejoice against judgment. Aaron, like all of us, needed the robe of God’s righteousness and the covering of the Body of Christ. In Exodus 28, we read that the holy clothes put upon Aaron were tailored in wisdom and grace by the congregation: “And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office” (Exodus 28:3).
Aaron ministered through the wilderness wonderings of Israel. He was still the high priest who brought the blood through the veil to the Mercy Seat in the Tabernacle. I believe that through those years he learned the fear of the Lord.
This is not a fear that torments us; rather, it is a healthy sense of the nearness of God to each of us. It is fear that understands the sensitivity and character of the Spirit. As we grow in this fear, we learn how to keep hearts right before the Lord. We discern the profane things in us and around us – things that quench and grieve the Spirit.
The fear of the Lord answers and overcomes our fear of men. It releases us from the snare of our introspections and insecurities. It is the fear that sees the robe of righteousness that Christ has put upon us. It is the fear that answers the call of God: “Be holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
For more on the fear of the Lord, check out “Fear of the Lord Cancels Fear of Men,” a message preached by Thomas Schaller, Pastor of Greater Grace Church of Baltimore.