the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
IS NOT AARON THE LEVITE THY BROTHER? I KNOW THAT HE CAN SPEAK WELL
WHAT a gifted house! What an honour to that man of the house of Levi who took to wife a daughter of Levi! What a rich slave-hut was that with Miriam and Aaron and Moses all born of God into it! What splendid wages to have three such children given to that son and daughter of Levi to nurse up for the Lord, and for Israel, and for all the world; three such goodly children as Miriam the prophetess, and Aaron the high priest, and Moses the deliverer and leader and lawgiver of Israel. Has there ever been another house gifted like that house in Goshen on the face of the earth? I have not heard or read of another house in all the world like the house of Amram of the house of Levi, and his wife God-my-glory. And, then, the sovereign distribution and allotment of their gifts and their graces and their offices, the dividing-out of the family genius, was no less wonderful than the immense amount of it. For, by that sovereign division and distribution Moses was made the first and the greatest of all the prophets of Israel. Aaron, again, must have been the most eloquent of all eloquent men, since the fame of his eloquence had reached up to heaven itself till it was acknowledged and talked of and boasted about there. What oratory must Aaron's oratory have been when God Himself both felt and confessed its power. I know, said the Divine Voice, that he can speak well. And, then, Miriam, in sacred drama, in sacred dance, in sacred song, and in sacred instruments of music, was quite worthy to stand out beside her two unapproachable brothers. While, all the time, each several one of the three was all the more dependent on the other two just because of the greatness of his own and her own special gift. The very magnitude of their own gifts made the others' gifts more necessary to them, till the whole house of Amram was a complete and a rounded and a perfect gift of God to all Israel. And till all that Israel could ever need as a nation and as a church, as fathers and as mothers, as masters and as servants, as slaves and as redeemed from slavery, as sinners and as the chosen people of God-all Israel was complete in Moses and Aaron and Miriam, even as they also were complete in God and in one another. Yes, indeed, what a highly honoured house was the house of that son and daughter of Levi, Amram and God-her-glory.
And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent. Neither heretofore nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue. It was the depth and the weight and the fulness of Moses' mind that made him a man of such slow speech and of such a slow tongue. Moses had lived so long alone in Horeb that he had well-nigh forgotten the every-day language of every-day men. He had been so much alone with God that he felt like a man away from home when he met again with any man of many words. He had taken the shoes off his feet so often before God that he never could put them on again or walk in them with any ease or any freedom before men. I Am! was all that God had said to Moses, year after year, as Moses fed the flock of his father-in-law in the mount of God. And, who am I? was all that Moses answered God for forty years. Moses was a great philosopher, says Matthew Henry, and a great statesman, and a great divine, and yet he was no orator. And one great statesman of England speaking of another great statesman, says of him, He was without any power to be called oratory, and yet I never heard a man speak in the House of Commons who had so much power over the House. He had those great qualities that govern men, and that has far more influence in the House of Commons than the most brilliant flights of fancy, or the keenest wits. But, better than all his great philosophy and great statesmanship, Moses was a great divine, the greatest of Old Testament divines; the greatest because the first of all divines. And yet he was no preacher, as we say. In this Moses was somewhat like certain of our own great divines. They have such a depth and weight of matter that they also are slow of speech and of a slow style. Butler for one, and Foster for another. Whereas certain others of our great divines are like Aaron in this, that they can speak well. And yet we have sometimes heard of great divines and great preachers too who shrank back from the pulpit as much as Moses himself shrank. The call of Isaiah, and the call of Jeremiah, and the call of Calvin, and the call of Knox, and the call of Bruce all remind us of Moses' noble modesty, his fear of his office, his fear of himself, and of his fellow-men. And the Lord said to Moses, 'Who hath made man's voice? Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people; he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.'
Cato the Censor defined a great orator to he nothing else than a good man well skilled in speaking. And Quintilian, in his Institutes of Oratory, has a noble passage on the great Roman's great text. Let all our young orators, and, especially, let all our sacred and Aaronic orators, study the delightful Institutes, that perfect treasure-house of ancient letters, ancient wisdom, and ancient truth and beauty. Now, Aaron was one of Cato's good men skilled in speaking. We are sure of that, because for Aaron's goodness as a man we have not only his long lifetime in the most sacred of all services, but also the psalmist's testimony that Aaron, with all his great trespass, was a great saint of God. And, besides, for his great skilfulness in speaking we have the great certificate of the Divine Voice itself. The sword had entered Aaron's soul also. The iron furnace of Egypt had been burning for long in Aaron's covenant heart also. But when Aaron looked at the tremendous and impossible task of delivering Israel out of Egypt, he felt that he was helpless and hopeless. At the same time, he felt sure that if there was a man on the face of the earth made of God on special purpose for such a service, it was just his own banished brother Moses. And thus it was that Aaron set out to Horeb to seek for Moses just at the moment when the bush began to burn on Horeb, and when the Lord began to speak to Moses out of the bush. 'Behold, Aaron thy brother cometh forth to meet thee, and when he soeth thee he will be glad in his heart. And thou shalt speak to him, and put words in his mouth; and I will be with his month and with thy mouth, and will teach you both what you shall both do. And he shall be, even he shall be to thee, instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.' And Aaron went and met Moses in the mount of God. And Aaron kissed Moses, and Moses told Aaron all that the Lord bad said concerning him, till Aaron answered, and shrank back, and said: Surely it is not so. Surely the Lord did not so speak concerning me. I speak well! I speak for thee, my brother! I am not worthy to unloose thy shoe-latchet. I am not worthy to be of the same name with thee. I should always sit silent. I should never speak. My tongue will not tame. I need thee, my brother. I need thy wisdom. I need thy patience. I need thy counsel. I need thy command. Thou art the wisest and the best of men. Thou art a king in Israel. Moses, my dear brother! While all the time Moses felt more than ever before how all this must be of God. For even as Aaron so spake, Moses saw to his delight that Aaron had always the right word ready. No man could resist Aaron. No man could refuse Aaron, Pharaoh himself would not be able to resist and refuse Aaron. Moses felt beside Aaron that he would never open his mouth again. The right word always went away, somehow, when Moses opened his mouth to speak. Whereas Aaron bad but to open his mouth and the right word always came out of his mouth. Till, with Aaron beside him, Moses felt that he could face without fear of failure both all Israel and Pharaoh with all his priests and all his magicians.
Now, as we have already seen, we have always had men among ourselves more or less like Moses, and other men more or less like Aaron. Men like Moses-that is, men of great originality, and of great depth and grasp and strength of mind. And yet men who have been of a stammering tongue. Carlyle has made Cromwell's 'mute veracity' noble and venerable to us to all time, and Lord Acton has told us that Dr. Döllinger knew too much to write much. On the other hand, what are those men to do, who, like Aaron, have no such depth, and grasp, and originality, and productivity of mind as Moses and the great thinkers and great scholars of our race have had? A common man and a man of no gifts may be set in a place, and may have a calling of God that he cannot escape-a place and a calling which demand constant speaking and constant teaching at his hands. A minister, for instance. He may not he a great scholar or a great thinker himself, but he is set over those who are still less scholars, and who think still less. Now, what is such a man to do? What, but just to take Moses instead of God. What, but just to find out those great divines and other great authors who have been so immediately and so richly gifted of God, and to live with them, and work with them, and make them his own, just as if God had given him all the great gifts He has given them. If I am a man of no learning and no originality, then I know men, both living and dead, who are; and they are all that, of God, and under God, for me. And, if I had to travel barefoot to Horeb for them; if I had to sell my bed for them, at any cost I would have them. I would take no rest till I had found them, and then, as God said of Aaron, I would be glad when I saw them, and I would kiss them, and claim them as my own. We are not all the men of Moses-like genius and originality we might like to be. We are not all epoch-making, history-making, nation-making men. But we are what we are. We are what God has made us to be; and Moses himself is no more. And Moses may be as glad to meet me in my teachableness and in my love and in my reverence as I am to meet him in his magnificent supremacy and high solitariness of gift and of office. Yes; and who knows what our Master may graciously say to us after He has rewarded Moses for his magnificent talents and for his magnificent services? One thing is sure: we shall be satisfied with what He shall say to us, and we shall have no room left in our hearts wherewith any more to envy Moses for his god-like gifts and for his god-like services.
All went well with Aaron as long as he had Moses beside him to inspire him, and to support him, and to be to him instead of God. Aaron faced the elders of Israel, and scattered all their objections and all their fears as a rushing mighty wind scatters chaff; and the long struggle with Pharaoh and with his magicians lias surely been preserved to us by Aaron's eloquent pen. The crossing of the Red Sea also, Mount Sinai, and the giving of the tabernacle and the law-it has certainly been by some one who could both speak well and write well also that all that wonderful piece has been put into our hands. And, whatever part Aaron and Aaron's great gifts may have had in all that, at any rate, all went well with Aaron through all that. Aaron did splendid service through all that, and both his great name and his great service would have gone on growing in love and in honour to the end if only he had never let Moses out of his sight. But always when Moses was for any length of time out of sight, Aaron was a reed shaken with the wind; he was as weak and as evil as any other man. Those forty days that Moses was away on the Mount brought out, among other things, both Moses' strength and greatness and Aaron's littleness and weakness in a way that nothing else could have done. 'Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for, as for this Moses, we wot not what is become of him.' And Aaron went down like a broken reed before the idolatrous and licentious clamour of the revolted people. "A man may be able to speak well when all men's ears are open to him, and when all men's hands are clapping to what he says, who is yet a very weak man, and a very helpless man, and a very mischievous man in a time of storm and strain and shipwreck." A man may be, if not one of Cato's orators, yet a great favourite with the multitude, who has no real root in himself. He may speak well under sufficient applause who has no nobility of character, and no strength of will, and no backbone or brow of courage, and no living and abiding faith in God and in the truth of God. It has often been seen, both in sacred, and in profane, and in contemporary history, how soon the man of a merely emotional, impulsive, oratorical temperament goes to the wall in the hour of real trial. "It is popular clamour, and the dividing and receding wave of popular support, that tries a true statesman's strength. The loud demands and the angry threats of the excited people soon serve to discover whether the wonted leader is really able and really worthy to lead or no. "And men of the oratorical order have so often flinched and failed in the hour of action and of suffering that our eloquent men are apt to be too lightly esteemed. The love of popularity, and the absolute necessity to have the multitude with him, is a terrible temptation to that leader of men and of movements in the church and in the state who has the gift of popular speech, and who loves to employ it. What would the people like me to say to them on that subject? Will they crowd to hear it? How will they take it? And what will be said about what I have said after I have said it and cannot unsay it? And, in my heart of hearts, can I let them go? Shall I not tune my pulpit just a touch or, two, so as to attract this man, and so as to keep that other man from going away? Moses had his own temptations and snares that even he did not always escape and overcome; but it was the good speaker's temptation, it was the popular preacher's temptation, that led Aaron into the terrible trespass of the golden calf.
There is a fine sermon by the finest of English preachers under this fine title-'Saintliness not forfeited by the penitent.' And though that unique preacher, after his provoking manner, gives with the one hand and takes away with the other all through that fine sermon, at the same time the sermon is full of subtle truth and exquisite beauty. No; by the true penitent neither saintliness nor service is ever forfeited. Blessed be God, both saintliness and service too are, in such a case, only the better secured and the more fruitfully employed. But then, in order to either saintliness or service being preserved and maintained in a penitent, his penitence must be of the very best kind. It must be penitence indeed. It must be a breaking, burning, consuming, and ever-deepening life of penitence, and that, too, both before God and man. And it was because Aaron's penitence was at once so saintly, and so laid out in service, that we hear so little, and in as many words, about it. We would be nearer the truth about Aaron if we put him at the very head of all Old Testament penitents, both for his own sins and for the sins of all other men. Luther speaks with Isaiah-like boldness when he says that Jesus Christ, by reason of the law of imputation, was the greatest sinner that ever was. Now, Aaron had to be Jesus Christ till Jesus Christ came. And while Aaron was Jesus Christ in type and by imputation, at the same time, and to give the uttermost reality and the uttermost intensity to that, he was himself Aaron all the time, Aaron of the golden calf and of many other untold transgressions besides. And you may be quite sure that Aaron never slew a sacrifice for sin that he did not lay the golden calf, and the nakedness, and the dancing, and the shame, and all the never-to-be-forgotten sin upon its bleeding head. You may be quite sure that Aaron never went into the holy place any day for the sin of others till he had gone first for his own sin. You may rely upon it that many an Israelite whose sin had found him out had a prayer offered for him and for his case at the altar such that the penitent never knew where all the compassion, and all the sympathy, and all the humility, and all the holiness, and all the harmlessness of his high priest came from. Little did the penitents in Israel think how much of his high priesthood Aaron had put on under Sinai and on the scene of that idolatrous and licentious revelry. Moses in his anger had ground the golden calf to ashes, and had sprinkled the ashes on the waters of the brook that ran down out of the Mount of God, till all the people drank of the sin laden water. And to this day the children of Israel have a saying to this effect,-that when any terrible judgment of God, or any great remorse, or any great repentance comes upon them there is always an ounce of the ashes of the golden calf in it. And Aaron kept in the holy place, and beside the pot of manna and the rod that budded, a silver chest full of that same accursed ashes, and out of which chest he always sprinkled, and with many tears, all that he ate and all that he drank on every returning day of atonement. By these things priests pray, by these things prophets preach, by these things psalmists sing, and l by things like these there comes to all sinful men the best life of their souls. John Foxe used to declare that both he and his people had got much more good out or his sins than ever either he or they had got out of his good works. And, though they did not know it, and would not have believed it, the penitents in Israel got far more good out of their high priest's trespass in the matter of the golden calf, than ever they got out of his broidered garments, and his silver bells, and his fair mitre upon bis head.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Aaron'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​a/aaron.html. 1901.