Aaron’s Performance of Signs and People’s Response to It

Two Intriguing Things about the Story in the last section of Exodus 4

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1. The first thing I want to talk about is the significance of Aaron in the last section of Ex 4. No one is like Moses before and since, but he appeared and disappeared pretty quickly. Unlike Moses, however, the house of Aaron, as priests, had played important roles throughout the history of Israel. But how do we know Aaron is such an important person? There should be some passages that promote Aaron’s importance so that later readers would accept that his descendants should occupy the position of the high priest. The last section of Ex 4 is one of those texts.

So How great is Aaron? According to Ex 4:27, the Lord suddenly speaks directly to Aaron to let him go out and meet Moses coming from Midian. When Moses first heard the Lord’s voice from the burning bush, he did not obey it. But Aaron immediately follows the voice. With Aaron’s help, Moses, who had been away from the people of Israel, could get into the land of Egypt and meet Israel’s leaders. So Aaron is one to whom God speaks directly and who listens to the voice without questioning. And Aaron helped Moses come back to Egypt.

When Moses met the leaders of Israel, he didn’t do much. It was Aaron who did everything. He explained what Moses experienced in Midian, and it was also Aaron who performed signs and wonders to convince the people that Israel should get out of Egypt. Somewhat strange here is that he performed the signs in front of the people, not just before the leaders, though Ex 4:29 indicates that Aaron summoned the leaders to assemble a meeting. It might have been better if the text had fully narrated who attended the meeting, but we can understand such missing details. So it is not a big deal. But what is so strange about the event is that it was Aaron, not Moses, who performed the signs. He didn’t experience the burning bush, the wondrous transformation of his staff into a snake, and the outbreak and cure of his leprous hand. Aaron just heard that Moses experienced those events. Nevertheless, in the assembly, Aaron didn’t just introduce Moses to the people and the leaders. But he actually represented God and even performed the sings, which were precisely the roles that Moses was supposed to play. So Aaron’s is not just Moses’s assistant here, but he is the leading figure. We can’t know what exactly happened in the actual history, but the author/editor of the passage certainly wanted to promote Aaron’s position in Israel.

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2. The second item to talk about is the people’s response to Aaron. After Aaron’s signs, the people of Israel believed (what Aaron said perhaps). When the people heard and learned that the Lord came to them and saw their sufferings, they bowed down and worshiped the Lord. The people seemed prepared to follow Aaron and Moses. But, as we know very well, Israelites are not that sincere in the story of the Bible. So we know that the people’s positive response to Aaron in Ex 4 is only the beginning of their betrayal. When Moses and Aaron first talked to Pharaoh to let the people go, Pharaoh didn’t listen to them and exploited the people harder. Then the people, who seemed prepared to follow Moses and Aaron, took a sudden turn and wished Moses and Aaron God’s judgment (Ex 5:21). They showed an immediate emotional response when they saw the signs. Likewise, when Pharaoh imposed more labor on them, they also showed a quick emotional response. But this time, their response was negative. They complained to Moses and Aaron as if they had never observed Aaron’s signs or as if they had never believed in the Lord. This is the cycle that Israelites display throughout the entire journey of Exodus. The lesson of the passage is that what we should follow is not our emotions, because emotions change and fluctuate all the time. The passage makes us think what faith should be like.

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