February 1981

“Aaron,” Ensign, Feb. 1981, 37


Young men can learn the type of priesthood servant they should be by studying the followership of Aaron.

Most young Aaronic priesthood holders do not know that Aaron and his brother Moses long ago established one of the great models of priesthood leadership. It’s true that Aaron’s priestly functions were usually over-shadowed by his younger brother’s prophetic experiences as Moses led Israel out of bondage and set in order the Mosaic dispensation; yet Aaron so beautifully typified service to God that one major division of the Lord’s priesthood was named after him.

I first received the Aaronic Priesthood a quarter of a century ago. Since then I have attempted to learn and apply the principles of priesthood leadership that Aaron practiced so well. Ten principles in particular stand out in my mind.

1. Accept God. As a boy, Aaron saw his younger brother, Moses, miraculously preserved from death and then raised in royal luxury before fleeing Egypt for Midian. Aaron remained behind in slavery where he could have easily turned against God and the Hebrew religion. But instead, he must have drawn close to the Lord; his experiences of gaining a testimony are not recorded, but when he was over eighty years old “the Lord said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went” (Ex. 4:27). Aaron’s faith in God strengthened him for the difficult challenges he and Moses would face.

Ironically the initial challenges came from his own people. Through the Lord, Moses was given miraculous signs to help convince the people he was their deliverer (see Ex. 4:1–9), and these signs, along with Aaron’s testimony, convinced the Israelites to allow the two brothers to represent them to the Pharaoh (see Ex. 4:29–31). But when the Pharoah became angry and increased the people’s burdens, the Israelites turned on them. Moses expressed his hurt and doubts to the Lord in prayer (see Ex. 5:20–23), but there is no evidence his or Aaron’s faith ever wavered.

I recall tests to my own faith. I went to high school in Bloomington, Indiana, and the nonmember students constantly challenged my beliefs. At the time, my only defense was to do what Moses and Aaron did—draw closer to the Lord. I reasoned that God must exist since I couldn’t prove that he didn’t. I also assumed that he could and would communicate with me. With these ideas in mind, and with the faith that my parents’ testimony had to be based on something real, I prayed fervently. Out of that intense struggle, I received my own witness of God’s existence.

2. Build character. One impressive aspect of Aaron’s life was how he so completely accepted his younger brother as a prophet. Moses had never lived as a Hebrew slave, and he had been living outside Egypt for forty years. Aaron could have considered himself better able to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt because of his age and experience, but he accepted Moses as the Lord’s prophet from the beginning. Even so, at one point he and his sister, Miriam, were chastised by the Lord for being jealous of Moses’ relationship with God (see Num. 12). A lesser man might have let bitterness and jealousy turn him against the prophet, but instead Aaron repented.

Aaron faced a number of temptations in this regard. He may have been aware of the prophecies of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who had foretold a seer named Moses who would be raised by the king’s daughter (see JST, Gen. 50:29). There are no known prophetic promises or profound patriarchal blessings recorded for Aaron; he very easily could have let indifference and jealousy limit his growth. Instead, he continually improved his own life and character until he himself represented the Lord as a great servant.

I remember the same mixture of feelings on a much smaller scale when I was a teacher in Provo Ninth Ward. When the presidency of the quorum became vacant, I felt qualified to assume the position. However, another young man was selected. I did not question his worthiness and capacity, but I did ask myself if I were not as worthy or prepared as I should have been. I resolved to try to keep my life constantly in order and to improve myself so I would be ready for any future church calling which might be extended to me.

As Latter-day Saints, we should be sensitive enough to our weaknesses that we overcome them before they overcome us. Aaron sets the example.

3. Use Authority Righteously. Priesthood holders have a dual challenge when deciding between pride and humility. As individuals they must maintain a balance between pride as children of God and humility as mortals with weaknesses. Likewise, as priesthood holders, they must be able to claim and use priesthood authority without giving in to the temptation to seek for higher offices.

Here again Aaron sets the example. There is no evidence that he ever sought his brother’s prophetic office; but neither was he weak and passive when given authority. When he was commanded to speak for Moses to the Pharaoh, he did. He assumed his own responsibility and acted within his own calling (see Ex. 4:30; Ex. 5:1–4; Ex. 6:13; Ex. 7:1–2, 6–10 19–20; Ex. 8:5–6, 16–17; Ex. 10:3; Ex. 11:10).

Aaron did fail to exercise his leadership successfully when he was left in charge of the Israelites at Mount Sinai. While Moses was upon the mountain, Aaron lost control of the congregation as they insisted that he build them the golden calf (see Ex. 24:14; Ex. 32:19–24). However, after Moses’ rebuke, Aaron and the Levites purged the camp of those who refused to follow the Lord (see Ex. 32:26–29). Thereafter, Aaron often had to endure the murmuring of the Israelites, but he never again let them get so far out of hand.

Aaron’s experience at Sinai reminds me of a similar experience I had as a squad leader in my Army platoon at Fort Ord, California.

Our platoon was preparing for a special inspection; after cleaning the barracks, the men went outside to clean their gear. The platoon sergeant called the four squad leaders into the barracks where he noted a few tasks that still needed to be completed. He told me to call some of my men in to do these jobs. So I opened a window and called out to three men in my squad, “Sergeant Carrington wants you to come in and do some more work!”

As I turned around, Sergeant Carrington asked, “What did you tell your men?”

“I told them you wanted them to come in and do some more work.”

“No,” he said, “I told you to call your men in to do the work. You know what to do.” In Sergeant Carrington’s language, “You know what to do” was an order to do one hundred pushups, right then.

I was frustrated and embarrassed at the time; but after a few hours, I began to appreciate what he was teaching me. I was the men’s squad leader, and I had the authority to order them into the barracks to do their jobs. Instead I had used Sergeant Carrington’s name and authority to try and impress the men to do their work.

We learn from the Doctrine and Covenants 58:26–28 [D&C 58:26–28] that we should not be commanded in all things but instead “do many things of [our] own free will.” We should magnify our callings by exercising our own agency and our own courage rather than relying upon the authority of others to back us up or solve all our problems for us.

4. Develop talents. As Aaron magnified his calling to speak to Israel and the Pharaoh, he developed the talents and spiritual gifts he needed to fulfill his stewardship. For example, he learned how to receive revelation (see Ex. 12:1; Lev. 10:8; Lev. 11:1; Lev. 13:1; Num. 18:1) and eventually saw God on Mount Sinai (see Ex. 19:24; Ex. 24:9–10). He developed his talents so well that one important spiritual gift was named after him—the “gift of Aaron.” Oliver Cowdery was promised this gift in this dispensation. (See D&C 8:6–11.)

Aaron was the mouthpiece for Moses just as Moses was the prophet or mouthpiece for the Lord. As a spokesman for Moses and the Lord, Aaron was therefore responsible to communicate the Lord’s messages and to teach the Israelites (see Lev. 10:11; Deut. 33:10). Many prophets, including Moses and Enoch, felt apprehensive about their callings and concerned about their ability to transmit the message accurately. A prophet not only has to understand God’s word, but he has to communicate it. Aaron’s talent for speaking allowed him to fulfill this awesome responsibility.

5. Endure challenges. Aaron experienced many disappointments during his ministry. He witnessed the Israelites’ wickedness with the golden calf and he later saw thousands die in plagues and divine punishments (see Num. 11, 14, 16). He also suffered from personal tragedies and disappointments. Two of his four sons were slain by fire from the Lord (see Lev. 10:1–2), and his sister was afflicted with leprosy (see Num. 12:10). Through these trials he “held his peace” (see Lev. 10:3) and asked for forgiveness of his own weaknesses (see Num. 12:11). At one time the Israelites accused him of taking too much authority unto himself (see Num. 16:3); he and Moses were chastised for not giving the Lord proper credit and for not following specific instructions when water came from a rock. He was also told he would not enter the Promised Land with the Israelites (see Num. 20:12–20). Aaron’s life was full of frustrations and delayed rewards. But instead of weakening, becoming bitter, or turning against the Lord, Aaron became stronger and finally completed his stewardship.

Like him, many of us must learn to retain our faith in God’s justice and live worthy for blessings that do not come immediately. I remember a fine young man in Solingen, Germany, whom my companion and I taught diligently, fasted for, and prayed about. His parents originally denied him permission to be baptized, and he later lost interest in the Church. But thirteen years later, after the break-up of his marriage, he found the Church again; and when a business interview took him to Chicago he came on to Salt Lake City, and I had the immense joy of baptizing him.

6. Fulfill stewardship. Aaron’s calling required him to fulfill assignments in meticulous detail, especially in relation to the tabernacle (see Ex. 28, 39) and in performing the varied sacrifices (see Lev. 5–7).

Chapter ten of Leviticus records an episode of improper stewardship by two of Aaron’s four sons. They offered “strange incense” upon the golden altar in the tabernacle and were struck down by the Lord. Apparently they had been drinking too much wine because the Lord then commanded Aaron, his sons, and the later generations of Levitical priests to drink no wine whatsoever while they were officiating and teaching (see Lev. 10:8–11). At the death of his two sons, Aaron and his remaining sons were commanded to show no outward remorse nor could they participate in the funeral services (see Lev. 10:6, 7). They were also commanded to eat the remainder of the meat sacrifices which were then upon the altar (see Lev. 10:12–15). Aaron and his sons followed these strict commands.

Those who serve in the Aaronic Priesthood today learn precise procedures in blessing and passing the sacrament, baptizing, and other ordinances. As a holder of the Aaronic priesthood and later as a leader in Aaronic priesthood programs, I came to appreciate the necessity of doing all these sacred ordinances correctly and exactly, just as our leaders have prescribed, even though we may not understand why certain procedures should be followed.

7. Give service. Aaron gave forty years of his time, talents, and energy in priesthood service. The main responsibilities he directed include—

  1. Tabernacle worship (see Lev. 24:5–9; Ex. 30:7–8, 30)

  2. Judging certain cases (see Lev. 13, 14)

  3. Caring for tabernacle furniture, especially the ark of the covenant (see Num. 4:5–20)

  4. Washings or baptisms (see Ex. 40:12; D&C 84:26–27)

  5. Sacrifices and offerings (see Lev. 6:12; Lev. 9:15–22; Ex. 29:38–44)

  6. Teaching the laws and covenants (Lev. 10:11; Deut. 33:10)

  7. Care of the tabernacle, including its transportation (see Num. 3:5–13, 23–27)

  8. Blowing the silver trumpets for war or religious festivals (see Num. 10:1–8)

Reading through these scriptures makes apparent the time and effort that Aaron must have spent over the years in these responsibilities. Nowhere is it recorded that he complained of an excessive workload, of having too many callings, or of needing more time to enjoy other things. He worked full time for the kingdom right up to his death.

I am embarrassed to think of the times I hesitated to spend extra time and effort with the seventeen teachers of the Provo Thirteenth Ward while I was their advisor. Granted, I had a growing family, a new job and home, and other responsibilities, but I needed to be reminded of my obligation to these young men. As I came to know and love them, their challenges and problems became my own. Gradually I found myself serving not out of a sense of responsibility but in a spirit of love and concern.

Aaron supervised an elaborate system of offerings and sacrifices, and we today have many opportunities to give of ourselves. Other responsibilities, old age, or our daily work should not excuse us from serving the Lord and helping him build the kingdom of God. As much as we may serve, none of us gives as much as the Savior or our Father in Heaven.

8. Help leaders. Moses and Aaron are listed together so many times in the scriptures that they seem to be almost inseparable. Remembering that the first books of the Old Testament were written by Moses, we get a good idea of the kind of faithful support Aaron must have given Moses. Moses, leader of his dispensation and prophet of the Lord, must have felt truly sustained, not only by Aaron’s unfailing presence but by his conscientious service. Because of Aaron’s diligent work, all the religious programs were complete and available for the Israelites. This not only provided them with a proper religious environment, but it also relieved Moses of considerable worry and concern so he could concentrate his efforts on those responsibilities he could not delegate.

Priests in the Aaronic Priesthood experience similar challenges as they strive to support their priests quorum president, the bishop. As priests magnify their stewardship, the bishop is able to concentrate his efforts in other areas. Counselors and others can also relieve a bishop of many worries and allow him time to better serve as a “judge in Israel” and spiritual advisor to the ward.

9. Instruct followers. One major responsibility given the Aaronic Priesthood has been to teach, warn, exhort, and “invite all to come unto Christ” (see Lev. 10:11; Deut. 33:10; D&C 20:46–59). Aaron taught the priests and Levites their duties and prepared his son, Eleazar, to assume the office of high priest. At Aaron’s death, the transition to the new leadership was smooth and without incident, indicating how well he had prepared others to continue the priestly functions.

In the student ward where I am a bishop, we must train most of the ward members in their callings and responsibilities. These freshmen are anxious and zealous to serve, but they often lack the knowledge and experience to fulfill some ward callings. Both of my counselors are skilled leaders; they effectively administer the ward programs and train ward members in their dealings with others while I concentrate on their relationship with the Lord. We thus work as a team to instruct all ward members in our earthly responsibilities.

As members of the Lord’s church we all have the serious responsibility of teaching others by word and deed the doctrines of the gospel and the basic values of Christian living. In an age of worldliness and family disintegration, we must stay true to our values so we can teach others to live as children of God.

10. Judge progress. The Lord recognized Aaron’s devout service both during Aaron’s lifetime and thereafter. God verified Aaron’s priesthood authority by causing Aaron’s staff to bud miraculously (see Num. 17:5–9) and by consuming his sacrifices with divine fire (see Lev. 9:22–24). He also gave the priesthood to Aaron through Moses (see Lev. 8:4–13; D&C 132:59), then promised him that his righteous posterity would forever have the right to hold it (see Ex. 29:9; Num. 18:1; 1 Chr. 23:13; D&C 68:16–21; D&C 84:27). Later, the Lord named one division or order of his priesthood after Aaron (D&C 107:1–20), an indication of his pleasure with Aaron’s consecrated service.

I find it difficult to measure my own service to the Lord. I look for the subtle ways the Spirit inspires, directs, and leads me. I count my blessings. I try to evaluate the service I have rendered others. However, the best measurement of my priesthood service will ultimately be demonstrated in my family. If I love and honor the priesthood, my family will more likely do the same. Aaron’s example shows just how excellently the priesthood can be honored, and he serves as a model for later generations of priesthood holders and their families. We would do well to make our service as effective and true as did Aaron.

  • Victor L. Ludlow, associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, serves as deacons quorum adviser and teaches Sunday School in his Provo, Utah, ward.

Painting by Harry Anderson