I would much rather be a leader like Aaron than like his younger brother, Moses. Aaron was clearly the more popular of the two, and for good reason. While Moses often seemed aloof—a loner and introvert—Aaron was a man of the people, far more comfortable in social settings.
We see the style of these two leaders in stark contrast in Exodus 32. Moses shunned the people in order to climb Mount Sinai and spend 40 days with God. Aaron stayed down at the bottom of the mountain, where he could hang out with the people.
Which of these leaders would you like to be? Isolated for 40 days—just you and God—or partying with the people in joyous revelry?
When the people got impatient waiting for Moses to return, they “gathered around Aaron” (v. 1), the leader they knew would give them what they wanted. Their request was remarkably straightforward: “Make us some gods who can lead us.”
How would you have responded to such a request? Would you rebuke the people or “go along to get along”?
Incredibly, Aaron complied with their plan and asked them to bring him their “gold rings” that he could melt and shape into a calf they could worship (vs. 2-4).
Notice that bad decisions typically end up being about the gold—the money. How many politicians, preachers, and CEOs have gotten themselves in trouble by telling people, “Bring me the money!”
Of course, Aaron rationalized that all of this was done so the people could have “a festival to the Lord!” (v. 5). Isn’t that astounding reasoning? Yet it has happened again and again throughout history: practicing paganism “in the name of the Lord.”
And you have to admit, Aaron really knew how to throw a party. After going through a few religious rituals to relieve their conscience, the people “celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry” (v. 6).
All the while, Aaron was the chaperone—the “adult” on duty during an episode of “Israelites gone wild.”
Both God and Moses were livid about the situation. After smashing the stone tablets containing the 10 Commandments, Moses angrily demanded from Aaron, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?” (v. 21)
Moses apparently thought Aaron must have been tortured or threatened with his life in order to permit such an idolatrous orgy. But no, it was all too easy for the people to persuade Aaron to do their bidding. He was a man of the people, after all.
Aaron seems to have been completely tone deaf to how serious this offense was. First, he blamed the people. Then he acted as if the calf had just miraculously appeared when gold was thrown into the fire.
But his brother had been with God, and he wouldn’t buy any of these lame explanations: “Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies” (v. 25).
Are you a leader, or parent, who allows people to “get completely out of control” in order to have them like you? Do you choose to look the other way instead of take a stand?
When God’s people compromise with sin or idolatry, the result is always the same, as Moses points out: We become a laughingstock to the Lord’s enemies. Instead of being respected or liked, our credibility is undercut.
So I ask you again: Would you rather be a leader like Moses or like Aaron? Let’s be honest: It would be no fun at all to be in Moses’ position in this story. Who wants to be the “bad guy,” calling for repentance and spoiling people’s “fun”?
There always are consequences to Aaron’s kind of people-pleasing leadership. “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made” (v. 35). At the end of the day, the pleasures of sin were replaced by a plague of judgment.
Last year a prominent Christian humanitarian organization displayed the Aaron kind of leadership. After announcing that it was changing a longstanding policy on a moral issue, the ministry reversed itself just two days later because of the public outcry.
With Exodus 32 as a backdrop, I can’t help but wonder if both of their decisions were based on fear rather than faith…compromise rather than conviction…and popularity rather than passion or prophecy.
And if my suspicions are true, both of the decisions were more motivated by “gold” (money) than by God. Why? Because the Aaron kind of leader always looks to money rather than God’s anointing to grease the wheels of ministry.
I guess I would rather be a Moses kind of leader after all.