Questions From Readers
Since Jehovah forbids idolatry, why did he not punish Aaron for making the golden calf?
When Aaron made the golden calf, as recorded in Exodus chapter 32, he broke God’s law regarding idolatry. (Ex. 20:3-5) As a result, “Jehovah got very incensed [at Aaron] to the point of annihilating him; but [Moses] made supplication also in behalf of Aaron at that particular time.” (Deut. 9:19, 20) Did the supplication of the righteous man Moses have “much force” in Aaron’s case? (Jas. 5:16) Yes. Because of such supplication and for at least two other reasons, it seems that Jehovah answered Moses’ prayer and did not punish Aaron.
One reason apparently had to do with Aaron’s record of faithfulness. When Moses was commissioned to appear before Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, Jehovah appointed Aaron to accompany Moses and speak representatively for him. (Ex. 4:10-16) These two men obediently appeared before the king of Egypt many times, bearing the brunt of Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness. While still in Egypt, therefore, Aaron built up a record of loyal, steadfast service to Jehovah.—Ex. 4:21.
Consider also what led up to Aaron’s making the golden calf. Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days. When “the people got to see that Moses was taking a long time about coming down from the mountain,” they persuaded Aaron to make an idol for them. Aaron cooperated and produced a golden statue of a calf. (Ex. 32:1-6) However, Aaron’s subsequent actions indicate that his heart was not with this idolatrous movement. He evidently gave in to pressure. When Moses brought the issue of idolatry to a dramatic culmination, for example, all the sons of Levi—including Aaron—firmly took sides with Jehovah. Three thousand idolaters who bore the prime responsibility for the idolatrous conduct were slain.—Ex. 32:25-29.
Moses thereafter told the people: “You have sinned with a great sin.” (Ex. 32:30) Thus, Aaron was not the only one who bore a measure of guilt for the wrongdoing. Both he and the people benefited from Jehovah’s great mercy.
After the incident with the golden calf, Jehovah commanded that Aaron be installed as high priest. “You must clothe Aaron with the holy garments and anoint him and sanctify him,” God told Moses, “and so he must act as priest to me.” (Ex. 40:12, 13) Evidently, Jehovah forgave Aaron for his weakness. At heart, Aaron was a loyal upholder of true worship, not an idolatrous rebel.