On its surface this account seems (at least to modern individuals) to be nothing more than a story told in passing to fill in the gap and inform the reader about the meeting of the two brothers. However, there are elements in this narrative that suggest this meeting is to be understood in the context of the temple and that perhaps Aaron at this time was the recipient of temple ordinances. The elements are as follows:
- The Lord instructs Aaron to meet Moses in the "wilderness" (מדבר - midbar)*.
- Moses and Aaron meet in the "mount of God" (הר האלהים - har haelohim).
- In the mount, Moses teaches Aaron all the "signs" (אותים - othim) which Moses had been given from the Lord.
In Hebrew the term from which the word "wilderness" is translated is מדבר (midbar). The root of midbar is דבר (dabar) which means "to arrange". To the ancient Israelites the wilderness was a place of order which the Lord had ordered or "arranged" during the creation. This was in contrast to the chaos of the deep out of which the ordered creation emerged. Chaos was the realm of Satan while order was the realm of God. The temple was perhaps the highest manifestation of order on earth. Every aspect of the temple was ordered, from the structure itself to the rites performed therein (See Exodus 25:8-9). Therefore, it is not surprising that the wilderness has served as a substitute temple, or a place where individuals can draw close to Deity. For example, the Savior went into the wilderness to be with God (See JST Matthew 4:1) and Joseph Smith experienced his first vision in the wilderness (See JS-H 1:14).
Another word which shares the same root as מדבר is דביר (debir) which is used to describe the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place in the temple (translated as "oracle" in 1 Kings 6:16). It was the דביר where the Lord had his throne (the ark) and into which the High Priest entered on the Day of Atonement. Therefore, the presence of מדבר is one indicator that the account of the meeting between Moses and Aaron is connected with temple.
הר האלהים (Har haElohim)
Exodus 4:27 informs us that the meeting between the brothers took place in the האר האלהים "mount of God" (aka Horeb see Exodus 3:1). The connection between mountains and temples has been firmly well established (Read more here) and anciently mountains were natural temples where prophets went to not only ascend closer to God but to enter his presence (See 1 Nephi 11:1; Moses 1:1-2; Moses 7:2-4). In this respect they are closely connected with the Holy of Holies specifically. It was into the Holy of Holies that the High Priest entered each year during the Day of Atonement and symbolically came into God's presence. It is interesting to note that after going into the wilderness to be with God the Savior ascended a mountain and there beheld a vision of all the kingdoms of the earth similar to the visions of Moses and Enoch after they had entered God's presence (See JST Matt. 4:8; Moses 1:28-29 ; Moses 7:2-4). Therefore, the presence of הר האלהים indicates another connection with the temple.
The KJV version of Exodus 4:28 translates the word אותים (othim) into English as "signs". In a superficial reading of this account one may assume that the signs mentioned in this verse refer to the signs the Lord gave to Moses earlier in the chapter to demonstrate to the Israelites that Moses truly was sent by the Lord. However, the presence of מדבר and הר האלהים indicate that this may not be the case. Also, clues found in אותים itself may indicate that this may not be the case.
In certain instances in the Old Testament there are places where אותים is found in a ritual, covenant making context. The word can also be translated into English as "tokens" as found in Genesis 9:12 and Genesis 17:11 where it is found in the context of covenant making. Therefore, it is possible that the presence of אותים in this passage may indicate the presence of covenant making involving Moses and Aaron. Modern temples are places where covenants are made with the Lord and Latter-Day Saints understand that the covenants and ordinances found in modern temples had their counterparts anciently (see D&C 124:38).
In addition, the fact that אותים can be translated as "signs" or "tokens" is another indicator that the account is to be understood in a temple context. In addition to receiving covenants temples are places where righteous individuals go to be taught certain signs and tokens. Brigham Young explained it this way:
“Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941], p. 416).
Since we know that the endowment ceremony is not unique to our dispensation we can safely assume that it served a similar, if not identical, purpose anciently and there is very strong evidence that this was indeed the case. Therefore, the signs or tokens that Moses taught Aaron may have been the signs and tokens given in temples at the time.
The presence of the terms מדבר, הר האלהים and אותים indicate that the account of Aaron traveling into the wilderness to meet with Moses on the Mount of God can be understood in a temple context. According to the teachings of Brigham Young, as discussed above, the purpose of the temple is to enable righteous individuals to ascend into the presence of the Lord by providing them with the signs and tokens which are necessary for that to happen.
We know that Moses had previously received these signs and tokens for himself because the text mentions that he had and he had evidently utilized those signs and tokens on at least one occasion (see Moses 1). Perhaps at this point in the narrative Aaron had not received this ordinance and the Lord wished for him to enjoy the blessings associated with it before embarking on his mission with Moses as this seems to be the model - at least in later dispensations (see Luke 24:49 and D&C 38:38).
In Exodus 7:1-2 the Lord explains that Moses would be a god to Pharaoh and that Aaron would be his (Moses') prophet. In this sense then, as Aaron traveled into the wilderness and ascended the mountain to meet Moses he was ascending into the presence of the Lord. If we accept that Aaron did at some point during his life receive his temple blessings it seems certain that this was the point when it occurred.
*Disclaimer: I have been studying Hebrew casually for the past year or two when I have a break from work/family/church responsibilities, but by no means have I mastered the language. I have given it my best shot to make the information regarding the Hebrew as accurate as possible.
Note: the inclusion of the word נשק (nashaq - translated as "kissed") may be another indicator that this account is to be understood in the context of the temple. It appears as though this word could be translated as "embraced" although I felt like I couldn't make a strong enough case to include it in the main portion of my blog posting. The ritual embrace is also connected to the temple and if you would like to read more about it there is an interesting article at the By Common Consent blog.