Exodus 6 – Know Me By My Name

Exodus 6 Bible with Simple Truth Organic 71 percent Cacao Baobab Dark Chocolate

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Today’s PassageExodus 6

Houston, we have a problem. I was all set to examine how God answers Moses’ questions and frustrations from our passage yesterday, make a point about how he doesn’t get angry with him this time, dig into the content of his response, but almost immediately I encountered complications. As God appeals to his history with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to underscore his commitment to their descendants, he makes a claim that is, prima facie, hog-bonkers.

Seriously: I had plans to hit this post in full inspirational-devotional mode. And then God goes and tells Moses, “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, Lord, I did not make Myself known to them” (3). “God Almighty” here is El Shaddai, a name spotlighted in the 1981 Michael Card song popularized by Amy Grant, and “Lord” is, of course, the revered tetragrammaton YHWH. It’s correct that God formally identified himself to Abraham as El Shaddai (Genesis 17:1), and Isaac and Jacob knew him by the same appellation. But, as we’ve already noted, human beings have been referring to him and addressing him by the name YHWH since Eve birthed Cain, if not earlier. If he didn’t “make himself known to them” by the name “YHWH,” then how did people get it into their heads to call him that? What is going on here?

I mean, this isn’t just a case of the narrator calling God by a name whose significance isn’t revealed to the dramatis personae until Exodus. Actual people are calling God by his holy four-letter name in dialogue with each other, dialogue which we’re meant to understand that they’re speaking out loud. If the patriarchs clearly know him by this name, yet God claims that he didn’t make it known to them, it would seem we have a contradiction on our hands.

And no immediate resolution presented itself to me. So I had to set aside my previous plans and go answer-hunting. Eric Lyons of Apologetics Press offers the most feasible answer I could find, turning to the nuanced meaning of yada, the Hebrew verb for “to know.” He states: “The expressions ‘to know the name of Jehovah’ or simply ‘to know Jehovah’ frequently mean more than a mere awareness of His name and existence. Rather, ‘to know’ (from the Hebrew word yada) often means to learn by experience” (“Did the Patriarchs Know Jehovah by Name?”). This is the verb that, famously, is used to describe the sexual act in verses such as Genesis 4:1. Generations of human beings, as we see in Genesis, knew how to apply the name “YHWH” to God. They could use the name to talk to him or about him, but did they really understand the name as Moses did, having encountered the self-sufficient I AM THAT I AM in a burning bush? Did they really grasp the meaning, as one grasps a lover, of the the Uncreated Creator’s name? As I said, I find Lyons’ proposition plausible.

The website Defending Inerrancy offers a wide cross-section of possible solutions, none of which strike me as more viable than Lyons’, but I link to them here for your consideration.

Anyway, God gives his pep talk to Moses, and he’s about to send Moses back to Pharaoh, with Aaron as his spokesman, when suddenly they are interrupted by a genealogy.

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