It is clear from the numerous passages in Scriptures that the name Yahweh is an eternal name and that it was known and used since the days of Adam and Eve.
It can also be demonstrated beyond any doubt that the sacred name was revealed by Yahweh to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaak, and Jacob and was utilized by their households.
How then is it possible that a popular interpretation—which contends that Yahweh never revealed his name to Abraham, Isaak, or Jacob and that it was only first revealed to Moses—can be used to offset the entire book of Genesis and numerous other verses throughout the Scriptures?
You are invited to investigate this seeming contradiction in Scriptures by embarking on the trail of truth to discover the facts of the matter.
When the argument that the name was only first revealed to Moses is closely examined, we find that the entire case rests with only one passage.
And eloahim spoke to Moses and he said to him, “I am Yahweh; and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaak, and to Jacob as el shaddai (the almighty one), and (by) my name Yahweh I did not reveal myself to them; and also I established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Kanaan, the land of their sojournings, which they sojourned in it.” (Exodus 6:2-4)
This statement, the explanation goes, proves that the sacred name was not revealed to any man, including the patriarchs Abraham, Isaak, and Jacob, until Moses, who lived hundreds of years later.
Further, since Moses was sent to the Israelites in Egypt with this name (Exod. 3:13-16), their thought continues, this proves that the name Yahweh was meant only for the Israelites.
Christian and Muslim groups hold this basic tenet as the reason why they need not use the sacred name.
The Jewish assemblies (who forbid the use of the sacred name by anyone except those they declare pious, and then only on special occasions), meanwhile, judge this passage to prove how extremely sacred the name Yahweh is. For the Jews it justifies their taboo against its use.
If one were to apply a cursory investigation, since most people already desire this popular interpretation to be valid, this commonly held understanding of Exodus 6:2-4 would seem plausible.
AN IMMENSE FLAW
But it is plagued with one immense flaw: if their translation and understanding of this verse is correct then large portions of the Scriptures are blatantly in error. One would be forced to choose between one of two assumed “traditions” of the Scriptures proposed by the priestly school as to when the personal name Yahweh first came into existence.
By definition, such a choice would entail a great contradiction between different parts of the Scriptures. Even if one is prone to believe in a totally human origin for the Scriptures, it would be hard to justify why its authors would have allowed such an obvious antithesis between this popular understanding of Exodus 6:2-4 and the rest of the Bible.
A close examination of Exodus 6:2-4 in context with the story being told, however, demonstrates that the presently popular interpretation of this passage is in error.
Yahweh was not informing Moses that the sacred name was unknown by Abraham, Isaak, and Jacob, but to the contrary, that he had in fact revealed it to them as part of his Covenants of Promise. For this reason Yahweh would bring the Israelites out of Egypt to take possession of the promised land.
To prove this understanding, we must first examine the background of the presently popular interpretation of Exodus 6:2-4 and then proceed with a detailed study of the context of the verse.
First it should be recognized that in ancient Hebrew there were no vowel marks written beneath the letters, as is customary today, nor were there commas, question marks, periods, quotation marks, or other such punctuation. How a sentence was to be understood and read depended entirely upon its context.
The next problem that arose was the lapse of time between when the original books were composed and understood until the return of the Jewish captivity from Babylonia during the 6th through 5th centuries B.C.E.
While in captivity in Babylonia (586-538 B.C.E.), the Jews had lost the continuity in such knowledge and upon their return to Judaea they had to be retaught (Neh. 8:1-18; Jos., Antiq., 11:5:5).
This knowledge was once again suppressed during the forced Hellenization period of Judaea by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who died in 163 B.C.E.
The loss of various subtle understandings of scriptural verse was counterbalanced by the development of Jewish “traditions” and schools of “interpretations,” which flowered from the latter half of the 2nd century B.C.E. until the 2nd century C.E. These traditions and interpretations were the source of much contention between the messiah and the Jewish religious leaders of the 1st century C.E. (see Matt. 15:1-9; Mark 7:7-9; Gal. 1:13-14; Col. 2:7-10; 1Pet. 1:18; 1Tim. 4:1-7)
As the years proceeded these traditions and interpretations came to be finalized in written form and are now known as the Mishnah and the various Talmud and Midrash documents.
One of the mistaken interpretations developed by the Jewish religious leaders was the notion that the personal name Yahweh was far too sacred for any common man to utter. Beginning sometime after the mid-2nd century B.C.E., the high priest, on only special occasions, and a few other chosen (who learned the name in secret), were permitted to express its sound.
FORBIDDEN BY JEWISH LAW
For all others it was forbidden by Jewish law. When the Jewish religious leaders came to the verse in Exodus 6:2-4, they chose to understand it as further evidence of their new and radical interpretation about the sacrosanctity of the name Yahweh.
Our earliest evidence of this interpretation comes in the works of the 1st century C.E. Jewish historian Josephus. With regard to Yahweh’s revelation of his personal name to Moses, as recorded in Exodus 3:1-16, Josephus writes:
Then the deity revealed to him (Moses) his name, which ere then had not come to men’s ears, and of which I am forbidden to speak. (Jos., Antiq. 2:12:4)
The belief that Moses was the first man to hear the personal name Yahweh is clearly disproved by numerous quotes from Genesis. Nevertheless, this inventive interpretation was needed in order for the Jewish religious leaders to justify their stand on not using the sacred name.
The debate over whether or not an average man should speak the personal name of the almighty also became the chief bone of contention between the messiah and the Jewish leaders.
The early assemblies following the messiah believed in speaking the sacred name. But during that period the Pharisaic elements which had joined these assemblies spread their own interpretation about.
By the 2nd century C.E. many of those calling themselves Christians had become adherents to the “ineffable name” doctrine of their Jewish brothers. It became official Christian dogma at the beginning of the 4th century when the Roman Church was founded under Constantine. From this point on it was considered “Jewish” to use the sacred name (despite the fact that the Jews forbade its use).
“TWO TRADITIONS” THEORY
To justify the apparent contradiction between the popular understanding of Exodus 6:2-4, and the evidence produced by the book of Genesis that the name Yahweh was previously known, biblical scholars developed the “two traditions” theory. This theory opened the door for some critics to argue that such books as Genesis and Exodus were not really composed until sometime in or after the days of kings David and Solomon (10th century B.C.E.).
If we accept this view then there exist grounds for the belief that the Jews invented the sacred name. To do so also entails an acceptance of a contradiction in the Scriptures of major proportions, a belief that Moses did not write Genesis or Exodus.
More to the point, it allows for the supposition that the Scriptures are a lie—all which are unwarranted when set against the evidence.
The problem with the so-called contradiction between the popular interpretation of Exodus 6:2-4, and the prior revelation and use of the sacred name reported in the book of Genesis is solved once we take a much closer look at the context in which the statement at question takes place.
The comments given in Exodus 6:2-4 came as the result of events which had just recently transpired. We begin by observing that after the Exodus the Israelites sent a letter to the king of Edom recalling that before they came out of Egypt “we cried to Yahweh, and he heard our voice, and sent a messenger (i.e. Moses), and has brought us out of Egypt; and behold, we are in Qadesh, a city at the edge of your border” (Num. 20:14-16). This passage, written by Moses, reveals that prior to his calling the Israelites had pleaded to Yahweh to save them.
Next, in the first part of Exodus we are informed of how Yahweh appeared to Moses at the top of Mount Sinai (Horeb) and revealed that he was “the eloahi of his fathers, the eloahi of Abraham, the eloahi of Isaak, and the eloahi of Jacob” (Exod. 3:6).
Yahweh enlightened Moses to the fact that he had now come to bring his people, the Israelites, out of Egypt and take them into the land of Kanaan as he had promised their forefathers (Exod. 3:1-10; see Gen. 15:12-14). As part of this task Yahweh was sending Moses both to Pharaoh and the Israelites in Egypt advising them of this message.
One might think that Moses would have met this invitation with much enthusiasm. To the contrary, Moses had a great incentive to stay out of Egypt.
Earlier in his life he had killed an Egyptian whom he had found beating on a fellow Israelite. This act caused Moses to be placed under a sentence of death by Pharaoh. To save his life he fled to the land of Midian along the Gulf of Aqaba. There he found safety in the house of the priest-king named Jethro, whose daughter he married (Exod. 2:1-22).
Moses knew that as long as Pharaoh still lived he was under a death sentence in Egypt; Moses had not yet learned of the recent death of Pharaoh nor did he know that all the men who were seeking his life were now dead (Exod. 4:18-19).
Fearing the consequences of his arrival, Moses immediately tried to find an excuse for not going. As this story develops, Yahweh becomes increasingly upset with Moses because of his continuous efforts to evade the journey to Egypt:
And Moses said to eloahim, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring out the sons of Israel from Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)
We should immediately take note of the fact that Moses did not test out the identity of his divine visitor. He did not ask, for example, “Who are you,” but rather “Who am I.” This detail is our first indication that Moses already knew that the “eloahi” of his fathers was Yahweh.
Yahweh then assured Moses by telling him he would be with him in this endeavor. But, Moses, who at every opportunity sought a way to escape these orders, then tried to find another justification as to why he need not go. He asked Yahweh:
Behold, I shall come to the sons of Israel and say to them, “The eloahi of your fathers has sent me to you” and they will say to me, “What is his name?” What shall I say to them? (Exodus 3:13)
The first point to be cognizant of is that if the almighty’s name was “eloahi” there would have been no purpose for Moses to ask this question. Here is one more proof that eloahi is not a personal name.
Second, the above question was not asked by someone who was anxiously trying to follow the words of Yahweh, but rather, the words of someone trying to be relieved from going! If Moses knew who his ancestors were, then he would certainly have known the name of their eloahi.
ISRAELITES AND MOSES ALREADY KNEW
The entire discussion is set with the backdrop that both the Israelites in Egypt and Moses already knew the name of the eloahi of their fathers. What Moses was, instead, trying to do was find just cause not to go to the Israelites living in Egypt.
Moses was attempting to excuse himself on the grounds that the Israelites in Egypt knew the name of their eloahi and would test him on that issue. The eloahi who was now speaking to him, nevertheless, had not admitted to his name. How then could he go to them without this information?
In response, Yahweh said, “I am who I am!” and told Moses to tell the sons of Israel, “I am has sent me to you.” (Exod. 3:14) Later, we are told Yahweh “again” responded to the question of Moses by saying:
You shall say this to the sons of Israel, YAHWEH, the eloahi of your fathers, the eloahi of Abraham, the eloahi of Isaak, the eloahi of Jacob, has sent me to you; this is my name to forever, and this is my memorial to generation upon generation. (Exodus 3:15)
Yahweh’s initial reply, “I am who I am,” was not simply a casual remark to a man asking him a plausible question. It was spoken because Moses had asked such a foolish question in an obvious attempt to keep from traveling to Egypt.
This circumstance is verified by what happened next. After once more telling Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and then informing him of the events that were to transpire, Yahweh was met with still another excuse from Moses as to why he should not go:
And Moses answered and said, “And, behold, they will not believe me and will not listen to my voice; for they will say, ‘Yahweh has not appeared to you.’ ” (Exodus 4:1)
This passage is extremely important for understanding the context of all that was taking place. First, it shows that Moses was continuing to seek reasons why he should not go. Second, Moses does not say that he would be rejected because the Israelites did not know who Yahweh was.
Instead, Moses states that the Israelites would ridicule him with disbelief that Yahweh had appeared to him. If they had not known of Yahweh they would have said, “Who is Yahweh?,” as Pharaoh did (Exod. 5:2).
The fact that Moses expected them only to deny Yahweh’s appearance proves that the Israelites already knew Yahweh but they would doubt that he had sent Moses as a prophet.
Indeed, the very notion that the eloahi of Abraham, Isaak, and Jacob would have revealed himself to Moses by a different name is untenable. As A. B. Davidson observed, the name Yahweh “can hardly have been altogether new to Israel before their deliverance. A new name would have been in those days a new god” (Dict. of the Bible, 2, pp. 199-200)!
ABRAHAM, ISAAK, AND JACOB
Clearly Yahweh had revealed himself to Moses as being the same eloahi that Abraham, Isaak, and Jacob had served. He was the eloahi of the ancestors of the Israelites, not someone new.
The attitude of Yahweh demonstrated by these passages is further established by the fact that after Yahweh gave Moses signs to take with him into Egypt, Moses continued to seek ways to flee from his duty. This time his excuse was his inability to speak well:
And Moses said to Yahweh, “Please adonai, I am not a man of words, either from yesterday or from the third day (before) or since you spoke to your servant; for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)
Yahweh, being increasingly upset, responded:
Who has made man’s mouth? or who makes (the) dumb, or (the) deaf, or (the) seeing, or (the) blind? Is it not I, Yahweh? (Exodus 4:11)
Yahweh then reassured Moses that he would provide him with what he needed to say. Seeing all of his objections answered, and no valid reason for not being sent, Moses now resorted to one final attempt. He simply asked Yahweh to send someone else in his place:
Please adonai, now send by the hand (another) who you will send. (Exodus 4:13)
This reply exceeded Yahweh’s patience, for as part of Yahweh’s response we are told:
And the anger of Yahweh glowed against Moses. (Exod. 4:14).
Yahweh now gave Moses his brother Aaron to act as a spokesman.
Moses, with all options exhausted, made preparations to return to his home in Midian and then to go to Egypt (Exod. 4:14-20). Yahweh, meanwhile, sent Aaron, the brother of Moses, to meet Moses at Mount Sinai while Moses was returning from Midian to go to Egypt (Exod. 4:18-5:1).
MOSES AND AARON IN EGYPT
Next, Moses and Aaron arrived in Egypt and came to the sons of Israel, telling them all that Yahweh had spoken. The Israelites did not meet these words with, “Who is Yahweh?” Instead we are told, “the people believed; and they heard that Yahweh had visited the sons of Israel, and that he had seen their affliction; and they bowed down and worshipped (Exod. 4:31).”
All of these statements reveal that Moses and the Israelites were already fully aware of who Yahweh was. More importantly, they also show the attitude of Moses and Yahweh’s anger toward him. This anger was further accentuated after Moses spoke to Pharaoh. Instead of listening to Yahweh’s command, Pharaoh placed the Israelites under an even heavier state of servitude than had previously existed.
As a result, the overseers of the Israelites came to Moses and Aaron complaining that it was their fault that Pharaoh now sought to kill their people. Upset by these words and the turn of events, Moses returned to Yahweh and complained that Yahweh’s word had not been fulfilled:
And Moses returned to Yahweh, and said, “Adonai, why have you done evil to this people? Why then have you sent me? And since I came in to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people; and you did not certainly deliver your people.” (Exodus 5:22-23)
It was to this complaint and lack of trust that Yahweh made his important response in Exodus 6:2-4. Also, Yahweh’s reply must be gauged against the history of his anger and the impertinent comments just made by Moses.
Yahweh’s response, as a result, was one of chastisement, for Yahweh would indeed bring his people out of Egypt!
A RHETORICAL QUESTION
Yahweh’s anger toward Moses is vital to understanding the context in which his response in Exodus 6:2-4 was made to Moses. As part of his answer, Yahweh tells Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them, and with a strong hand he will drive them from his land!”
Affirming his intentions, Yahweh then continues by reminding Moses that he had appeared to Abraham, Isaak, and Jacob. With a berating tone in his voice, Yahweh follows these words with the Hebrew sentence (reading right to left):
ושמי יהוה לא נודעתי להם
____them-to me-reveal-I not [did] Yahweh my-name-and
When these words are read in context with Yahweh’s tone of voice they become a rhetorical question, not a simple statement: “and (by) my name Yahweh, (did) not I reveal myself to them?”
Yahweh then adds that he had established his covenant with these men to give them the land of Kanaan. He emphasized his name because it was by his name that he swore to fulfill his oath and keep his word.
How then could Moses doubt that Yahweh would bring the Israelites out of Egypt? Was not the honor of his sacred name, which he had revealed to Abraham, Isaak, and Jacob, attached to the Covenants of Promise?
MOSES CHASTISED BY YAHWEH
Once we understand that Yahweh was chastising Moses utilizing a rhetorical question, all of the facts fit perfectly together. Exodus 6:2-4, rather than defeating, actually confirms Genesis and the other books of the Scriptures.
A CORRECT TRANSLATION
Cognizant that question marks must be supplied in any English translation, the correct understanding of Exodus 6:2-4 is as follows:
And eloahim spoke to Moses and he said to him, “I am Yahweh; and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaak, and to Jacob as el-shaddai (the almighty el); and (by) my name Yahweh, (did) not I reveal myself to them? And I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Kanaan, the land of their sojournings, which they sojourned in it.”
Neither are other translators of this Hebrew verse unaware of this inflection. For example, The Holy Bible, New International Version footnotes this sentence with the alternate reading, “and by my name the Lord [i.e. Yahweh] did I not let myself be known to them? (NIV, p. 45, n. c.)”
If we trust that the Scriptures do not contradict themselves, or even if one simply acknowledges that the original author of Exodus would not have been so ignorant as to have allowed for such a contradictory statement as the popular interpretation of Exodus 6:2-4 would contend, we are compelled to the conclusion that this verse must be understood as a rhetorical question.
Once arriving at this judgment, we find that there is no basis for the belief that the name Yahweh was only first revealed in the days of Moses or that it was meant only for the Israelites or Jews.
For more information regarding the name Yahweh, check out the publication by Qadesh La Yahweh Press titled The Sacred Name Yahweh.