Now what did he do? Here is Moses: defeated, rejected by his own people, alone, and isolated. I imagine they weren’t even talking to him. He did the only reasonable thing, and the only thing that was left. He prayed. He threw himself before God: “O, Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (5:22-23). It was a desperate prayer, growing out of a great deal of personal pain. But it was honest and it was accurate, wasn’t it? He had come and Pharaoh had not responded, and trouble had come upon the people. And it was quite reasonable to ask God why. God responded reasonably and accurately. He told Moses what He was about to do. In Exodus 6 God ministers to Moses by telling him seven things.
First, He told Moses that Pharaoh would eventually let the people go. Just because he hadn’t done it yet did not mean he wouldn’t do it. God’s timing isn’t our timing. Moses would greatly have preferred if Pharaoh had let them go at the first meeting. But that wasn’t God’s timing. God was going to show His glory and His power before it was all over. God says in 6:1, “…because of my mighty hand he will let them go.” You see, if it had happened the other way, Pharaoh would have said, “Well I’m going to let them go just because I’m a wonderful person.” That would have brought glory to Pharaoh. Instead, God was going to receive all the glory. He had announced the liberation, and in His own time it would happen.
The second thing he tells Moses is that He is still God (v. 2). The second verse begins a second, somewhat separate revelation, and that’s indicated the way it starts: “God also said to Moses, ‘I am the LORD.’” And then it ends with those same words, “I am the LORD,” in verse 8. Bible scholars call this an inclusio, which is a Latin word that indicates a section tied together by having something at the beginning of a section and then the identical thing at the end of a section, which sort of wraps it up as a whole.
Verse 3 is a bit puzzling because there God says that although He was known as the true God by the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—God was nevertheless unknown to them by the name Jehovah. In other words, they didn’t know or use Jehovah as a name for God.1 This is how verse 3 reads: “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.”
There are three possible ways to understand this verse. The first is that it could be a question implying a positive answer. It would go like this, “By my name the LORD did I not make myself known to them?” And the answer would be, “Yes of course I did.” That’s a very attractive suggestion, and if we accept this one, it does away with the problem all at once. The only difficulty is that translators don’t translate it that way. They don’t think it is a question.
The second possibility is that the patriarchs knew the name Jehovah, but they didn’t understand its significance. This is reasonable. God could reveal the full significance of His name as He went along. But unfortunately that’s not what this verse is saying. It’s saying they didn’t know it.
The third meaning is the obvious one, which is that the name Jehovah really had not been revealed to the patriarchs. They didn’t know it, and it was revealed to Moses first of all at the burning bush.
I think this is actually the case and there is good evidence for it, perhaps the greatest of all being that the name for God, which is usually shortened to the letters Yah, does not appear in popular names before the time of Moses. In the Old Testament you have many names that incorporate that name of God or a shortened form of the name of God. But you don’t find that before the time of Moses, the only exception being Jochebed his mother. But if you think of that carefully, that maybe isn’t an exception because it’s not actually the letters Yah, but Yo. This could be a shortened form of the name of God, but it’s not certain.
Some would say there is a problem in that the older portions of the Pentateuch (especially Genesis) give the name of Jehovah before the time of Mosses. But that would be easily explained by the fact that it was Moses who wrote the book. Moses had received the name and he would simply use the name Jehovah that had been given to him as a way of saying that the God of the patriarchs actually was Jehovah, even though they didn’t know Him by that name. That’s very easy to understand.
There is one verse that’s a little more significant as a problem. Genesis 4:26 says that in the earliest days of earth’s history (that is, after the birth of Seth), man began to call on the name of Yahweh. Now that would sound like they knew God by that name. However, this could only mean that in those days men began to pray, and certainly that’s the way it’s used. Or it could be another case of Moses using the later name in an earlier context. It could even be that in those early days, Seth and the other antediluvians (that is, before the flood) did know God by the name Jehovah, but by the time of Abraham the name was forgotten. What it would seem to indicate is that God really did give a new revelation of Himself at the burning bush to Moses, which makes that chapter extremely important.
1In the latter half of the eighteenth century, that became a very important verse with the liberal scholars, because it was a verse upon which they hung their theory of literary development. They said that the early patriarchs were unacquainted with God by the name of Jehovah, and only knew God as Elohim (a generic name simply meaning “God”) or El Shaddai, meaning “God Almighty.” These liberal scholars maintained that Moses is the one who brought this idea of God being Jehovah from the Kenites, which is why the technical term for this theory in biblical scholarship is the Kenite Hypothesis. It is also known by the initials JEPD. J stands for the Jehovah source, the part of the Old Testament that came from people who knew God as Jehovah. E stands for the Elohim source, the parts of the Old Testament contributed by people who knew God as Elohim. Then you have the priests who began to pull it all together (P). And finally you have the Deuteronomy school or author (D), who structured the documents. As a result of that four-stage development, we have our Old Testament. Now the evangelicals rejected that theory, and rightly so. It just didn’t hold up under serious scholarship. And today even non-evangelicals reject it.