According to Exodus 6:3, God told Moses, "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not reveal My Name, YHVH, to them." The text appears to be saying that the patriarchs did not know the Lord's holy four-letter Name, and that it was not revealed until Moses. I used to understand it that way, but here are some problems with that view:
- The patriarchs are often quoted as using God's Name in Genesis. At first I thought, "Well, when Moses wrote the history of the patriarchs, he updated the language from El Shaddai in whatever dialect of proto-Hebrew the patriarchs spoke, to the Name in classical Hebrew, after the Name was revealed."
- In Genesis 22:2 and 16 there are place names that have His Name in them. In verse 2 the place name could have been updated easily from whatever name Abraham actually gave it, but it seemed unlikely (still not impossible) in verse 16.
- On the other hand, the Ebla texts and other texts from the time before Moses mention God by His Name also.
- Then I found a scholarly article pointing out that the Hebrew text of Exodus does NOT say what our English translations interpret it as saying, that if the author had intended the meaning the translators imply, he would not have made the Name merely an appositive in the sentence, but given it more prominence. I found this argument (backed up by the other three lines of evidence) convincing.
But the next logical question would be, if Exodus 6:3 does not mean what it appears to mean, then what does it mean? I think the real meaning of the verse is in the revelation of the truth about God implied in His Name. This meaning is the most important one, even if I am mistaken in my interpretation of when that truth was revealed.
The Holy Name is a normal Hebrew verb form. (Technically, it is the masculine, singular, imperfect-tense, causative-mode, 3rd person form of
hayah`he was, he became, it happened') It means `He makes it happen.' The point of this verse, I take it, is not that the patriarchs were ignorant of this particular verb-form-used-as-a-proper-noun, but that they never caught the insight about God's all-powerful omnipotence which He was revealing to Moses. The patriarchs certainly knew that He is the only God; they certainly realized that He is very, very great. But they never quite grasped that He is absolutely sovereign over every aspect of His universe, from the tiniest subatomic particle to the hugest faraway galaxy. For the job Moses had before him, he needed that insight, so God revealed it to him.
And likewise we today need to know His Name: that He is the One Who makes it happen; that time is no problem to him; that nothing can surprise Him or catch Him off guard; that neither the Pharaoh nor the gods of Egypt, nothing real or unreal, physical or spiritual, can thwart or hinder His good Plan for the salvation of all Israel and for us who receive Him; but that all those things are only created servants of His, to willingly or unwillingly carry out His will. I need to be reminded of that truth every day--every few minutes on some days. And that's one reason why I celebrate Passover each year.