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Exodus 3:13-15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 Then Moses said to God, “Look, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your forefathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I will be what I will be” And he said, “Say this to the sons of Israel: ‘I will be sent me to you.’” 15 God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘Jehovah, the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is how I am to be remembered from generation to generation.
Brief Excursion on Misunderstood Verses
Understanding the Name of Jehovah in Exodus
Exodus 3:13-16 and 6:3 are often interpreted as the first revelation of Jehovah’s name to Moses, prior to the Exodus from Egypt. However, this interpretation is not entirely accurate. In this passage, Moses raises the question of what name he should give to the Israelites when he speaks to them about God’s plan to deliver them from slavery. The passage does not indicate that Moses or the Israelites were previously unaware of Jehovah’s name.
Background on the Israelites:
The Israelites had been in hard slavery for many decades with no sign of any relief. Doubt, discouragement, and weakness of faith in God’s power and purpose to deliver them had likely infiltrated their ranks. This is evident in Ezekiel 20:7-8, where the Israelites are described as having rebelled against God and not having trusted in his promise to deliver them.
Possible Meaning of Moses’ Question:
Given the difficult circumstances the Israelites found themselves in, it is likely that Moses’ question was related to the specific context of their situation. They knew that the Egyptians had their own gods and lords and doubtless heard taunts from the Egyptians that their gods were superior to the God of the Israelites. Moses may have been wondering how he could effectively communicate to the Israelites that the God he represented was different and superior to the gods of the Egyptians.
The Name of Jehovah:
It is important to note that the name of Moses’ mother Jochebed means possibly “Jehovah Is Glory” (Exodus 6:20). This indicates that the Israelites were already familiar with the name of Jehovah. Therefore, Moses’ question was not about the revelation of a new name, but about how to effectively communicate the power and authority of the name they already knew in the context of their difficult situation.
Exodus 3:13-16 and 6:3 should not be understood as the first revelation of Jehovah’s name to Moses or the Israelites. Instead, the passage should be understood as Moses’ question about how to effectively communicate the power and authority of the name of Jehovah in the context of the Israelites difficult situation.
The Significance of Names in Ancient Times
When considering Moses’ question in Exodus 3:13-16 and 6:3, it is important to keep in mind that names in ancient times had real meaning and were not simply used as labels to identify individuals as they are today. In this passage, Moses raises the question of what name he should give to the Israelites when he speaks to them about God’s plan to deliver them from slavery.
The Importance of Names in Ancient Times:
The significance of names in ancient times is exemplified in the changes in names of individuals such as Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Jacob to Israel. The change in these names revealed something fundamental and prophetic about God’s purpose concerning them. For example, the change in Abram’s name from “Father Is High (Exalted)” to “Father of a Crowd (Multitude)” highlights God’s promise to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations. Similarly, the change in Sarai’s name to Sarah, which means “Princess,” emphasizes her role as the mother of the nation of Israel.
Given the significance of names in ancient times, Moses may have wondered if Jehovah would reveal himself under a new name that would throw light on his purpose towards Israel. In asking what name he should give to the Israelites, Moses was also contemplating the authority and power of the name he would use. The name of the one who sent him would determine the authority with which Moses would speak to the Israelites. (Compare Ex 23:20, 21; 1Sa 17:45).
In light of the significance of names in ancient times, Moses’ question in Exodus 3:13-16 and 6:3 should be understood as a meaningful inquiry into how he could effectively communicate God’s purpose and authority to the Israelites. It is not limited to the revelation of a new name, but also the significance of the name in the context of their situation and the authority with which Moses would speak to them.
End of Excursion
A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures,
Can it be that אהיה אשר אהיה means only “I am He who I am?” that it designates only the absoluteness of God, or God as the Eternal One? We suppose that the two אהיה’s do not denote an identical form of existence, but the same existence in two different future times. From future to future I will be the same—the same in visiting and delivering the people of God, the faithful covenant-God, and, as such, radically different from the constant variation in the representations of God among the heathen. This his consciousness is the immediate form of his name; transposed to the third person, it is Jehovah. Hence also the expression: “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” is equivalent in meaning. When the repetition of this name in ch. 6 is taken for another account of the same fact, it is overlooked that in that case the point was to get an assurance that the name “Jehovah” would surpass that of “Almighty God”—an assurance of which Moses, momentarily discouraged, was just then in need.
[Comp. Introduction to Genesis, p. 111 sqq. From so bald a term as “He is” or “He will be” (the exact translation of יְהוָֹה, or rather of יַהְוֶה), one can hardly be expected to gather the precise notion intended to be conveyed. We doubt, however, whether, if we are to confine the conception to any one of those which are suggested by the sentence: “I am He who I am,” we should be right in understanding, with Lange, immutability as the one. This requires the second verb to refer to a different time from the first, for which there is no warrant in the Hebrew. Quite as little ground is there for singling out the notion of eternity as the distinctive one belonging to the name. Self-existence might seem more directly suggested by the phrase; but even this is not expressed unequivocahy. Certainly those are wrong who translate יְהוָֹה uniformly “the Eternal.” The word has become strictly a proper name. We might as well (and even with more correctness) always read “the supplanter” instead of “Jacob,” and “the ewe” instead of “Rachel.”—There can be little doubt, we think, that Von Hofmann (Schriftbeweis I., p. 86) has furnished the clue to the true explanation. The comparison of other passages in which there is the same seemingly pleonastic repetition of a verb as in our verse ought to serve as a guide. Especially Ex. 33:19: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” It is true that Lange attempts to interpret this expression in accordance with his interpretation of the phrase now before us; but he stands in opposition to the other commentators and to the obvious sense of the passage, which evidently expresses the sovereignty of God in the exercise of his compassion. Comp. Ex. 4:13; 2 Kings 8:1, and perhaps Ezek. 12:25. By this pleonastic expression, and then by the emphatic single term, “He is,” is denoted existence κατ’ ἐξοχήν; or rather, since the verb הָיָה is not used to denote existence in the abstract, so much as to serve as a copula between subject and predicate, the phrase is an elliptical one, and signifies that God is sovereign and absolute in the possesion and manifestation of his attributes. Self-existence, eternity and immutability are implied, but not directly affirmed. Personality is perhaps still more clearly involved as one of the elements. As contrasted with Elohim (whose radical meaning is probably power, and does not necessarily involve personality), it contains in itself (whether we take the form אֶהְיֶה or יַהְוֶה), as being a verbal form including a pronominal element, an expression of personality: I am—He is. Jehovah is the living God, the God who reveals Himself to His people, and holds a personal relation to them.—Tr.]
In Exodus 3:13, Moses had just asked God a very important question. “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?” God, then replied, אֶהְיֶה Eh·yehʹ (הָיָה ha·yahʹ)– אֲשֶׁר (ʼAsherʹ) אֶהְיֶה Eh·yehʹ (הָיָה ha·yahʹ).
This has nothing to do with whether God existed or not but rather what that Father intended “to become” toward his people and by extension all of his servants. Therefore, the Updated American Standard Version correctly renders the above Hebrew expression as “I will be what I will be.” Jehovah then added: “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I will be sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14) God was in no way making some change to his divine name, but rather he was giving Moses, Aaron, and the enslaved Israelites insight into His personality, which is evidenced by what he said next: “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is how I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” (Ex 3:15) The divine name Jehovah comes from the Hebrew verb (הָיָה ha·yahʹ) “to be,” or rather “to become,” “to come to pass;” and therefore meaning, “He causes to become,” “He brings to pass;” “The Fulfiller.” This definition certainly applies to Jehovah God, who was the Creator of everything and “The Fulfiller” of His will and purposes.
Exodus 3:13-16 and 6:3 are often misapplied to mean that Jehovah’s name was first revealed to Moses sometime prior to the Exodus from Egypt. While it is true that Moses raised the question of what to say when the Israelites asked him the name of the God who sent him, this does not mean that he or the Israelites did not know Jehovah’s name.
The Meaning of Names
It is important to understand that names in that time had real meaning and were not just “labels” to identify an individual as they are today. For example, Moses knew that Abram’s name (meaning “Father Is High (Exalted)”) was changed to Abraham (meaning “Father of a Crowd (Multitude)”), the change being made because of God’s purpose concerning Abraham. Similarly, the name of Sarai was changed to Sarah and that of Jacob to Israel; in each case, the change revealed something fundamental and prophetic about God’s purpose concerning them. Moses may well have wondered if Jehovah would now reveal himself under some new name to throw light on his purpose toward Israel.
The name Jehovah comes from a Hebrew verb that means “to become,” and a number of scholars suggest that the name means “He Causes to Become.” This definition well fits Jehovah’s role as the Creator of all things and the Fulfiller of his purpose. Only the true God could rightly and authentically bear such a name. This aids one in understanding the sense of Jehovah’s later statement to Moses: “I am Jehovah. And I used to appear to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God Almighty, but as respects my name Jehovah I did not make myself known to them.” (Ex 6:2,3)
Since the name Jehovah was used many times by those patriarchal ancestors of Moses, it is evident that God meant that he manifested himself to them in the capacity of Jehovah only in a limited way. This is similar to how those who had known the man Abram could hardly be said to have really known him as Abraham while he had but one son, Ishmael. When Isaac and other sons were born and began producing offspring, the name Abraham took on greater meaning or import. So, too, the name Jehovah would now take on expanded meaning for the Israelites.
To “know,” therefore, does not necessarily mean merely to be acquainted with or cognizant of something or someone. For example, Pharaoh had said to Moses: “Who is Jehovah, so that I should obey his voice to send Israel away? I do not know Jehovah at all and, what is more, I am not going to send Israel away.” (Ex 5:1,2) By that, Pharaoh evidently meant that he did not know Jehovah as the true God or as having any authority over Egypt’s king and his affairs, nor as having any might to enforce His will as announced by Moses and Aaron. But now Pharaoh and all Egypt, along with the Israelites, would come to know the real meaning of that name, the person it represented. As Jehovah showed Moses,
 John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, and Charles M. Mead, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Exodus, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 10–11.
 Joseph S. Exell and Thomas H. Leale, Genesis, The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York; London; Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892), 39.