Questions From Readers
● At Exodus 6:3 God told Moses that he was not known to Abraham by the name Jehovah, yet at Genesis 15:7, 8 God identifies himself to Abraham as Jehovah and Abraham calls him by that name. What is the explanation?—J. M., England.
The Hebrew expression at Exodus 6:3 around which the question revolves may be rendered two ways, that is, as a statement or as a question. The usual rendering is to make it a statement, as does the common King James Version: “By my name Jehovah was I not known to them.” Berry’s interlinear translation puts it in question form: “By my name Jehovah did I not make myself known to them?” The marginal rendering in the New World Translation takes recognition of this possibility, saying: “As respects my name Jehovah did I not make myself known to them?” This rendering in question form, of course, removes at once all difficulty. However, it is the exceptional rather than the usual rendering, and in the main body of its text the New World Translation holds to the generally accepted form. It will be useful to read Exodus 6:1-8, NW:
“So Jehovah said to Moses: ‘Now you will see what I shall do to Pharaoh, because on account of a strong hand he will send them away and on account of a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.’ And God went on to speak to Moses and to say to him: ‘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. And I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their temporary residences in which they resided temporarily. And I, even I, have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I am proceeding to remember my covenant. Therefore say to the sons of Israel, “I am Jehovah, and I shall certainly bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from their slavery, and I shall indeed reclaim you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And I shall certainly take you to me as a people and I shall indeed prove to be God to you and you will certainly know that I am Jehovah your God who is bringing you out from under the burdens of Egypt. And I shall certainly bring you into the land that I raised my hand in oath to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I shall indeed give it to you as something to possess. I am Jehovah.”’”
The name “Jehovah” is the causative form of the third person singular of the verb “to be” and literally means “He causes to be.” He “causes to be” according to his purpose. It was very appropriate for the name to be stressed to Moses on this occasion, for Jehovah was beginning to cause to be accomplished his purpose concerning his people in Egypt. Four hundred and thirty years before this he had promised Abraham that he would make of him a great nation. (Gen. 12:2) Thereafter God told Abraham that his seed would be oppressed as slaves in a foreign land, but that they would be delivered and established in the promised land of Canaan. (Gen. 15:7, 13-16) These promises were passed on to Isaac and Jacob, but upon none of them did Jehovah cause the promises to be realized. They knew the literal name Jehovah and used it, but they did not come to know or experience him as the One who caused to be fulfilled these promises.
Now in Moses’ time Israel was suffering down in Egypt, and in their affliction the Hebrews might cry out: ‘Where is Jehovah, the God of our forefathers Abraham and Isaac and Jacob? Look at our sorrowful condition. What has he done? Why does he not make himself known to us? Why has he not caused these promises and covenants of his to be realities?’ Well, for four hundred and thirty years these promises had been pending, and it was time for their fulfillment to begin. So God reminded Moses of the name Jehovah, and that now he was going to show Israel the application of this name, “He causes to be.” He would demonstrate that he is true to the meaning of his name. He would live up to its meaning by causing to be realized the promises made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. The Hebrews would know Jehovah in a way their forefathers had not known him, that is, by actual demonstration in keeping with the name’s meaning. He would deliver them from Egypt as a nation, thus causing to be fulfilled his ancient promise. Though Israel might have felt forsaken and that God had as good as ceased to be, Moses was told to tell them he was sent by “I SHALL PROVE TO BE.” And by his mighty works and deliverances Jehovah did prove to be the Deliverer and causing the accomplishment of his purposes toward his people Israel.—Ex. 3:14, NW; 2 Sam. 7:23, AS.
Just as the Hebrews in Egypt came to know Jehovah in a way he was never known to their forefathers, so Pharaoh and the Egyptians came to know him. Surely they must have known the literal name of the God of the Hebrews that had been in their midst two hundred and fifteen years. Yet Pharaoh stormed: “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. 5:2, NW) Later God said: “The Egyptians will certainly know that I am Jehovah when I stretch out my hand against Egypt.” (Ex. 7:5, NW) Though knowing his name, Pharaoh and the Egyptians did not know Jehovah as a God of action, and did not acknowledge him as of any practical force or consequence to be taken into account. But when he acted against them they knew him in a way heretofore unknown to them, just as the Hebrews came to know him in a way unknown or unexperienced by their forefathers Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
Today haughty rulers of this world know the literal name Jehovah, but like Pharaoh and the Egyptians of old they deny knowing him as being of any consequence. At Armageddon they will know he is Jehovah, however. More than sixty times Ezekiel told backsliding Israel and other nations that they would know Jehovah. They certainly knew the literal name. Ezekiel’s warning back there applies to Christendom and other nations now. When Jesus was on earth he said to Jehovah: “I have made your name manifest to the men you gave me out of the world.” This was like the mission of Moses when he went to make God’s name Jehovah known to the oppressed Hebrews in Egypt. When Christ strikes at Armageddon he will again make manifest Jehovah’s name, in a way that will convince all that Jehovah is a God that “causes to be” in accord with his purposes.—Ezek. 6:7, 10, 13, 14, AS; John 17:6, NW.
In conclusion, consider a human illustration. A man may be known as a fighter. He may even be called a fighter. Yet he may seem very peaceful to you. You have not seen him fight. Then years later you see him angered by an evil deed and he bursts into action, fighting for right. Like others around you, you may have called him a fighter before, but now for the first time you really know him in a forceful way as a fighter. You see him make application of this name to himself, demonstrate it, live up to it. Now you know him in a way you had never known him before. So Jehovah God has many qualities as expressed by titles, and these qualities had been demonstrated to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. They also knew the name Jehovah, but they never saw its inward meaning demonstrated as their descendants did when he delivered Israel from Egypt in fulfillment of the promised purpose concerning their offspring. The delivered nation really knew Jehovah as a God who “causes to be.”