Q. We know that Abraham knew Yahweh’s name. Genesis 22:14 states, “And Abraham called the name of that place YAHWEH Yireh.” However, Exodus 6:3 says, “And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, and by My name YAHWEH have I not been known to them” How do we reconcile these passages?
A. Exodus 6:3 is not stating that the patriarchs did not know Yahweh’s name, as we have many examples of them calling on Yahweh’s Name. In addition to the example you provided in Genesis 22:14, we also have the below passages confirming that they were well aware of Yahweh’s Name:
- “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of Yahweh” (Genesis 4:26).
- “And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto Yahweh, and called upon the name of Yahweh” (Genesis 12:8).
- “Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of Yahweh” (Genesis 13:4).
- “And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of Yahweh, the everlasting El” (Genesis 21:33).
Based on the above passage, there’s no doubt that Abraham and the other patriarchs knew and used Yahweh’s Name.
With this being the case, how do we explain Exodus 6:3? There are two schools of thought as to the meaning of this passage. The first explanation is that the patriarchs did not experience the power behind Yahweh’s Name as Israel would in Egypt. It’s important to remember that Yahweh’s Name not only identifies His identity, but also His character and power. The other explanation is that this passage should be viewed as a question and not a statement. In other words, it might be better read, “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of El Shaddai, and by my name Yahweh was I not known to them?”
In closing here is a note that will be included within the 4th ed. of the Restoration Study Bible: “This is not stating that the Name ‘Yahweh’ was unknown to the patriarchs. Scripture states that the patriarchs called upon Yahweh’s Name (Gen. 12:8). There are two possible explanations. One, this was written as a rhetorical question, which would then require a question mark at the end of the verse. Biblical Hebrew contains no punctuation; it was added later by translators. Two, the patriarchs did not understand the Name, as representing His character and power, as did Moses and the Israelites after witnessing their deliverance from Egypt. The NIV note says, ‘This does not necessarily mean that the patriarchs were totally ignorant of the name Yahweh, but it indicates that they did not understand its full implications as the name of the One who would redeem His people. That fact could be comprehended only by the Israelites who were to experience the Exodus, and by their descendants.’ A similar interpretation is found from author Kenneth L. Barker in his book, Making of a Contemporary Translation: ‘A problem has been imagined in Exodus 6:3 because of the words “by my name the Lord (Yahweh) I did not make myself known to them (i.e., the patriarchs).” Yet there are several references to Yahweh in the patriarchal narratives and earlier (e.g., Gen. 2:4; 4:26; 13:4; 15:7) and in the names like Jochebed (Exod. 6:20), apparently meaning “The Lord (Yahweh) is glory.” Kidner points the way to one solution: “In ex 3:14 the divine exposition, ‘I am …’ introduces and illuminates the name given in 3:15, and this remains the context for 6:3 as well… The name, in short was first known, in any full sense of the word, at its first expounding.’ See Jer. 16:21, Ezek. 20:5. Men in general began to call upon the Name Yahweh after Enos, the son of Seth (Gen. 4:26).”