Exodus 6 Study Notes
6:2-3 A variety of attempts have been made to derive English renderings other than (or more precise than) God Almighty for the Hebrew name El Shaddai, based on proposed etymological connections with words in Hebrew or in other Semitic languages. But as with many names, usage provides the best insights into its significance. Among these are references to the exercise of authoritative power, discernment, justice, chastening, protection or destruction, provision of blessings, and the hearing of prayer. Shaddai appears most often in the book of Job (Jb 5:17; 6:4,14; 8:3,5; 11:7; 13:3; 21:15; 33:4; 34:12; 37:23; 40:2, among others), and the combination with El is prominent in Genesis as a name for God in his dealings with the patriarchs (Gn 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3). Naomi used the name Shaddai in her complaint against God (Ru 1:20-21), and it appears also in Nm 24:4,16; Ps 68:14; 91:1; Is 13:6; Ezk 1:24; 10:5; Jl 1:15. The rendering of Shaddai with “Almighty” is traceable to Greek translations done before the time of Christ (pantokrator) and to the Vulgate (Omnipotens). Meanwhile, the word El is associated with a Hebrew word for strength, and forms of it appear widely in ancient Semitic languages to refer to deity.
El is a generic word for deity—a classifying word—while Yahweh (“the Lord”) is a personal name. Because this name is used in Genesis, even frequently in quoted speech (Gn 9:26; 15:2,7-8; 16:5; 18:4; 19:13-14; 21:33; 22:14,17; 24:27-56; 26:28-29; 27:20,27; 28:13), scholars have debated about what is meant when in Ex 6:3 God says, I was not known to them by my name ‘the Lord’ to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Since the name “the Lord” was well known by the time Genesis was written, some have proposed its usage in Genesis is anachronistic but compatible with common literary practice—much like a modern historian might tell the story of a king’s early years using the throne name that he later adopted at his coronation.
Or it may be that Ex 6:3 is not indicating that the name “the Lord” was previously unknown among the Israelites but rather that now the Israelites would see the truth of the name’s meaning displayed before them. They would come to know by experience the Lord as their covenant-keeping God. This has parallels in Is 52:6 and Jr 16:21, which look forward to future occasions when people will personally experience his actions that fill his name with meaning (Is 64:2; Ezk 39:7).
It is also possible to translate God’s words as “Did I not reveal my name Ê»the LordÊ¼?” (cp. 2Sm 23:5; Ps 105:28). This rendering would relieve the present difficulty, but few translations have thought it the most accurate rendering.
For God to recall to Moses the name El Shaddai, a deeply meaningful name from the experiences of the patriarchs, while also referring to himself as the Lord, is part of emphasizing the continuity between God’s promises to the patriarchs and what he was doing for Israel through Moses.
6:6-8 God’s message for the Israelites put emphasis at the beginning, middle, and end on his identity: I am the Lord. Freeing Israel from Egypt would be part of a permanent relationship between the Lord and the Israelites. By what God did, the Israelites would come to know from experience who he is, and their own identity as his people would be established and displayed.
Both the Lord and the Israelites would be known as a result of what the Lord would do: bring you out from the forced labor . . . rescue you . . . redeem you . . . take you as my people . . . bring you to the land, and give it to you. That the Lord would be known as a result of what he did continues the theme of action leading to knowledge (see 4:1-9), which is repeated frequently throughout Exodus and serves as one of the book’s unifying elements (7:5,17; 8:10,22; 9:14,29; 10:2; 11:7; 14:4,18; 16:6,12; 18:11; 29:46; 31:13; 33:13,16).
6:6 The references to forced labor in vv. 6 and 7 translate the same Hebrew word that was heard twice when Pharaoh complained that Moses and Aaron were stopping the Israelites “from their labor” (5:5) and told them to get back to their “labor” (5:4); it is also used at the start of the oppression (1:11; cp. 2:11). The Lord would oppose Pharaoh and his plans and would be successful where Moses was not, despite how it might appear at first.
The promise I will redeem you uses a legal term that pictures the Lord’s action as that of a close relative who protects a family member or recovers property that belongs to someone in the extended family (Lv 25; 27; Dt 19; Jr 32:6-15). Boaz did this for Naomi and Ruth (Ru 3:2,9-13; 4:1-17). Such things were a matter of special interest to the Lord, who gained the reputation as Redeemer supreme (Pr 23:10-11; Is 41:14; 44:6; Jr 31:9-11). For the Lord to speak of himself as redeeming the Israelites by means of his outstretched arm clarified the nature of the conflict with Pharaoh. In Egyptian art and literature, Pharaoh was pictured in battle gear with his arm stretched out as a way of showing how powerful he was. Along with the “strong hand” (v. 1), the “outstretched arm” was a frequently used figure in references to what the Lord did at the time of the exodus (Dt 4:34; 5:15; 7:19; 9:29; 11:2; 2Kg 17:36; Ps 136:12; Jr 32:21).
In a later prophecy about the future defeat of Egypt, Pharaoh’s arms are broken (Ezk 30:20-26), and in a terrible reversal of the exodus, the Lord’s hand and arm are turned against Judah (Jr 21:5); but when restoration is prophesied, the strong hand and outstretched arm of the Lord are again at work on behalf of his people (Ezk 20:33-34). The Lord’s great acts of judgment (cp. Ex 7:4) would include action taken against the gods of Egypt (12:12; Nm 33:4). Ezekiel 14:21 also uses this term and defines the judgments planned there as including losses in war (“the sword”), famine, dangerous animals, and plagues, all sent as Israel’s punishment for idolatry (cp. Ezk 5:17).
6:9 The people were discouraged and angry, which kept them from hearing the Lord’s word.
6:10-12 Regardless of the rejections Moses had received, the Lord instructed him to try again. Not even the Israelites had listened to him; why should Pharaoh? Moses’s self-deprecating I am such a poor speaker is (lit) “I am uncircumcised of lips.” The term uncircumcised is used elsewhere of ears that could not listen (Jr 6:10) as well as being a derogatory description of the enemies of Israel (Jdg 14:3; 15:18; 1Sm 14:6; Jr 9:26; Ezk 28:10).
6:13-7:6 This genealogy could theoretically have been placed in a different location that would have required less effort and repetition. Here it interrupts the conversation between the Lord and Moses and creates suspense by forcing readers to wait for the answer that Moses presumably received immediately. In answer to questions raised in chaps. 2-6 about the identity and abilities of Moses, it supplies a formal identification of Moses and Aaron that 6:13,26-27 and 7:6 make even more formal.
6:16-25 This family would be important to the institution of worship at the tabernacle in the wilderness, since Aaron and his sons and finally one line of his sons (Nm 25:1-18) would be designated as priests. Moses’s sons are not mentioned.
6:26 According to their military divisions uses a military term to speak of the Israelites leaving in an orderly fashion. The same word is used in 7:4, and it sometimes refers to “armies” (1Kg 2:5; 2Kg 5:1; Is 34:2).