And Moses said to God, Behold, when I come to the children of Israel, and shall say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say to them?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)What is his name?—In Egypt, and wherever polytheism prevailed, every god had, as a matter of course, a name. Among the Israelites hitherto God had been known only by titles, as El or Elohim, “the Lofty One; “Shaddai,” the Powerful; “Jahveh, or Jehovah, “the Existent.” These titles were used with some perception of their meaning; no one of them had as yet passed into a proper name. Moses, imagining that the people might have become so far Egyptianised as to be no longer content with this state of things, asks God by what name he shall speak of Him to them. Who shall he say has appeared to him?Exodus 3:13. When they shall say, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? — What name shall I use, whereby thou mayest be distinguished from false gods, and thy people may be encouraged to expect deliverance from thee?
when I come unto the children of Israel: out of Midian into Egypt:
and shall say unto them, the God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; with a message to them to receive him as his ambassador and their deliverer:
and they shall say unto me, what is his name? a question it was probable they would ask, not through ignorance, since in their distress they had called upon the name of the Lord, and cried unto him for help and deliverance; but either to try Moses, and what knowledge he had of God: or there being many names by which he had made himself known; and especially was wont to make use of a new name or title when he made a new appearance, or any eminent discovery of himself, they might be desirous of knowing what was the present name he took:And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)13. The God of your fathers] Cf. v. 6. These words shew clearly that, according to the writer, the name Yahweh was not known to the patriarchs: when the Israelites hear of the ‘God of their fathers,’ they do not know what His name is, and ask to have it told them. This agrees with the predominant,—and probably, when the narrative of E was in its original form, with the uniform,—usage of E in Genesis. (In J the name Yahweh (Jehovah) is used consistently from the very beginning of the history, Genesis 2:4 b, 5, &c.).
13–15. The name which, if asked, Moses is to give as that of the God who has sent him.
13–22. Moses’ second difficulty: his ignorance of the name of the God who has sent him. In reply, he is told what the name is; and is reassured with regard both to his being listened to by the Israelites (v. 18a), and to his securing ultimately the deliverance of his people (vv. 21–22). In ancient times, every deity had his own personal name; and it was of importance to know what this name was; for only if it were known, could the deity who bore it be approached in prayer and appealed to for help; the name was also often an indication of the nature and character of the deity whom it denoted. Cf. DB. v. 640b; also iv. 604a, v. 181a; and see, for illustrations, L. R. Farnell, The Evolution of Religion (1905), pp. 184–192, Frazer, Golden Bough2, i. 441 ff.Verse 13. - What is his name? It is not at all clear why Moses should suppose that the Israelites would ask him this question, nor does it even appear that they did ask it. Perhaps, however, he thought that, as the Egyptians used the word "god," generically, and had a special name for each particular god - as Ammon, Phthah, Ra, Mentu, Her, Osiris, and the like - when he told his people of "the God of their fathers," they would conclude that he, too, had a proper name, and would wish to know it. The Egyptians set much store by the names of their gods, which in every ease had a meaning. Ammen was "the concealed (god)," Phthah, "the revealer," Ra,"the swift," etc. Hitherto Israel's God had had no name that could be called a proper name more than any other. He had been known as "El," "The High;" "Shad-dai," "The Strong;" and "Jehovah," "The Existent;" but these terms had all been felt to be descriptive epithets, and none of them had passed as yet into a proper name. What was done at this time, by the authority of God himself, was to select from among the epithets one to be distinctly a proper name, and at the same time to explain its true meaning as something more than "The Existent" - as really "The Alone Existent" - the source of all existence. Henceforth this name, which had previously been but little used and perhaps less understood, predominated over every other, was cherished by the Jews themselves as a sacred treasure, and recognised by those around them as the proper appellation of the one and only God whom the Israelites worshipped. It is found in this sense on the Moabite stone ('Records of the Past,' vol. 11, p. 166), in the fragments of Philo-Byblius, and elsewhere. Genesis 11:5) to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up to a good and broad land, to the place of the Canaanites; and He was about to send Moses to Pharaoh to bring them forth. The land to which the Israelites were to be taken up is called a "good" land, on account of its great fertility (Deuteronomy 8:7.), and a "broad" land, in contrast with the confinement and oppression of the Israelites in Egypt. The epithet "good" is then explained by the expression, "a land flowing with milk and honey" (זבת, a participle of זוּב in the construct state; vid., Ges. 135); a proverbial description of the extraordinary fertility and loveliness of the land of Canaan (cf. Exodus 3:17; Exodus 13:5; Exodus 16:14, etc.). Milk and honey are the simplest and choicest productions of a land abounding in grass and flowers, and were found in Palestine in great abundance even when it was in a desolate condition (Isaiah 7:15, Isaiah 7:22; see my Comm. on Joshua 5:6). The epithet broad is explained by an enumeration of the six tribes inhabiting the country at that time (cf. Genesis 10:15. and Genesis 15:20, Genesis 15:21).
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