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Shemot (Part 2)

Last month we began looking at the importance of names in the book of Exodus, or its Hebrew title Shemot. We continue this month by surveying other passages that speak about the significance of names.

If you haven't read Part 1 yet, click here: Shemot Part 1
Read Time: 9 minutes

God is concerned with the names of His people, including those long dead like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He also wants us to know His name too. That name is more than a label; it is His reputation.

In Exodus 23, in the middle of the list of rules that made up the original Law of Moses, we read, “make no mention of the names of other gods.” (v. 13).¹

God’s name is more than a label; it is His reputation.

That doesn’t mean the Hebrews needed to stop saying things like “Ra” or “Osiris,” two of the gods of Egypt they should have left behind. God isn’t telling them that there’s some sort of superstition problem with them uttering their names.

What he tells them in this law is to demote their fame to nothingness. Whatever those gods used to do (in their minds) for them while in Egypt, their reputation was demolished when God sent the ten plagues upon Egypt.


In the same chapter, God promised to send his angel (v. 20) to guide His people in the wilderness. Back in chapter 3, one of the things connected with God’s name is what He said to Moses: “I will be with you.” (v. 12).

The question is, how would God be with His people? The answer is here in chapter 23, where God said of that angel,

“Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.” (v. 21).

Just as Moses was to Pharaoh, the angel was a representative of Yahweh to the people.


The tabernacle dominates the second half of Exodus, but the theme of “names” continues. In particular, we return to the principle that God cares for His children. He not only knows them by name, as we learn in chapter 1, but the High Priest, who like Moses and the angel was another representative of God, bore the names of the children of Israel.

In chapter 28, verses 9-12, 21, and 29, and then again in chapter 39, verses 6 and 14, we learn that the High Priest’s clothing contained stones etched with their names. Those stones were put on his shoulder pieces and breastplate because, “Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance.” (Exod 28:12). Also,

“Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.” (v. 29).

What a beautiful principle that began in the first chapters of Exodus, where God called to mind the names of Jacob. When they cried to Him, He responded by remembering His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now God continues to remember not just the patriarchs but all His children through the work of the priesthood.

It all points forward to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ who took the responsibility of saving the faithful on his shoulders and put them on his heart when he died for them. Two of those children receive special mentions in chapters 31 and 35— Bezalel and Oholiab, the chief builders of the tabernacle. The record says,

“I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.” (Exod 31:2).

Similarly, Oholiab’s name and the name of his father are mentioned in verse 6. The fact God specifically “called by name” these two men should strike us as significant. God gave Bezalel and Oholiab the task of building His house, and He memorialized it in their names.

Perhaps Yahweh even chose to change their names for the occasion, and that’s what is meant by the phrase “called by name.” Bezalel means “under the shadow of Yahweh.” The word for “shadow” is often used as a metaphor for protection in Scripture.

For instance, its very first occurrence is when Lot said of the angels, he was protecting his home, “they have come under the shelter of my roof.” (Gen 19:8). In Psalm 91:1, the same word is used—“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

The power of names in Scripture rest in the way they’re attached to significant characteristics or activity associated with the name bearers.

Isn’t that precisely what Bezalel was called upon to build? The tabernacle, God’s house, where He invites His children to dwell with Him. When God told Moses, “I will be with you,” memorialized in His name, He meant it. He built a house for them, a place of protection.

Oholiab means “Father’s tent” and how fitting is that! The word for “tent” or “tabernacle” used throughout Exodus is ohel, part of Oholiab’s name. Both men, then, either already had or were given names that were directly to do with their work building God’s house. Their names are inscribed in the pages of Scripture for eternity, reminding us of the privilege they had.

The power of names in Scripture rest in the way they’re attached to significant characteristics or activity associated with the name bearers.


We find the last set of occurrences of the word shem in Exodus 33-34. But before looking at those chapters, which are about the time when Moses ascended Mount Sinai and conversed with God, it’s worth briefly looking at another theme running through the pages of the book of Exodus, the idea of knowing something.

When the children of Israel cried out because of their slavery,

“God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” (Exod 2:24- 25).

What did God know? The NET translates that last phrase as “God understood.” God was keenly involved in the suffering of His people, and in the next chapter He tells Moses,

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings.” (Exod 3:7).

The omniscient God knew the Israelites were suffering, but by saying He understood what they were going through suggests something more profound than academic knowledge.

The text reads as if God has empathy for His people like we might say to someone who is suffering, “I know what you’re going through.” Knowledge, in the context of the book of Exodus, is about understanding something through experience.

We may not fully appreciate exactly how the Eternal God knows suffering. However, there is still an intimacy of understanding connected with the idea of knowledge, which goes beyond just having had knowledge of a fact. In verse 19, God tells Moses, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.”

In what sense did God know this? Yes, He has foreknowledge, but there are hints in the context that God knew Pharaoh’s personality, and how he would respond to different situations. On the other hand, the Pharaohs of Egypt “did not know Joseph,” (Exod 1:8), and acknowledged, “I do not know the LORD.” (Exod 5:2). They may well have heard of Joseph and Yahweh but didn’t know them by experience. They had no kind of relationship with them.

Earlier, we looked at Exodus 6, where God tells Moses,

“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them.” (v. 3).

The patriarchs did know the name itself—they even used it—but they hadn’t experienced its meaning. That is going to change for the descendants of Abraham, and God tells his people,

“I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” (v. 7).

Through the experience of God rescuing them from Egyptian slavery, they’re going to get to know who Yahweh is. The education experience wasn’t just for the children of Israel. Pharaoh might not have known Yahweh up to this point, but that is going to change. God sent the plagues so that,

“The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” (Exod 7:5). It’s a theme that continues throughout the plagues, for instance, during the plague of hail when Moses told Pharaoh, “so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.” (Exod 9:29).

To know something academically is one thing; having someone demonstrate a principle for you is far more powerful.

God allowed His people to suffer as strangers in the land of Egypt for a reason. Their experience taught them something that couldn’t come from reading a book.

One of the rules of the Law of Moses brings this out,

“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exod 23:9).

Everything God does in Exodus is for the kind of experiential knowledge His children needed. God designed the tabernacle as an object lesson so that

“they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them.” (Exod 29:46).

Keeping the Sabbath was also for obtaining experiential knowledge,

“Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.” (Exod 31:13).


The principles of names and experiential knowledge intersect with another keyword in Exodus 33-34. The idea behind the word “glory” deals with the attributes that make someone famous. The word means “weight” or “heaviness” so we can think of it as describing those things that give weight to someone’s reputation. For instance, an athlete’s glory might be something like a gold medal or world record to their name. When Moses asked God, “Please show me your glory,” (Exod 33:18), he wanted to know about God’s fame—what is it exactly that made God who he is. They are ideas that also came together at the Red Sea when what happened was so that

“the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” (Exod 14:18).

They were going to learn through the dramatic experience at the Red Sea who Yahweh truly is. What the Egyptians learned through experience is just one side of the God of heaven. While His power was on display at the Red Sea, Moses’s experience on Mount Sinai gets to the depth of God’s glory.

God wants a deeper and more meaningful relationship.

Ultimately, while the omnipotence of Yahweh is an essential element of His deity, He wants to be known for His character. The great displays of power in the plagues and at the Red Sea were to attract everyone’s attention. God wants a deeper and more meaningful relationship. Look at the conversation between Yahweh and Moses on Mount Sinai, an example of when God would “speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exod 33:11). The first thing Moses says is,

“See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.” (Exod 33:12).

Curiously, Moses says he doesn’t know who God will send with him. Remember, at the burning bush, God said, “I will be with you,” (Exod 3:12), and it seems Moses now invokes that promise. However, earlier in chapter 33, God did tell Moses, “I will send an angel before you.” (v. 2). H

as Moses already forgotten? Or do we see another example of the principle of experiential knowledge? Maybe Moses is saying, “I don’t know who the angel is” in the sense that he had no relationship—no experiential knowledge—with him.

Moses’ appeal continues: “Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’” (v. 12). It’s as if Moses is telling God, “We have a relationship, so why aren’t you going with us? Why are you sending this angel?”

God knowing Moses by name is more than God knowing he was called Moses. Of course, God knew that—He is the omnipotent Creator of the Universe! Moses is appealing to the experiential knowledge that had built their relationship. God understood Moses. He finishes his initial appeal with the words,

“Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” (v. 13).

It wasn’t just that Yahweh and Moses knew each other on a first-name basis. They understood each other. And that’s the kind of relationship God wants with His people.

First, Moses recognizes that there is something deeper to Yahweh than just displays of power. He, and the children of Israel, had seen His mighty works, but Moses wants to know His ways. It is this that leads to him asking to see God’s glory a few verses later.

Moses also reminded God that the nation of Israel was His people. He’s appealing to the relationship God had declared way back when He heard their cry because of the slavery in Egypt. God’s answer is reassuring, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest,” (v. 14) and then later,

“This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” (v. 17).

It wasn’t just that Yahweh and Moses knew each other on a first-name basis. They understood each other. And that’s the kind of relationship God wants with His people.


With all this emphasis on the importance of names in the book of Exodus, there are a couple of glaring omissions. In the first half of the book, especially during the plagues, Pharaoh and the magicians of Egypt are some of the main characters. Yet the text does not identify them by name, not even once.

We know their titles but have no idea what their names are. This detail is significant because the book of Exodus is not about the fame of Pharaoh and his magicians. God is concerned with His people, not the superpower of the day. They do end up with a semblance of glory, but it’s all negative. Pharaoh’s hard heart and the magicians’ defeat are the epitaphs on their part in the story.


When we understand the importance of names in Exodus, it provides a framework for us to read and understand the entire book. The latter half of Exodus is all about building God’s house because He wants a relationship with His people. He cares about them; He knows them by name. And He wants us to know Him too.

To be Continued….

Richard Morgan
Simi Hills, CA

Read Part 1: Click Here
Read Part 3: Click Here

Suggested Readings
God’s name is not just a label by which we identify Him and differentiate Him from the gods of Egypt; it’s a name that declares who He is and what He does.
The book of Exodus presents two perspectives: those of Yahweh and those of Pharaoh. One of the crucial exhortations for the children of Israel concerns which viewpoint they would adopt. Would they take after Pharaoh or seek after God?
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