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Exodus 3:13-16

Context

3:13 Moses said 1  to God, “If 2  I go to the Israelites and tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ 3  – what should I say 4  to them?”

3:14 God said to Moses, “I am that I am.” 5  And he said, “You must say this 6  to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 3:15 God also said to Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘The Lord 7  – the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you. This is my name 8  forever, and this is my memorial from generation to generation.’ 9 

3:16 “Go and bring together 10  the elders of Israel and tell them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, 11  appeared 12  to me – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – saying, “I have attended carefully 13  to you and to what has been done 14  to you in Egypt,

1 tn Heb “And Moses said.”

2 tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) in this clause introduces the foundation for what comes later – the question. Moses is saying, “Suppose I do all this and they ask this question – what should I say?”

3 sn There has been considerable debate about the name of Yahweh in the Pentateuch, primarily because of theories that have maintained that the name Yahweh was not known in antiquity (see also 6:3 and notes there). The argument of this whole section nullifies that view. The idea that God’s name was revealed only here raises the question of what he was called earlier. The word “God” is not a name. “El Shaddai” is used only a few times in Genesis. But Israel would not have had a nameless deity – especially since Genesis says that from the very beginning people were making proclamation of the name of Yahweh (Gen 4:26; 12:8). It is possible that they did not always need a name if they were convinced that only he existed and there was no other God. But probably what Moses was anticipating was the Israelites’ wanting to be sure that Moses came with a message from their God, and that some sign could prove it. They would have known his name (Yahweh), and they would have known the ways that he had manifested himself. It would do no good for Moses to come with a new name for God, for that would be like introducing them to a new God. That would in no way authenticate to them Moses’ call, only confuse; after all, they would not be expecting a new name – they had been praying to their covenant God all along. They would want to be sure that their covenant God actually had sent Moses. To satisfy the Israelites Moses would have had to have been familiar with the name Yahweh – as they were – and know that he appeared to individuals. They would also want to know if Yahweh had sent Moses, how this was going to work in their deliverance, because they had been crying to him for deliverance. As it turned out, the Israelites had less problem with this than Moses anticipated – they were delighted when he came. It is likely that much of this concern was Moses’ own need for assurance that this was indeed the God of the fathers and that the promised deliverance was now to take place.

4 tn The imperfect tense here has a deliberative nuance (“should”), for Moses is wondering what would be best to say when the Israelites want proof of the calling.

5 tn The verb form used here is אֶהְיֶה (’ehyeh), the Qal imperfect, first person common singular, of the verb הָיָה (haya, “to be”). It forms an excellent paronomasia with the name. So when God used the verb to express his name, he used this form saying, “I am.” When his people refer to him as Yahweh, which is the third person masculine singular form of the same verb, they say “he is.” Some commentators argue for a future tense translation, “I will be who I will be,” because the verb has an active quality about it, and the Israelites lived in the light of the promises for the future. They argue that “I am” would be of little help to the Israelites in bondage. But a translation of “I will be” does not effectively do much more except restrict it to the future. The idea of the verb would certainly indicate that God is not bound by time, and while he is present (“I am”) he will always be present, even in the future, and so “I am” would embrace that as well (see also Ruth 2:13; Ps 50:21; Hos 1:9). The Greek translation of the OT used a participle to capture the idea, and several times in the Gospels Jesus used the powerful “I am” with this significance (e.g., John 8:58). The point is that Yahweh is sovereignly independent of all creation and that his presence guarantees the fulfillment of the covenant (cf. Isa 41:4; 42:6, 8; 43:10-11; 44:6; 45:5-7). Others argue for a causative Hiphil translation of “I will cause to be,” but nowhere in the Bible does this verb appear in Hiphil or Piel. A good summary of the views can be found in G. H. Parke-Taylor, Yahweh, the Divine Name in the Bible. See among the many articles: B. Beitzel, “Exodus 3:14 and the Divine Name: A Case of Biblical Paronomasia,” TJ 1 (1980): 5-20; C. D. Isbell, “The Divine Name ehyeh as a Symbol of Presence in Israelite Tradition,” HAR 2 (1978): 101-18; J. G. Janzen, “What’s in a Name? Yahweh in Exodus 3 and the Wider Biblical Context,” Int 33 (1979): 227-39; J. R. Lundbom, “God’s Use of the Idem per Idem to Terminate Debate,” HTR 71 (1978): 193-201; A. R. Millard, “Yw and Yhw Names,” VT 30 (1980): 208-12; and R. Youngblood, “A New Occurrence of the Divine Name ‘I AM,’” JETS 15 (1972): 144-52.

6 tn Or “Thus you shall say” (also in the following verse). The word “must” in the translation conveys the instructional and imperatival force of the statement.

7 sn Heb “Yahweh,” traditionally rendered “the Lord.” First the verb “I AM” was used (v. 14) in place of the name to indicate its meaning and to remind Moses of God’s promise to be with him (v. 12). Now in v. 15 the actual name is used for clear identification: “Yahweh…has sent me.” This is the name that the patriarchs invoked and proclaimed in the land of Canaan.

8 sn The words “name” and “memorial” are at the heart of the two parallel clauses that form a poetic pair. The Hebrew word “remembrance” is a poetical synonym for “name” (cf. Job 18:17; Ps 135:13; Prov 10:7; Isa 26:8) and conveys the idea that the nature or character of the person is to be remembered and praised (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 24).

9 tn The repetition of “generation” in this expression serves as a periphrasis for the superlative: “to the remotest generation” (GKC 432 §133.l).

10 tn The form is the perfect tense with the sequential vav (ו) linking the nuance to the imperative that precedes it. Since the imperative calls for immediate action, this form either carries the same emphasis, or instructs action that immediately follows it. This applies likewise to “say,” which follows.

11 sn “The God of your fathers” is in simple apposition to the name “the Lord” (Heb “Yahweh”) as a recognizable identification. If the holy name were a new one to the Israelites, an explanation would have been needed. Meanwhile, the title “God of my/your/our father(s)” was widely used in the ancient Near East and also in Genesis (26:24; 28:13; 31:5, 29; 46:1, 3; N. M. Sarna, Exodus [JPSTC], 268).

12 tn The form is the Niphal perfect of the verb “to see.” See the note on “appeared” in 3:2.

13 tn The verb פָּקַד (paqad) has traditionally been rendered “to visit.” This only partially communicates the point of the word. When God “visited” someone, it meant that he intervened in their lives to change their circumstances or their destiny. When he visited the Amalekites, he destroyed them (1 Sam 15:2). When he visited Sarah, he provided the long awaited child (Gen 21:1). It refers to God’s active involvement in human affairs for blessing or for cursing. Here it would mean that God had begun to act to deliver the Israelites from bondage and give them the blessings of the covenant. The form is joined here with the infinitive absolute to underscore the certainty – “I have indeed visited you.” Some translate it “remember”; others say “watch over.” These do not capture the idea of intervention to bless, and often with the idea of vengeance or judgment on the oppressors. If God were to visit what the Egyptians did, he would stop the oppression and also bring retribution for it. The nuance of the perfect tense could be a perfect of resolve (“I have decided to visit”), or an instantaneous perfect ( “I hereby visit”), or a prophetic perfect (“I have visited” = “I will visit”). The infinitive absolute reinforces the statement (so “carefully”), the rendering “attended to” attempts to convey the ideas of personal presence, mental awareness, and action, as when a nurse or physician “attends” a patient.

sn The same word was used in the same kind of construction at the end of Genesis (50:24) when Joseph promised, “God will surely visit you” (but there the imperfect tense with the infinitive absolute). Here is another link to the patriarchal narratives. This work of Moses would be interpreted as a fulfillment of Joseph’s prophecy.

14 tn The second object for the verb is the passive participle הֶעָשׂוּי (heasuy). To say that God has visited the oppression (or “attended to” it) affirms that God has decided to judge the oppressing people as he blesses Israel.



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