Genesis 22:14 and Exodus 6:3
14 And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen. (Genesis 22:14)
3 And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. (Exodus 6:3)
In Exodus 6:3 God tells Moses that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not know Him by His name “Jehovah.” Yet in Genesis 22:14 Abraham uses the name “Jehovah,” calling the place “Jehovah-jireh.” And previous to this he had called God “LORD.” So how can this be?
This is a common question, not only because of what Abraham does in Genesis 22:14, but also because “LORD” is used a number of times by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when speaking about God, and also addressing Him as such. In fact both Abraham and Isaac build altars and ‘call upon the name of the LORD.’ Moreover even Abraham’s servant calls God “the LORD,” as do others; including ones of other nations. Plus God identifies Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as “the LORD God”; and even Noah used this title. So what God says in Exodus 6 can seem puzzling.
However since “LORD” is used previous to the time of Exodus 6:3, (including in direct address), it is obvious that God does not mean that His name “LORD”/“JEHOVAH” was not known at all, or used at all, by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Instead God is very specific about what He means. For when He speaks about them not knowing Him as such, He says this specifically in connection with the times that He appeared unto them to make Himself known unto them. Notice that this is specifically what God says to Moses. In Exodus 6:3 He says, “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty,…”
There are a number of reasons why God chooses to “appear” at times in His program with Israel. But with respect to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He did so in connection with establishing His covenanted program with them, and to provide for their personal education so that they could walk faithfully in accordance with the program’s establishment at that time. In other words each of God’s appearances to them had a direct connection with an establishment matter in the program. And as such each appearance also had a significant connection with their personal edification. Therefore by His appearances unto them God ‘made Himself known unto them’ in some way that was both meaningful to the establishment of the program, and that also contributed to their personal edification during that time in the program.
Now this is the specific issue that God has in His mind in Exodus 6. He is talking about the issue of educating the seed of Abraham in the subject of Himself, so to speak. And this was something that God designed to be a progressive thing, with stages of development to it that directly corresponded to the program’s own stages of development.
Therefore God is pointing out to Moses that when He appeared unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He did not appear unto them to make Himself known unto them by His “name JEHOVAH.” They definitely knew the name, and they even used it. But the name was designed by God to have a great deal of doctrinal significance to it, and not just be ‘a name for name’s sake.’ However the time for describing and explaining the doctrinal significance to the name was not at hand in either Abraham’s, or Isaac’s, or Jacob’s day. That time would not come in Israel’s program until the initial establishment phase was fully accomplished, and until the next significant phase was underway. Then God would appear again, and in so doing He would begin to educate the seed of Abraham in the full doctrinal significance of His name “JEHOVAH.”
Now Exodus chapter one records the arrival of this next significant stage in Israel’s program. Wherefore as God says to Moses when He appears to him, He is not only going to deliver Israel as promised, but He is now going to begin to educate them in the fundamental scope of the full doctrinal significance of His name “JEHOVAH.” What’s more this would be directly tied to the issue of Pharaoh not letting them go.
So even though God’s name “JEHOVAH” was known and used prior to the time of Exodus 6, God did not appear unto Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob to make Himself known unto them by this name, nor to educate them in His name “JEHOVAH.” Rather God appeared unto them to educate them especially in the issue of His ‘Almighty-ness,’ which was the first and foremost issue that needed to be understood and appreciated during the establishment phase to the program.
Now there are other meaningful matters that are related to this, or that develop out of it. However by just knowing the basics of what God is talking about in Exodus 6, it provides for removing any puzzlement over what Exodus 6:3 says.
However there is something else that should be noted, and it pertains to the precision of what God said to Moses in Exodus 6:3. Once again God said, “but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.” Notice that God does not say, ‘but my name JEHOVAH was not known by them’; nor did He say, ‘by my name JEHOVAH was I not known by them.’ This may not seem like it is all that big of a difference, but it is. Unfortunately we have lost a good amount of precision of meaning in our English language today, not only in vocabulary but also in prepositional phrases and the like. This some times results in the precise use of such things not always making their full impact upon our thinking. And we have an example of this in this very verse.
There is a difference between the expressions “not known to them” and ‘not known by them.’ God says, “not known to them,” but we have a tendency to equate this with the concept of ‘not known by them.’ Yet the two are not exactly the same.
“To” and “by” are not prepositions with identical meanings, even though they can share a measure of commonness. However when they are used in contexts involving, for example, knowledge or acquaintance, the precise use of “to” and “by” can be employed to denote a significant difference. For example, if you and I have never actually met, I can say that you are known “by” me, but not really known “to” me. That is, I know that you exist; I know your name; and I may even know where you live and a few other things about you. And in this sense you are known “by” me, or I know “of” you. But you have not been made known “to” me in the sense that we have met and I am well acquainted with you, etc.
So in accordance with the precise meaning of “to,” in order for someone to be ‘known to’ another person that person needs to know more about the other person than the fact that he exists. There is a much more personal and knowledgeable acquaintance with someone, (which is usually based upon fellowship and communion with each other), when someone is known ‘to’ another person and not just known ‘by’ him.
Hence in view of what God precisely says in Exodus 6:3, He is not saying that His name “JEHOVAH” was not known ‘by’ Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; or that He was not known ‘by’ them by that name. Instead He is saying that He was “not known to them” by that name. In other words He had not specifically made Himself known “to” them by that name, so that their communion and fellowship with Him was based upon their understanding and appreciation of the full doctrinal significance and meaning of that name, as was now going to be the case with the children of Israel beginning with the events of Exodus 6.
Now having said all of this, there is a matter that may not seem to fit in with this. It is the matter in Genesis 22:14 when Abraham “called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh”; which certainly seems to indicate that he had some understanding about the issue of God’s “Jehovah-ness.”
However there are two things that need to be understood about this: (1) this is still not the issue of God being ‘known to’ Abraham by His name “JEHOVAH” to the same extent that God is speaking about in Exodus 6. In view of what God says to Moses in Exodus 6, (and then in view of what takes place from that time forth during which the actual education in God’s “Jehovah-ness” occurs), it is evident that God making Himself “known to” the children of Israel ‘by His name JEHOVAH’ is quite extensive and involved. It clearly involves much more than just one concept. And (2) we also need to recognize that later on in Israel’s program God speaks about this particular situation with Abraham in Genesis 22, and He speaks about it as an event that He specifically produced for a couple of significant reasons. One of them being that He designed for it to be ‘looked back upon,’ so to speak, by the children of Israel, for the purpose of them seeing that in the days of their father Abraham He had actually given them a foreshadowing of the most fundamental thing that He would eventually be doing for them on the basis of His “Jehovah-ness.” Hence the event of Genesis 22, (and in particular the naming of the place), was established by God as a sort of memorial for the children of Israel, just as the latter half of Genesis 22:14 emphasizes. So in connection with this the event of Genesis 22:14 falls outside the realm of Abraham’s normal education, seeing that God purposed that its educational impact would be for later on in the program.
Therefore in view of these two things, and especially in view of what Exodus 6:3 specifically says, the issue with Abraham in Genesis 22:14 is not contrary to what Exodus 6:3 says.
– K.R. Blades
Note: the following question and answer shows how important it is to understand and appreciate the doctrine of God’s “Jehovah-ness,” especially in the Gospel accounts.