The Western world refers to the second book of the Bible as Exodus, since the book includes the story of Israel’s exodus or exit from the land of Egypt. But Hebrew tradition has always known the book according to its opening sentence: “Elle Shimote” or “These are the names” or, perhaps more practically, “the Book of Names.”
The Book of Names uses the Hebrew word shem (name) 43 times in significant instances to develop a rich theology of naming.
The Usage of Name in the Book of Names
The book begins listing the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt (Ex 1:1).
Two midwives are mentioned by name (Shiprah and Puah) (Ex 1:15).
Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world at the time, is never mentioned by name.
Moses’ name is Mosha because Pharaoh’s daughter drew (Mosha’d) him out of the water (Ex 2:10).
Moses names his son Gershom because he is a foreigner (Ger) in a foreign land (Ex 2:22).
Moses asks God what his name is, and we learn that God does indeed have a personal name: Yahweh (Ex 3:13-15).
Moses complains that speaking in the name of Yahweh has not resulted in the deliverance of God’s people (Ex 6:3).
The names of Levi’s sons, the priests, are specified (Ex 6:16).
Yahweh says he has allowed Pharaoh to remain so that he might show him his power and proclaim his (Yahweh’s) name through all the earth (Ex 9:16).
Israel rejoices in Yahweh’s name after they have been delivered (Ex 15:3).
Israel names a land Marah (meaning bitter) because the water is bitter (Ex 15:23).
Israel names the bread which God provides from heaven “mannah” (Ex 16:31).
Moses names a land “Massah” and “Meribah” since Israel quarrels and questions God (Ex 17:7),
Moses names an altar “Yahweh is my banner” after defeating Amalek (Ex 17:15).
The names of Moses’ two sons are mentioned: Gershom (for he was a foreigner) and Eliezer (God is my help) (18:3-4).
Yahweh commands Israel to not take his name in vain (Ex 20:7).
Yahweh commands Israel to make sacrifices in every place where he causes his name to be remembered (20:24).
Yahweh commands Israel to not mention the name of other gods (Ex 23:13).
Yahweh promises to send his angel before Israel, and commands them to obey his voice, because his name is in him (Ex 23:21).
The names of the twelve tribes are to be engraved in precious stones in the priestly attire (Ex 28:9-12, 21, and 39:6,14).
The names of the twelve tribes are to be on Aaron’s heart (literally) as he enters the holy place (Ex 28:29).
Yahweh calls Bezalel and Ohaliab by name to do the work of building the tabernacle (Ex 31:2, and 35:30).
Moses appeals to Yahweh on behalf of Israel on the ground that Yahweh knows Moses by name (Ex 33:12).
Yahweh listens to Moses because he knows Moses by name (Ex 33:17).
Yahweh promises that he will pass by Moses and proclaim the name of Yahweh (Ex 33:19).
Yahweh descends and stands with Moses as he (Moses) called upon his (Yahweh’s) name (Ex 34:5).
The reason that Israel should not worship any other God is that Yahweh’s name is Jealous (Ex 34:14).
The above word study leads me to believe that the author is strategically using the word shem (name) to make two related and significant points:
- God has a personal name and he therefore may be known personally.
- God is concerned to identify and know human beings by name.
The implication is that Yahweh is a personal God who desires personal relationships with humans. He desires that humans know him on a first name basis. This also implies that Yahweh does not interact with humans as a lofty and distant dictator, but as a deeply and powerfully personal being.
Nothing is more important than knowing Yahweh through Jesus, and pursuing personal relationship with him in every aspect of our life.