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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Exodus 6




In the last chapter, despite developments which in no sense could be understood as a failure of God's purpose, the people, nevertheless, who had probably expected some immediate and miraculous delivery, but who instead had been rebuffed and loaded with heavier burdens than ever by Pharaoh, were greatly distressed and vented their disappointment by angry remarks to Moses. Moses was also powerless to answer their objections, being in fact himself very much discouraged and doubtful. The Scriptures make this plain enough, always, as in this example of it, "telling it like it is," regardless of the faults, sins and mistakes of God's heroes, which are related impartially along with their deeds of success and glory. Note how Josephus' account of this same situation not only ignores Moses' fear, uncertainty, and doubt, but actually affirms just the opposite:

"Moses did not let his courage sink for the king's threatenings, nor did he abate of his zeal on account of the Hebrews' complaints, but he supported himself, and set his soul resolutely against them both, and used his own utmost diligence to procure liberty to his countrymen."[1]

As for the near-panic that fell upon the Hebrews, this was primarily due to their deliverance not having come suddenly and dramatically as they no doubt had expected. We should not be too hard in our judgment of them, however, for many Christians of our own day are guilty of the same shortsightedness. "One of the most pernicious misapprehensions of the Gospel is that which looks on salvation as an instantaneous thing, which speaks of the `saved,' instead of those who `are being saved' (Acts 2.47)."[2]

The finding of multiple "sources" in this chapter by the critics in the first half of this century is nothing but a preposterous scholarly hoax. And we are pleased to note that much of the wind has already been taken out of the sails of such attacks upon the Scriptures. The witness has actually been against them continually. Even in 1915, Moller wrote: "The unity of thought here demonstrated (throughout this chapter) is a protecting wall against the flood-tide of the documentary theory."[3] There was indeed once a flood-tide of those irresponsible theories, Harford, for example, stating as fact that this chapter is "a second account of Moses' call, belonging to `P'."[4] Of course, it is no such thing. The so-called second account here is nothing more than a renewal of the call already received by Moses in Midian, and repeated here for the sake of encouraging and enabling a despondent and doubting Moses, as many of the most dependable current scholars have pointed out. We agree with Napier who thought that, "Moses could have continued at all only in the power of a renewal."[5] "This section does not contain a different account of the calling of Moses, taken from some other source. It presupposes Exodus 3 and completes the account commenced there."[6] It is a renewal, not a variable account of the call in Midian. The necessity for this renewal of Moses' commission is inherent and demanded by his doubt and discouragement. He simply could not have gone on without it.

Verse 1

"And Jehovah said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for by a strong hand shall he let them go, and by a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land."

God's reassurance to Moses not only affirmed that Pharaoh would indeed let the people go, but that Pharaoh himself would thrust them out of the land.

"By a strong hand ..." "The strong hand here is that of Jehovah, not of Pharaoh."[7]

"Now shalt thou see ..." The situation was now dramatically altered toward the ultimate achievement of God's purpose. Israel had been unified by the shameful and pitiless manner in which Pharaoh had beaten the Hebrew petty officers. The willingness of Israel to leave the comfortable conditions of a slavery where they were having plenty to eat and had learned to enjoy the leeks and garlic had been accomplished. Their increased hardships had intensified their hatred of their servile condition and had made them willing to endure genuine hardship in order to escape from it. Also, that first confrontation had been designed merely to bring out the true attitude of Pharaoh and to show his real hatred of God's purpose. That hatred being made clear enough, "The necessity for the great judgments of God against Egypt was demonstrated, and is here distinctly expressed in the words, `Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh.'"[8]

Verse 2-3

"And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am Jehovah: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, As God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them."

This passage must be hailed as one of the most difficult in the Bible, the difficulty being in the statement that, "as Jehovah" (Yahweh), God was unknown to the patriarchs. Whereas, it is a fact that the patriarchs most assuredly DID know God by that name! We may be certain that this apparent contradiction is due to some kind of human error. It is simply inconceivable that Moses, the author of Exodus, could have stated what is recorded here, unless some meaning beyond what seems to be said is intended.

First, let it be understood that the patriarchs DID know God by the name Jehovah. When Abraham offered Isaac and God provided a ram as the sacrifice, Abraham called the name of the place Jehovah-jireh (Genesis 22:14). Moses' own mother was named Jochebed (Exodus 6:20), which means "Jehovah is glory!"[9] Abraham knew Jehovah in the land of Ur, for God told him, "I am Jehovah that brought thee out of Ur" (Genesis 15:7), and Abraham used "Jehovah" in addressing God: "Oh Lord Jehovah, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit ..." (Genesis 15:8). The mother of all living in the gates of Paradise itself said, regarding the birth of Cain, "I have gotten a man with the help of Jehovah" (Genesis 4:1). It was under the name Jehovah that God visited Abraham (Genesis 18:13,17). Under the name Jehovah, he appeared to Isaac (Genesis 26:2); and Jacob explained his early return to Isaac on the occasion of the blessing by saying, "Jehovah thy God (Isaac's God) sent me good speed" (Genesis 27:20). Noah invoked the name of Jehovah in the blessing of Shem (Genesis 9:26). Examples could be multiplied, but these are sufficient to show that the patriarchs did indeed know the name Jehovah.

Now, it is in the light of that background that the rendition here of Exodus 6:3, making it say, "By my name Jehovah, I was NOT known to them!" that the difficulty appears. The unbelieving critics assert that different authors were writing in the various parts of the Pentateuch, and that they contradicted each other. Hence, the Bible is not God's Word as Jesus Christ himself declared it to be! A falsehood of such dimensions no believer in Christ can allow for a single moment. That is NOT the explanation of this difficulty. What is the explanation? The following solutions to the problem have been proposed:

  1. The words here rendered, "I was not known unto them," are a mistranslation. The principal Hebrew word in the clause means, "I-made-myself-known."[10] There is also a negative, but it occurs afterward, and the placement of it is optional. Tyndale rendered it thus: "Was I not known unto them?" (Punctuation mine). Remember that punctuation of Biblical texts is purely a human, and therefore, a very fallible thing. We have chosen the Tyndale rendition because it more exactly conforms to the order of the Hebrew words, and if we punctuate it properly, we have this:


    In defense of this punctuation, we may say that it is certainly as "inspired" as that of any of the critics who would like to punctuate it in order to make a contradiction here of other Biblical texts. This exegesis is supported by scholarly opinion of the very highest rank. "The words should be read interrogatively, for the negative particle (not) often has this power in Hebrew."[11] Clark's rendition of the whole sentence is: "And by my name Jehovah was I not also made known unto them?"[12] Regarding the conjunction here (but in the ASV and and in Clark's rendition), it is not in the Hebrew at all either way and is merely supplied by the translator. Robert Jamieson also gave as the preferred rendition here: "By my name Jehovah was I not known to them?"[13] Other discerning scholars of recent times could be cited in this connection, but we have chosen Clark and Jamieson because their works rank as high as any other, have already been received and in use for a century or a century and a half, and are still being printed. We consider their testimony on this point irrefutable. In this connection, it should also be noted that the Cross-Reference Bible of 1910 also gave the proper rendition of the key words here (except for the question mark): "Did I not make myself known?"[14]

    Therefore, this is our preferred exegesis of the passage, making it a categorical denial and refutation of the critical nonsense that makes this a contradiction of thirty passages in the rest of the Pentateuch. However, even if this obvious meaning of the place is ignored, there are other explanations that will be noted.

  2. J. R. Dummelow believed that, "The appearance of Jehovah in those earlier passages may be due, not to the speakers, but to the writer, to whom it was familiar, and who used it by anticipation."[15] This would mean that Moses, having learned the "new name" put it into the mouths of characters who lived centuries earlier. This device is called prolepsis, and a number have supposed that is what we have here. However, this seems to us impossible of acceptance. Could we suppose, even for a moment, that Moses changed the name of his own mother, putting in the mouth of those who named her a word they never even heard of?. Ridiculous. Prolepsis is not at all indicated here.

  3. Another explanation is this: Fields suggested that "knowing God" means "knowing what the name implies."[16] Supporting this view is the fact that, long centuries after the name Jehovah was well known, God said, "I will cause them to know that my name is Jehovah (Jeremiah 16:21)."[17] Thus, knowing God, as indicated by the Scriptures themselves, certainly means more than merely knowing how to pronounce God's name. In fairness, it must be said that this appears to be the preferred explanation adopted by scholars generally. Note:

    "The name was not unknown to the patriarchs ... the full significance of it was now to be revealed? The text plainly relates to a commentary God is about to give on this name (an old name) in deeds? What is indicated is not that the name Jehovah (Yahweh) was previously unknown but that the meaning was about to be revealed? In other words, the full import of that name was not disclosed to the patriarchs.[21] God is not revealing an unknown name, but using a known name to give emphasis to a promise? God had not revealed himself in his character as Jehovah to Abraham as he was now about to do for Israel? (This is) a further revelation of who God is."[24]

    Thus, even in the light of this type of exegesis, which we nevertheless believe is secondary to that given under (a) above, it is clear enough that all references to "the divine new name"[25] are absolutely in error. No new name is given. "It is absurd to press this passage as proof of the ignorance of the patriarchs of the name Jehovah for God."[26] "The apparent meaning of this passage (as improperly punctuated) cannot therefore be its true meaning."[27]

    We have devoted a little more space to this question than might seem necessary to some, but right here is the keystone of the arch for that fantastic rainbow bridge of lies that current critics have built over the Word of God, because it is important that it should be demonstrated just how weak and unacceptable a pretense that arch is. Read the passage like it should be read:


    This is exactly the same kind of interrogative declaration used by Jesus Christ himself when he asked, "IF HE ASK FOR A FISH; WILL HE GIVE HIM A SERPENT?" (Matthew 7:10). The constantly repeated use of the names Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in contexts where this name is mentioned proves that who the sacred author was referring to here was that same JEHOVAH who was the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob. Otherwise, there could have been no point at all in mentioning the names of those patriarchs ten times upon those occasions when Moses was using the name.

Verses 4-6

"And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings, wherein they sojourned. And moreover I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am Jehovah, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments."

"My covenant with them ..." This is exactly the covenant that Jehovah (in that name and identity) made with Abraham. Note the emphatic words:

I have established (Exodus 6:4).

I have heard (Exodus 6:5).

I have remembered (Exodus 6:5).

I AM JEHOVAH (Exodus 6:6).

I will bring (Exodus 6:6).

I will rid (Exodus 6:6).

I will redeem! (Exodus 6:6).

"And with great judgments ..." These had previously been hinted at (Exodus 3:20; 4:22), but had not previously been called judgments? The meaning of this is that the mighty plagues visited upon Egypt were not merely "wonders." They were judgments also, sent upon the nation by God Himself for the punishment of their sinful rebellion against His will. "They were punishments inflicted upon a proud and cruel nation by a Judge!"[29]

The glimpse of Calvary that appears here was mentioned by Unger:

Exodus as a book of redemption presents a type of all redemption. It is wholly from God (Exodus 3:7,8). It is through a Person (Exodus 2:2). It is by blood (Exodus 12:13,23,27). It is by power (Exodus 6:6).[30]

Verses 7-9

"And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am Jehovah your God, who bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land which I sware to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am Jehovah. And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage."

"Hearkened not unto Moses ..." This is not hard to understand. The Israelites were almost totally crushed and frustrated. Their burdens had increased intolerably. As far as they could see, it appeared to them that matters were merely getting worse due to the intervention of Moses.

"Anguish of spirit ... cruel bondage ..." These are bitter words indeed, the cries of the hopeless and the helpless. The Samaritan version adds a verse here, rejected in the ASV, but nevertheless in harmony with the situation: "And they said to him (Moses), Let us alone, and let us serve the Egyptians; for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness."[31] Some believe that the Samaritan version receives some support from Exodus 14:12.[32]

Verses 10-13

"And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land. And Moses spake before Jehovah, saying, Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips? And Jehovah spake unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and gave them a charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt."

"Let the children of Israel go out of his (Pharaoh's) land ..." This is a dramatic and extensive change in God's demands upon Pharaoh. No longer is it a mere "three days journey." Pharaoh having rebelled against God's command in regard to that mild and reasonable request, now gets the unconditional order to liberate the whole nation! When God lays light burdens upon men and they refuse to bear them, God dramatically multiplies and increases the burdens. Pharaoh, having declared himself as God's enemy, professing not even to know him, made himself the object of God's wrath and power at this point.

"Who am of uncircumcised lips ..." One can appreciate Moses' reluctance. When his own people will not hearken to him, why should Pharaoh? And besides, the old problem mentioned back in Exodus 4:10 was still in the mind of Moses. "Uncircumcised lips" has the meaning of "lips inefficient for the purpose. `Uncircumcised ears' are ears that cannot listen (Jeremiah 6:10), and `an uncircumcised heart' is a heart that cannot understand (Jeremiah 9:26)."[33] God did not answer Moses regarding the uncircumcised lips until Exodus 7:1.

Neither the children of Israel nor Pharaoh were excusable in the sight of God for their failure to hearken unto Moses. Sure, Moses' performance was by no means perfect, and the impediment that he brought up here for the second time was probably real enough, and a handicap of considerable dimensions, but the fault and failures of the messenger never excused any man from heeding the message of God, delivered by anyone whomsoever. Men are foolish indeed who believe that the faults they see in Christian ministers absolve them of the requirement of obedience to the divine message. "If one hear but one clear word concerning Jesus, spoken only once, it is enough to fix responsibility upon the auditor."[34]

"Exodus 13 forms a concluding summary, and prepares the way for the genealogy that follows."[35]

Up to here, Exodus has been much like a prelude. The preliminaries have been observed, the characters who will figure in the ensuing drama have been introduced. Action is about to begin. This was an appropriate place indeed for this genealogy (which follows) to be inserted by the sacred author. It would reveal parenthetically the connection that Moses and Aaron actually had with the people whom they were to lead out of bondage. According to Keil, even liberal scholars have abandoned their fragmentary hypothesis regarding this chapter and "now admit its organic connection with the whole narrative."[36]

Verses 14-30


"These are the heads of their fathers' houses. The sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel: Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi, these are the families of Reuben. And the sons of Simeon: Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman; these are the families of Simeon. And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari; and the years of the life of Levi were a hundred thirty and seven years. The sons of Gershon: Libni, and Shimei, according to their families. And the sons of Kohath: Areram, and Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel; and the years of the life of Kohath were a hundred thirty and three years. And the sons of Merari: Mahli, and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites according to their generations. And Amram took him Jochebed his father's sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were a hundred and thirty and seven years. And the sons of Izhar: Korah,, and Nepheg, and Zichri. And the sons of Uzziel: Mishael, and Elzaphan, and Sithri. And Aaron took him Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab, the sister of Nahshon, to wife; and she bare him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And the sons of Korah: Assir, and Elkanah, and Abiasaph; these are the families of the Korahites. And Eleazar Aaron's son took him one of the daughters of Putiel; and she bare him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites according to their families. These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom Jehovah said, Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts. These are they that spake to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt: these are that Moses and Aaron."

First it should be noted that this is a selective and abbreviated genealogy. It is evident that, "There are not enough years in the life spans of these men to stretch over the 430 years of Egyptian bondage."[37] The Amram of Exodus 6:18, and the Amram of Exodus 6:20 (Moses' father) cannot be the same persons. "An indefinitely long list of generations has been omitted here."[38] The fact that just four generations are mentioned here, whereas there were actually ten, is perhaps due to the promise in Genesis 15:16, where the delivery of Israel from the land of their oppression was prophesied to happen in the "fourth generation." Significantly, there were people in each of four generations (embracing the whole period) with life spans of more than a hundred years each, thus giving two ways of reckoning the count. It was four generations as counted by the lives of successive patriarchs whose lives of over a hundred years touched each other, and also, in the meantime, actually ten successive generations had been born. "Joshua, who was a younger contemporary of Moses, was of the tenth generation from Joseph (1 Chronicles 7:20-27)."[39] This may very well explain why the ages of certain people are given in this passage.

As for the purpose of this genealogy, it is clear that it introduces a great many characters who appear in subsequent chapters of the Pentateuch. See below.

We are at first surprised that it begins with Reuben and Simeon, but this has two purposes:

  1. it identified with Jacob all of the personnel whose lives figure in subsequent chapters, and

  2. "It served to show that Moses was not disregarding the claims of primogeniture."[40]

"The sons of Levi ..." (Exodus 6:16). These are given because of the importance of their work as outlined later in the Pentateuch.

"Mahli, and Mushi ..." (Exodus 6:19). "These were among the most important of the Levitical families."[41]

"Jochebed ... bare Aaron and Moses ..." (Exodus 6:20). This is not from some prior document seeking to glorify Aaron instead of Moses. Aaron is mentioned first here because he was the older. The order of their importance is observed in Exodus 6:27, where we have, "Moses and Aaron." The Septuagint (LXX) adds an older sister, Miriam, in this verse. She is also mentioned in Numbers 26:59.

"Korah ..." (Exodus 6:21). He later figured prominently in a rebellion against Moses (Numbers 16:1-3,32; Jude 1:1:11).

"Nadab, and Abihu ..." (Exodus 6:23). These were slain by Jehovah for their presumption in offering strange fire (Numbers 3:4).

"Eleazar and Ithamar" ministered in the office of the high priest; and Eleazar succeeded Aaron to that office (Numbers 3:4ff).

"According to their hosts ..." (Exodus 6:26). "The word for hosts rendered armies in the KJV. Armies had not been mentioned until here; but the word occurs in Exodus 7:4, and was used here because it was already in the mind of the sacred author,"[42] the same being another unmistakable evidence of the unity of the passage. "Israel left Egypt as an organized host (Exodus 3:16; 12:17; 13:18)."[43]

Exodus 6:27-28 are a recapitulation for the sake of emphasis.

Thus it is clear that this parenthetical genealogy serves somewhat as a list of the "dramatis personnae" for the epic drama about to be performed upon the stage of world history! There are few events in the story of mankind that approach the importance and significance of the delivery of Israel from Egypt.

Before leaving this chapter, we wish to include a quotation from Fields. After noting that the name of Jochebed, Moses' mother, has the meaning, "Jehovah is my glory," thus proving that, "The Hebrews used `Jehohah' before Exodus 6:2," he spoke of critical denials and their assignment of certain passages to "the imaginary `P'," adding: "Their knowledge of unknowable things passes all bounds!"[44]


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 6:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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Thursday, September 20th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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