Ex 1:1-7:7

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Home > The Old Testament > Exodus > Chapters 1-7a / Verses 1:1-7:7
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  • Ex 3:14: I AM THAT I AM. The Hebrew verb translated as "I am" in verse 14 is hayah, which comes from the verb for "to be." "I AM THAT I AM" is the most common translation of the Hebrew, although some linguists argue for alternate translations: "I will be who I will be," "I am because I am," or "I may be who I may be" (see The Anchor Bible reference below); or "I AM the one who always is," or "I am the Ising One" (see Word Biblical Commentary reference below).
Different scholars have interpreted the meaning of this passage differently. Here are some different interpretations:
  • Immutability of God: Building on the imperfect aspect of the Hebrew verb and translating "I AM THAT I AM" as "the One who always is," God's response here may be emphasizing that the nature of his being is more real and significant than anything mortal because it is eternal and unchanging. An implied lesson of this meaning is that in order to become more like God, we should develop characteristics (e.g. integrity and pure love) that are eternal in nature. (See also Rev 1:8 where God says, "I am Alpha and Omega.")
  • Transcendent nature of God: Some scholars suggest that God does not give Moses a straightforward name here because God transcends the confines of a name. Furthermore, when Adam named the animals in Gen 2:19-20 (cf. Gen 3:20), he was effectively exercising his dominion over them. So for Moses to call God by a simple name would be implicitly confing God to the confines of a name. God effectively answers Moses by saying "I will be whoever and whatever I need to be." (See also the discussion of pu in Taoism at RobertC's Tetragrammaton link below.)
  • Causation: The tetragrammaton given in verse 15 (YHWH, written LORD, often translated Jehovah) is formed by using the causative prefix Y in front of the verb "to be." Verse 15 then relates the to be verb in the phrase "I AM THAT I AM" with a causative connotation. The causative connotation may emphasize God's role as the architect of the universe, Israel's destiny (eventually escaping bondage in Egypt), and each human's individual destiny (cf. Joseph stating that his brothers selling him ento Egypt was God's will in Gen 45:5).
  • Ex 3:15: LORD. Whenever the phrase "the LORD" (note the small capital letters) appears in the King James Version and some modern translations, it is a translation of the Hebrew YHWH (sometimes referred to by scholars as the tetragrammaton because it has four letters). Although it's not obvious in translation, the word YHWH is intimately connected with the Hebrew verb in verse 14, ehyeh, translated as "I am." Thus it can be said that YHWH means "he who is" or "the one who is" or something with a similar meaning. The word YHWH, since it was the name of God, was not pronounced by Jews, who were wary of taking the divine name in vain. When reading the scriptures out loud, they would substitute the word adonai, meaning "the Lord." It is unknown with certainty how YHWH (note that the vowels are missing) was pronounced. The traditional English spelling and the one most often used by Latter-day Saints is "Jehovah," while most non-LDS Christian publications these days use either "Jehovah" or "Yahweh."
  • Ex 4:4: Instead of God. The Lord tells Moses here that his brother Aaron will be to him "instead of a mouth" and that he will be to Aaron "instead of God." In this case the role of the prophet (to speak on behalf of God) is split in two: the receiver of the word of God (Moses) and the speaker (Aaron). Comparing each individually to the role of a prophet explains this verse. Moses is a prophet without a mouth, and Aaron takes this place. Aaron is like a prophet without the word of God and Moses takes this place.
Because the role is spelled out in two parts, this verse provides a good explanation of the role of a prophet. Specifically the wording "instead of God" is intriguing. In a more general sense not only the prophet but all with the priesthood, act instead of God, i.e. on behalf of him. More general still, all who do as he would do act "instead of God." See Matt 25:34-46.
  • Ex 4:16. This is an example of God calling for man to act in his stead.
  • Ex 5:1: Demanding approach. Nehama Leibowitz (see reference below) suggests that Moses and Aaron take a more confrontational approach than the instructions Moses was given because the elders of Israel are conspicuously absent here, in contrast to the account in Ex 4:29 and when God gave Moses his instructions in Ex 3:18. Without the official representatives of the people, perhaps Moses has to—or at least feels he has to—take a more demanding approach. On the other hand, Moses's approach seems consistent with the instructions given in Ex 4:21-23. Also see Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Shemot (Exodus), Part I (Shemot - Yitro) (ISBN ??), translated by Aryeh Newman, p. 92.
  • Ex 5:22-23: What did Moses expect? Although Moses may have been genuinely surprised in some aspects, it seems he shouldn't have expected Pharoah to immediately release Israel based on Ex 3:19-20 and Ex 4:21-23. However, it is possible Pharoah would not have made things worse for the children of Israel had Moses approached Pharoah in a less demanding way (cf. Ex 5:1; this would not necessarily mean that Moses is to blame, it could be that the elders of Israel didn't accompany Moses would thus be culpable).
  • Ex 6:1-8: Chiasmus. Scholars have pointed out a chiasm in these verses (see Liebowitz reference below):
(A): I am the Lord (v. 2)
  (B): I appeared to and promised land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (vv. 3-4)
    (C1): I heard you in bondage (v. 5)
    (C2): I am the Lord and I will bring you out (v. 6)
      (D): I will redeem you with a stretched out arm and with great judgment (v. 6)
      (D'): I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God, and you shall know that I am your God (v. 7)
    (C2'): I am the Lord your God, who brings you out (v. 7)
    (C1'): from under the burdens of the Egyptians (v. 7)
  (B'): I will bring you into the land according to promise given Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (v. 8)
(A'): I am the Lord (v. 8) 
The focus of the chiasm is on God redeeming his people. The connotation seems to be redemption by punishing Israel's enemies, although the "stretched out arm" could also be taken as a welcoming gesture (see Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Shemot (Exodus): Volume 1 (Shemot-Yitro) translated by Aryeh Newman (ISBN ??), p. 117.
  • Ex 7:3: God hardening Pharaoh's heart. This verse tells us that God hardened Pharaoh's heart. The JST renders the verse differently. Before looking at the JST, consider the meaning of this verse as it stands in context. In chapter 5 Moses and Aaron ask Pharoah to let Israel go out of the land to worship God. Pharoah doesn't just say no--he punishes the people for the fact that Moses and Aaron asked by placing an unfair burden on them. Moses complains to the Lord. At the beginning of chapter 6, the Lord responds by saying "Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land" (Ex 6:1). Now it seems the Lord is telling Moses how we will do this. By hardening Pharaoh's heart he multiplies his signs and wonders because if Pharaoh had let Israel go early, all of the signs and wonders wouldn't have been done. Verse 4 says something similar and makes the causal relation clear: Pharaoh won't listen to Moses's requests so that the Lord can "lay my hand upon Egypt" (i.e. hurt them) and so that he can bring them out "by great judgments" (i.e. ?). The reason for all this is then made clear in verse 5--so that the Egyptians know that the Lord is God.
This interpretation might seem troubling because it seems to take away Pharaoh's agency. One way around this problem is to assume that this is simply idiomatic--that it was common in ancient Israel to ascribe to God all events that took place. Therefore, the intended meaning may be less about God literally causing Pharaoh's heart to harden, and more about acknowledging that God is in control and, with foreknowledge that Pharaoh will hearden his heart, God will use Pharaoh's decision as an opportunity to display his power by causing the plagues to come upon Pharaoh (cf. Josh 24:5 where the plagues are referred to in an effort to help Israel to remember their God). See also a related issue in Judg 14:19.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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  • Ex 3. Related to the comment that the Jews didn't say YHWH because they were wary of taking the Lord's name in vain I would be interested in understanding what that really means. Is the idea that this was a response to the command not to take the name of the Lord in vain in the 10 commandments? I would like to understand better what the commandment meant to the Jews. Does anyone have any info on this? Was this command related to obscenities as it is today? (Was using the name of the Lord as an obscenity also a practice the Jews had that they needed to guard against?) Was the command related to saying the name without real-intent (i.e. as we might end a prayer saying "in the name of Jesus Christ Amen" without giving any thought to Jesus Christ)? Was this command related to taking the name of the Lord in an oath without understanding the significance of that oath or without fulfilling it? Was it related to taking the name of the Lord on them (as we do today take the name of the Lord on us in baptism and in the sacrament) without fulfilling the obligations of that? (clearly these options aren't mutually exclusive.)

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Ex 4:24. Sought to kill who? Moses or his son? If it were his son, it would parallel God-Israel and Pharaoh-son. Perhaps Moses's son will be killed unless Moses yields to God, just like Pharaoh?
  • Ex 4:25. Why does Zipporah perform the circumcision? Do we ever have other instances in scripture of a woman performing this?
  • Ex 4:25. Did she have to do it because Moses couldn't, for some reason?
  • Ex 4:25. At whose feet did she cast the skin or stone at? At the angel, or at Moses?
  • Ex 5:22-23. What is Moses’ complaint? What prompts the complaint? How does this compare to such things as Abraham’s bargaining with the Lord (Ex 18:23-32)? What does this suggest that Moses had expected (cf. Ex 3:19-20 and Ex 4:21-23)? What do you think he hopes to gain by this complaint? Why did the Lord put Moses in a position to cause the people to be burdened and to complain about him?


This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →

  • Word Biblical Commentary: See the WBC volume 3, by John I. Durham (ISBN 0849902029), pp. 35, 38-39.
  • The Anchor Bible (Exodus 1-18) by William H. C. Propp (ISBN 0385148046), pp. 204-5, 224-6.
  • RobertC's Tetragrammaton subpage


Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.

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