Second Revelation: Va’era Again 

Ever since the last post I’ve been contemplating this amazing “second revelation” that we see in the very beginning of Torah Portion Va’era, in Exodus 6. There are some crucially important details in this revelation, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I couldn’t and shouldn’t just skip them. So, we are still in Parashat Va’era – and from now on, we will be discussing Torah portions here just a few days after it is read in the synagogues all over the world (instead of a few days before).


Do I Know You? 

First, I want to talk about the Hebrew word “know”. You may remember the question I posed in the previous post (and many had asked before me): did the Patriarchs know the sacred name of God – יהוה (YHWH) – before God revealed it to Moses?  In Exodus 6:2-3, God says to Moses:  “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Lord I was not known to them”. We spoke about the alleged contradiction between this statement and the frequent occurrence of the name YHWH in Genesis. I shared with you some Jewish commentaries and then wrote that the explanation of this “contradiction” should be sought in Hebrew: most Christian students of the Bible fail to understand the meaning of the Hebrew verb “to know” (Yada). When someone reads this verse as an indication that the name of YHWH was not known before Moses, he just doesn’t understand the depth of this verb.  Yada in Hebrew Scriptures is a very profound word, and today we are going to look into it more deeply.

The Hebrew root “yada” (usually rendered as “know”) appears more than 900 times in the Hebrew Bible. The idea of “knowing” in Biblical Hebrew is much more personal and intimate than our modern understanding of knowing[1]. In the Hebrew Scriptures, “to know,” means not just to be intellectually informed, but to experience reality. Knowledge is not the possession of information: it is an experience. To “know God” in the Bible is not “to know about him” in some abstract and impersonal manner, not to grasp philosophically his eternal existence, but to recognize and experience His reality and to obey His will.

In this sense, we see a very clear connection between the verse we just quoted, where God reveals His name to Moses (Ex. 6:3), and verse 7 of the same chapter, where God continues to speak to Moses and says: “I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians”. Do you remember that even before this second revelation, Moses was supposed to tell the people of Israel the name of the Lord – this was a commission he received in Exodus 3, at the Burning Bush? However – pay close attention – God does not expect the Israelites to know Him and His name after Moses tells them this name, between Exodus 3 and Exodus 6. It is only after they experience the reality of the Exodus – the reality of His faithfulness, His compassion and His power – that they will know Him. No wonder, He “was not known” like this to the previous generations, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob – because they had not experienced Him like this.

It is remarkable, that also in the New Testament, the Greek words usually rendered as “know” have been influenced by the same meaning of “yada” that we find in Biblical Hebrew. Here also, knowing God is not simply an intellectual and philosophical contemplation, rather it is a response of faith and obedience. Both in Hebrew Scripture and in the New Testament, it’s not ignorance that is the opposite of knowledge, but rebellion.


The Name 

The Divine Name revealed to Moses –יהוה (YHWH) – is widely transliterated in Christian Bibles as Jehovah. Is this pronunciation correct? What was the original vocalization of this name?

The original pronunciation was most likely Yahweh – however, I have to admit that we do not have enough data for making any definitive statement. We know that in the beginning, it’s pronunciation was restricted to Temple service only; later – to the High priest only, and on the Day of Atonement only; finally, after the destruction of the Temple, it received a substitute pronunciation: it became customary to say the word Adonai (“my Lord”) when reading יהוה.

So, how do we get Jehovah from here? You might be surprised by the explanation. The Masoretes who vocalized the Hebrew Scriptures took the vowels from the word Adonai and vocalized with these vowels the word יהוה – as a reminder to a reader that he needs to substitute. The Christian translators who were unaware of that, transliterated the word יהוה according to this substitutional vocalization – and thus the name Jehovah entered Christian Bibles.

You probably know that in the first chapter of Genesis, the Creator is called God (Elohim), and in the second chapter, he is referred to as “Lord God” (Adonai Elohim). Here for the first time, we encounter that same name that was revealed to Moses in Exodus 6, and allegedly, was not known before that. So, how do the two names of God relate and correlate one to another?

Jewish tradition interprets the names Elohim and Adonai as the explanation of the two sides of the nature of God: His Justice and His mercy. This understanding of the different names of God explains also these two different accounts of creation – Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. The Midrash says that God originally created the world as Elohim (Genesis 1), but that afterward He is called Adonai Elohim (Genesis 2) because He saw that without His mercy His creation would not survive.

Keeping that in mind, let us read again the “second revelation”. It begins by saying, “Elohim spoke to Moses”, and then proceeds to say, “I am YHWH”. Isn’t it often like this? First, God reveals Himself as an awesome and fearsome God of justice, but then you lift up your eyes – and you sense there are tears in his eyes.  He hears the groaning of the Israelites. He hears your groaning. In Genesis 22, it was Elohim who commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. However, it was the Angel of the Lord, who stopped Abraham’s hand in the end. He is YHWH – God of Compassion and Mercy.

[1] Please remember: we are talking about Biblical Hebrew; in Modern Hebrew, this verb more or less corresponds to a regular English “know”.

I  would like to remind you, dear friends that eTeacher offers a wonderful course, where you can learn from Parashot Shavua commentaries along with their New Testament interpretation. As always, you are welcome to contact me for more information!  Also, if you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you can get them here

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Lanil Gunasekara

    Hi I’m Lanil
    To know God is to experience Him. I totally agree. In the New Testament when Jesus says In that day many will call me Lord, Lord, but I will tell I never knew You. That word ‘knew’ is to have intimate knowledge of the Lord.

  2. Roger

    Hi there,
    I apologize in advance for my poor English, let alone my Hebrew!
    In this passage of the Bible, and generally speaking, «El Shadaï» is translated by “God of hosts”.
    As the term for breasts in Hebrew is «Shadaiim» (?), could we not dare this translation: “Foster God”? Is it the fact of the patriarchal nature of our societies that prevents such a translation? I think that would give us another aspect of the nature of God (?). Isn’t God also like a mother to us? Isn’t the ending of the Divine Name (YHWH) a hint to that?
    It’s just an idea!

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Roger, thank you for your comment. I am always open to the new ideas, I love the concept of 70 faces of the Torah and that Torah speaks differently to different people, yet I am not sure I follow your thought as I don’t really see the connection between “Shadayiim” and “Foster God”. Can you please elaborate?

      1. Roger

        Hi Julia,

        It would be hard for me to have an in-depth discussion in this area since my skills in those matters are very limited. And the fact that English is not my mother tongue complicates things!

        If I had to put it another way, I would say that the translation of this passage by “God of hosts” is quite curious for me since it wasn’t the only way God revealed Himself to the patriarchs. In addition, I don’t see very well the link between this designation of God, “God of hosts” and the revelation of His “intimacy” to Moses.

        I found in the Benjamin Davidson’s Hebrew Chaldean lexicon: “The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon”, that the entry “שדי” is attached to the root “שדד” which has a connection with violence, etc. And that “שדי” was the construct form of the dual “שדים” translated as “the breast, teat, spoken of men and animals”.

        Maybe one could conjecture that, perhaps, symbolically speaking, what the text tries to convey is that God has essentially revealed Himself to the patriarchs as a “Foster Father”, a “Protector Father”, a God providing for their needs, etc. And that it was to Moses that the revelation of His “intimacy” was made.

        As I said in my first post, this is only a guess and I’m here to learn and anything that can improve my knowledge of this matter is welcome!

        1. Julia Blum

          Hi Roger, you are right, there are some scholars that derive the name שדי from שדיים. Clearly, there are a lot of “female” connotations attached to such a reading; I think it presents God more like a Mother, not a Father, doesn’t it? In any case, it’s only one way to interpret this name of God, and we can’t be sure that this is the right way, from the linguistic point of view. However, I do believe wholeheartedly in “the 70 faces of Torah ” concept, I do believe that this Word speaks differently to each one of us, and I think if this is the way it was revealed to you, you have to treasure this revelation!

  3. Gladys

    Thank you Julia for opening the Bible to me in ways I never imagined .. Sometimes when I ask God for understanding something ,He often answers me through your teaching . You ‘re truly a double blessing to me.
    I read a book that was written by a Rabbi .He was writing about the sacrifice of Isaac and he wonder why God has an Angel tell Abraham to stop rather than talk to him Himself .He wondered if maybe God was upset that Abraham was quick to obey and maybe God wanted him to ask at least to spare his son just as he(Abraham ) sake Wd God to spare the people of Sodom. Maybe God doesn’t want us to be like robots and wants a real relationship with us .. What do you think about this?

    1. Gladys

      Sorry , my little tablet changed some words of mine . It should read ( Abraham) asked God to spare the people of Sodom .

    2. Julia Blum

      It’s a very deep question, Gladys, I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. With everything going on around us, how much does depend on our prayers and our conversations with God? You know, there are Rabbinic comments saying that Noah was much less righteous than Abraham because he didn’t intercede for the people around him – unlike Abraham who negotiated with God about Sodom. That’s why the Scripture says that Noah ” was righteous in his generation” – only if compared to the sinners around him – while Abraham is righteous in and for “all the generations”. Should we be like Noah or like Abraham?

  4. Ryan

    First, thank you very kindly for this blog. I greet it weekly with great anticipation.

    Regarding the name YHWH, I notice you omit the letters as is custom except for the one sentence where you illustrate the pronunciation. Can you comment on why/when it’s acceptable to write (or speak) the full name? (I understand and accept if the answer is too long to post as a comment reply, in which case I humbly ask you to consider this as a future topic.)

    Thank you again.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Ryan, thank you for your kind words. As I wrote in the post, the original pronunciation of the Divine Name revealed to Moses –יהוה (YHWH) (usually transliterated as Jehovah in Christian Bibles), was most likely Yahweh; while the Temple was there, it’s pronunciation was restricted to the High priest only, and on the Day of Atonement only; after the destruction of the Temple, it received a substitute pronunciation: it became customary to say the word Adonai (“my Lord”) when reading יהוה. However, when the combination אדני יהוה occurs, one has to read it as Adonai Elohim. Orthodox Jews today even go further and out of respect for the sacredness of the divine name they say “Adoshem” and “Elokim”.

  5. Nick

    That Moses experienced G-d in a deeper dimension than the patriarchs is truly fascinating. There seems to be implications for some of Jesus’s comments about “knowing the Father”, or “seeing the Father”. This reminds me of male/female; immanence/ eminence; from within/from without – aspects of how one perceives G-d. ?????
    Thanks Julia!,

    1. Julia Blum

      Moses’ experience with God was very different from the experience that the Patriarchs had – and our knowledge of God does depend on our experience, doesn’t it? Thank you for your unfailing support, Nick!