Exodus 33:17 :

And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.

What does God mean by knowing Moses 'by name'? Aren't we all known by our names?


The most popular explanation for God saying, "I know thee by name" is that it demonstrates warmth towards Moses. This is a credible reason, although it fits a little awkwardly into the context.

John A Knox (Grace Track, page 29) proposes a novel explanation, saying that God was showing that nothing about Moses was hidden from God. Once again a credible reason, and once again it fits a little awkwardly into the context.

A cultural explanation may be that, to the ancients, knowing a person's name gave one power over that person. Moses replies by saying, "I beseech thee, shew me thy glory (Exodus 33:18)." I cite one example, written by Luis S. R. Vas (Experiences With The Jesus Prayer And Guidelines For Its Practice, page 57): "Biblically, knowing a person's name gave one power over that person. Name was linked with being. "

Conversely, Marvin A. Sweeney (Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible) suggests that when God answered Moses by saying "I am that I am" (Exodus 3:14) that this is a deliberate ploy to protect the holy name by declining to state it to Moses.

  • @ Dick Hartfield, thanks for the info. As yourself observed, the first answer is a bit of a farfetch, yet it's true that Moses was a unique case to the Most High. Also I agree with the 3rd option as the true answer, BUT only in part, because of it's scriptural support in a name being an allusion to intrinsic power. However we differ in your saying that when 'Jack' gets to know 'Jill's name, it gives Jack power over Jill, and that this is biblical. With this I disagree.. Do you see what this means when a man learns the name of God? – Witness Aug 2 '16 at 23:16
  • @ Dick Hartfield, This is the same concept in calling Bezaleel(Ex 31:2) and many others by name. Another case is the numbering and He calling the stars by their names in Psalms 147. Majority superficially understand by this verse that God commits to memory name tags of stars when it's really about creating every angel with specific powers to minister, Psalm 104:4.A distinctive illustration of this figure is the dialogue between the Most High in the burning bush where Moses asks for a simple label but the Most High answers in a context of 'being' or His 'essence', the true biblical name. – Witness Aug 2 '16 at 23:34
  • Hi @Witness I agree that the supposed power is not real, so when 'Jack' gets to know 'Jill's name, it gives Jack no power over Jill. However, I explained this as a cultural explanation in the ancient world. I have also added a citation from Sweeney, that may confirm the third explanation, by showing that God originally declined to tell Moses his true name. – Dick Harfield Aug 2 '16 at 23:44

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