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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?

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There are some passages that suggest that God does not know all men (at least know them in a personal way). Consider that on the day of Judgment:

Matthew 7:23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'

God does not know those who are in sin; in other words, He has no regard for them

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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.

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  • @ 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, 2016 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, 2016 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. Aug 2, 2016 at 23:44
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God's calling or knowing by name

The topic "Name" in the Insight on the Scriptures uses this scripture to define "knowing by name":

This is illustrated in the case of Moses, a man whom Jehovah ‘knew by name,’ that is, knew intimately. (Ex 33:12)

Let's take the example of Saul and David.

Saul calls for David to be his harpist. Saul was told that David is a Bethlehemite and is the son of Jesse. (1 Sam 16:18, 19) Later, David hears about the Philistines taunting the Israelites and asks why what will be done for the person that strikes down Goliath. (1 Sam 17:20-26) Saul hears about David's comments and calls for him. (1 Sam 17:31) Saul has a conversation with David in which David explains some of his exploits as a shepherd. (1 Sam 17:32-27) So Saul knows David's identity.

After David defeats Goliath, Saul is perplexed and even asks Abner, his army chief:

“Whose son is this boy, Abʹner?” Abʹner replied: “As surely as you live, O king, I do not know!” (1 Sam 17:55)

How is it that Saul has no clue who David is? In verse 55, Saul is not asking for David's identification but seeking more intimate or personal information about David as a person.

Does Jehovah God know every person's name? Of course, but he wants to know if we truly accept his Word and are willing to sacrifice selfish desire in order to serve the Creator himself.

We become known to Jehovah God by studying his Word the Bible and living our lives in a way that is righteous in his eyes.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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God called Moses by name in Exodus 3:

4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

The repetition indicates the seriousness of the situation.

Exodus 33:

12 Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’

God knew Moses' name; God found favor with Moses.

17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

God knew Moses' name; God was pleased with Moses. God found favor with Moses. So, God would do the very thing that Moses asked.

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

Yes, we're all known by our names. However, when God says He knows you by name, it is a Hebraism for God knows you personally with favor and pleasure and he will do the things you ask.

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