The Book of Names
The book that we call Exodus is called ‘Names’ in Hebrew. This is owing to its first words which say: now these are the names. It begins listing the names of the sons of Jacob, because these are the sons or children of Israel. You have to know something about names from the name-rich book of Genesis just to get into the sequel.
Exodus presupposes the names of Genesis. It also sets itself apart as a different book, because the structuring device in Genesis of the genealogies, the ‘toledoth’ is not invoked. When you see a toledoth in Genesis, you get a list of names (everybody in the Bible is related to everybody else, a friend once observed to me). When we start Exodus, though we still get a list of names, we no longer get the word ‘toledoth.’ The emphasis has shifted from the passing of generations to the naming of names.
Then you get a king in Egypt who does not know Joseph. That’s an important name for Pharaoh to ignore. Joseph is associated with God’s deliverance. God used Joseph not only to save his people, but along with his people, all of Egypt. It was an event that increased the power and prestige of the king of Egypt. It lay in the past, and this king, though he lived its benefits, had forgotten that name.
So he oppresses God’s people, and he goes about it by projecting the Egyptian culture of death on God’s people. He tries to go through the midwives, which provokes two observations. (1) What do we know Egypt for? Its pyramids, which are tombs, aren’t they? It’s embalming. Its elaborate funerary procedures and what we might call an obsession with death, a high, elaborate culture of death. To it Pharaoh adds the practice of infanticide. (2) We are given, of all things, the names of the midwives: Shiphrah and Puah. They are not names with deep meaning but rather common names that anybody might give a baby girl. One means beautiful and the other means small bird or spark. We might translate them as Bonnie and Sparky. Hardly the equivalent of Ezequiel or Nebuchadnezzar! And we might, as we attempt in vain to ponder such names, begin wonder who on earth cares what these women’s names were. Why are they included?
The answer would be to consider that, of all the people with name recognition in this story, the one whose name is probably carved in stone somewhere, the one whose name is on official records of a lasting sort is the only really significant character who is never named. Pharaoh, after all, is not a name: it is a title such as doctor, or pastor, or judge, or duke. He is called according to his title, but his name was something like Amenhotep, or Rameses, or some such. No doubt in the lists and options that archaeology provides we can find this person’s exact name, though there is controversy about which option to choose. But in the record of Moses, in God’s holy and infallible word, that name is not to be found. Pharaoh is never named.
And that is the lesson: God remembered the midwives and he gave them families. God knew them and honored them, they who feared him. And God still remembers them and will eternally. But Pharaoh who does not remember God’s saving ways and does not fear the Lord is not remembered. His name, in that book of names, the Book of Life which contains the total of all God’s elect, will never be found written or remembered. His kingdom has faded, his monuments will crumble, and one day no positive memory of this man will remain at all. But the midwives names have been recorded in an everlasting memorial because God remembers those who fear him.
Does God know your name? Only those who are known by God, whose name is written in the Lamb’s book of life, those who are called by God by name and chosen by him for salvation will be remembered on the day of doom and in the life to come.