Sh’mot: The Meaning of Exodus’ Hebrew Name
“Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob; they came each one with his household:” -Exodus 1:1
The Meaning of the Bible Book Name “Exodus”
Exodus is a Greek word that means “going out” and suggests the content of Israel leaving Egypt, however, this book was not originally written in Greek, and Exodus is not its original name. To Hebrew readers, this is the book of Sh’mot, which means “names” as found in the first verse.
To the ancient Hebrew mind, a name was not just a unique or identifying title of a person, but spoke of someone’s character or destiny. Moses means drawn out — His life was used to draw Israel out of Egypt. Elijah means The Lord is my God, and His life was marked by bold and uncompromising stands for the Lord. Jesus means salvation — Names have valuable meaning.
What God Teaches Us Through Exodus
The first thing God wants us to understand in this book is that He knew the names, or the character and destiny, of His people in Egypt. Not just one person, but “each one with his household.” It had been over 400 years since Jacob and his sons went to Egypt. In the midst of slavery, God had not forgotten His people and knew them more than they realized. This is what God is like. This book is less about God’s power to overcome Pharaoh or a superpower nation and more about God remembering His promise to a family that He loved. In the midst of their suffering, He knew their names and was sending a deliverer to lead them back to Himself.
Exodus Meaning, Scripture and a Deliverer
This character trait is seen at the beginning of Jesus ministry. As Jesus’s disciples were first meeting Him, Jesus already knew them and what they were like. In John 1:42, when Jesus first met Simon, He named him Peter, and then after time passed He explained why in Matt 16:15-18. Later, Jesus said two words to Phillip — “Follow Me.” This impacted Phillip so deeply he tells Nathanael “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:46) Then it was Nathanael’s turn.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” – John 1:47-49
When times are hard, we often feel forgotten by God, but this is not the case. Regardless of where we are or the time that time that has passed, any great deliverance or calling begins because God knows our names and comes for us, just as He did in Sh’mot.