Sh’mot: The Meaning of Exodus’ Hebrew Name
The First Books of the Bible
We think we know the names of the first five books of the Bible, referred to also as the Books of Moses and in Hebrew called the Torah. But do we?
The five books are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Sounds like a mix between English and Greek. But weren’t they written in Hebrew? What is the meaning of Genesis and Exodus, to begin with?
The name Genesis does not deviate too far from its Hebrew original. The greek word Genesis means simply: origins or beginning. And that’s exactly what the Hebrew name of the book is as well.
The name, Bereshit, also happens to be the first word of the book! It stands for “In the beginning…”
The Meaning of “Exodus”
The name of the second book, Exodus, gets a little more complicated. It is a Greek word that means “going out” and points to the content of Israel leaving Egypt.
However, as mentioned, this book was not originally written in Greek. So 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:
“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
Again, the name of the book comes from its very first verse.
Examples of Hebrew Sh’mot – Names
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.
And likely the most important of them all – Jesus means salvation.
Names have valuable meaning.
The Book of Names
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.”
In the beginning of the book, we read the names of those who came down to Egypt. Each of the sons of Jacob is named. Those are the same names that later become names of the Israeli tribes.
The entire “Book of Names” describes the struggles and many turns in the life of Israel. But from the beginning, God knew and He was watching over them.
What God Teaches Us Through Exodus
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 not so much about God’s power to overcome Pharaoh and a superpower nation. It is 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 and a Deliverer
This same 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 spoke to Simon, He named him Peter. After some time had passed, He explained why He did so, and we can read it in Matt 16:15-18.
In another instance, Jesus said two words to Phillip — “Follow Me.” This impacted Phillip so deeply that he told 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)
The Comfort of Being Known
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
Nathanael experienced great comfort in the fact that Jesus knew him. And what is more important, he also recognized that Jesus was the Messiah.
Your Name in the Book of Life
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 happens because God knows our names.
He calls us by name and comes for us, just as He did for Israelites in Sh’mot.
The real meaning of Exodus then is not just going out, but going after. It is God going after His children.
Bring Good News & Transform Lives in Israel
Are you looking to make a difference in Israel, and help share the Good News? Help Israelis learn that their Creator knows their name. You’re invited to join in God’s plan for his people!
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