Note: This is not in my usual SOAP style because it's more of an explaining of a puzzle.
I have been reading Genesis again recently as I am using the Walk Through The Bible 365 reading plan and have been struck again by the fact that the name Yahweh is used in Genesis many times before the name was supposedly revealed to Moses for the first time at the burning bush.
To complicated matters further, Exodus 6:2 seems to say that the name of Yahweh was unknown to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
I just found out that the New English Bible translators' notes on Exodus 6:3 actually explain the situation. Here's the note.
There are a number of important issues that need clarification in the interpretation of this section.So, essentially, the translator is saying that Genesis 6:3 is not saying that this verse is saying that they didn’t know the name Yahweh at all; it's saying that they didn’t יָדַע (yada’) know Him that deep way that was revealed to Moses.
First, it is important to note that “I am Yahweh” is not a new revelation of a previously unknown name. It would be introduced differently if it were. This is the identification of the covenant God as the one calling Moses – that would be proof for the people that their God had called him.
Second, the title “El Shadday” is not a name, but a title. It is true that in the patriarchal accounts “El Shadday” is used six times; in Job it is used thirty times. Many conclude that it does reflect the idea of might or power. In some of those passages that reveal God as “El Shadday,” the name “Yahweh” was also used. But Wellhausen and other proponents of the earlier source critical analysis used Exod 6:3 to say that P, the so-called priestly source, was aware that the name “Yahweh” was not known by them, even though J, the supposed Yahwistic source, wrote using the name as part of his theology.
Third, the texts of Genesis show that Yahweh had appeared to the patriarchs (Gen 12:1, 17:1, 18:1, 26:2, 26:24, 26:12, 35:1, 48:3), and that he spoke to each one of them (Gen 12:7, 15:1, 26:2, 28:13, 31:3). The name “Yahweh” occurs 162 times in Genesis, 34 of those times on the lips of speakers in Genesis (W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” EBC 2:340-41). They also made proclamation of Yahweh by name (4:26, 12:8), and they named places with the name (22:14). These passages should not be ignored or passed off as later interpretation.
Fourth, “Yahweh” is revealed as the God of power, the sovereign God, who was true to his word and could be believed. He would do as he said (Num 23:19; 14:35; Exod 12:25; 22:24; 24:14; 36:36; 37:14).
Fifth, there is a difference between promise and fulfillment in the way revelation is apprehended. The patriarchs were individuals who received the promises but without the fulfillment. The fulfillment could only come after the Israelites became a nation. Now, in Egypt, they are ready to become that promised nation. The two periods were not distinguished by not having and by having the name, but by two ways God revealed the significance of his name. “I am Yahweh” to the patriarchs indicated that he was the absolute, almighty, eternal God. The patriarchs were individuals sojourning in the land. God appeared to them in the significance of El Shadday. That was not his name. So Gen 17:1 says that “Yahweh appeared…and said, ‘I am El Shadday.’” See also Gen 35:11, 48:2, 28:3.
Sixth, the verb “to know” is never used to introduce a name which had never been known or experienced. The Niphal and Hiphil of the verb are used only to describe the recognition of the overtones or significance of the name (see Jer 16:21, Isa 52:6; Ps 83:17ff; 1 Kgs 8:41ff. [people will know his name when prayers are answered]). For someone to say that he knew Yahweh meant that Yahweh had been experienced or recognized (see Exod 33:6; 1 Kgs 18:36; Jer 28:9; and Ps 76:2).
Seventh, “Yahweh” is not one of God’s names – it is his only name. Other titles, like “El Shadday,” are not strictly names but means of revealing Yahweh. All the revelations to the patriarchs could not compare to this one, because God was now dealing with the nation. He would make his name known to them through his deeds (see Ezek 20:5). So now they will “know” the “name.” The verb יָדַע (yada’) means more than “aware of, be knowledgeable about”; it means “to experience” the reality of the revelation by that name.
This harmonizes with the usage of שֵׁם (shem), “name,” which encompasses all the attributes and actions of God. It is not simply a reference to a title, but to the way that God revealed himself – God gave meaning to his name through his acts. God is not saying that he had not revealed a name to the patriarchs (that would have used the Hiphil of the verb). Rather, he is saying that the patriarchs did not experience what the name Yahweh actually meant, and they could not without seeing it fulfilled.
When Moses came to the elders, he identified his call as from Yahweh, the God of the fathers – and they accepted him. They knew the name. But, when they were delivered from bondage, then they fully knew by experience what that name meant, for his promises were fulfilled. U. Cassuto (Exodus, 79) paraphrases it this way: “I revealed Myself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in My aspect that finds expression in the name Shaddai…I was not known to them, that is, it was not given to them to recognize Me as One that fulfils his promises.” This generation was about to “know” the name that their ancestors knew and used, but never experienced with the fulfillment of the promises. This section of Exodus confirms this interpretation, because in it God promised to bring them out of Egypt and give them the promised land – then they would know that he is Yahweh (6:7). This meaning should have been evident from its repetition to the Egyptians throughout the plagues – that they might know Yahweh (e.g., 7:5). See further R. D. Wilson, “Yahweh [Jehovah] and Exodus 6:3,” Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation, 29-40; L. A. Herrboth, “Exodus 6:3b: Was God Known to the Patriarchs as Jehovah?” CTM 4 (1931): 345-49; F. C. Smith, “Observation on the Use of the Names and Titles of God in Genesis,” EvQ 40 (1968): 103-9.