Double Names

Double Names

Let's Have Some Fun ...

Person holding a solved rubik's cube with the words "figure it out".

I don't know if you like a good puzzle, but I do. As a kid, I used to absorb myself in mystery books that made me think, whether Encyclopedia Brown (as a child) or Ellery Queen mysteries (in my teens). And whenever I visited the Doctor's office, I was glued to the Highlights magazine for kids and its Can You Spot the Differences? puzzle (sort of like Where's Waldo, for my generation). Puzzles, riddles, and mysteries are pure joy to me. And I've got one for you.

Though the Bible isn't a mystery or puzzle, it offers some unusual twists along the way. I've been reading it since the end of my Freshman year at UW (over 40 years ago!).

One puzzler I've noticed is that occasionally, when God speaks directly and intensely to a person in the Bible, He repeats the person's name twice in the salutation. In other words, if God were speaking audibly to me, it would sound like: "Dan, Dan, don't do that," or "Daniel, Daniel, why are you thinking that?"

So, here's the puzzle: How often does this happen in the Bible? And, who does God address with "double names" in the Bible? Stop reading and start thinking! Perhaps explore your Bible and come back in 10 minutes to see the answers? (Or, you can just keep reading ... but you'll miss half the fun!). Ready? Go!

(While I wait for you to return, I'll be singing my favorite song, Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson. If you've already figured out the double name occurrences in the Bible, you can watch the video below with me.)

Ok, times up (and you're back). How many double names could you come up with? Here are my answers:

There are 7 times in the Bible when God addresses someone with a double name. I recommend that you can click each citation to read the verse in a popup.

  1. "Abraham! Abraham!" Genesis 22:11
  2. "Jacob! Jacob!" Genesis 46:2
  3. "Moses! Moses!" Exodus 3:4
  4. "Samuel! Samuel!" 1 Samuel 3:10
  5. "Martha, Martha" Luke 10:41
  6. "Simon, Simon" Luke 22:31
  7. "Saul, Saul" Acts 9:4

Awesome! That's like finding Waldo seven times in a picture! Now, the question before us is, "Why?" Why did God use this double-name repetition in these seven events?

Though we can't be certain, we can speculate from the context of each event:

First, to repeat a name shows urgency. When God repeats Abraham's name, it is a last second intervention to save Isaac's life from being sacrificed. Talk about urgent! God had already caught a ram in a thicket of brush and was testing Abraham's resolve to obey Him when his eyes could see no rescue. Another example of urgency: God repeats Moses' name twice in Exodus 3, to warn him that he's stepping on holy ground before Yhwh (the Lord), at the burning bush. The holiness of God impels urgency to the unholy (like you and me).

Second, repeating a name is attention-grabbing and attention-holding. Perhaps as a child, when your Mother demanded your attention, she would not merely call out your first name but would add your middle name to the mix? "Daniel Joseph, come here right now!" (uh-oh). This first-name-second-name combination invariably seized your full attention, right? In the Bible we don't have middle names. But repetition is available in any language. So, as a little boy, Samuel lived in the house of the unfaithful priest, Eli. One evening, God calls Samuel's name. Then again. Then again a third time. (Each time, Samuel thinks it is Eli calling him. It is not.) But the fourth time, God calls him with the double appellation ("Samuel! Samuel!"), and Samuel's attention if fully engaged to listen to the Lord. Repetition grabs and holds Samuel's attention.

Third, I can almost hear compassion in the echo of these seven biblical double-names. For example, when Jacob hears God call out "Jacob! Jacob!," he's in the middle of an incredibly fearful situation. A famine is laying waste to his homeland, and God is telling him to leave the promised land for a new home in Egypt. When we are racked by fear, isn't it good to hear from God, to know He's there? And to hear our name twice ... well, God is really there.

Now consider when Jesus chides Martha for her misplaced focus on work. It is to alert her to something far better that can nurture her soul. "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about many things, but only one thing is necessary ..." Jesus is showing compassion to Martha. "Martha, relate to me. Leave the preparations behind. I am here. Let's enjoy this relationship."

Even the most trivial observations from the Bible may hold genuine value. If God were to speak to you, and He spoke your name twice in a row, would you sense the urgency? Would He have your full attention? Would you recognize the compassion in His voice, to turn your attention to what matters most?

In Christ, God has spoken our name, repeatedly. "Dan, Dan, Dan, Dan, Dan, Dan, Dan. Come to me. Remain in me. Be with me. Lean toward me. Stop what you're doing and sit with me awhile."

Yes, Lord. Yes. You have my attention.

[Addendum 2/8/21: I just read a plausible 8th Double Name in Luke 13:34, where Jesus sorrows over Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" – Though Jerusalem isn't technically a person, it certainly is a city full of people.]