If you lived in Bible times and spoke Hebrew, you were compelled to say a lot with a very limited vocabulary.
Scholars have identified just 8,679 unique Hebrew words in the text of the Old Testament. Compare that to the more than one million words available to modern English speakers.
Nor did Hebraic communication have italics, underlining, or bold-face type to provide emphasis.
But they did have an idiom called “double address.”
About two dozen times, in both Old and New Testaments, someone’s name is spoken twice. Double address seems to have indicated special emphasis, force, or intimacy. If you wanted to appeal to someone you knew well, with an extra degree of personal intensity, you might call out their name two times.
It’s fascinating that some of the most famous texts in the Bible feature double address. Here are a few of them – with an occasional bit of paraphrasing on my part.
“Abraham, Abraham!” says the angel in Genesis 22:11, “put down that knife and don’t take the life of your son Isaac.”
“Moses, Moses!” says Yahweh at the burning bush, “take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground” (Exodus 3:4).
“Samuel, Samuel!” says the Lord in the middle of the night to the young boy who will become one of Israel’s key prophetic leaders (I Samuel 3:10).
“Oh my son, Absalom. My son, my son, Absalom!” That’s David’s lament for the death of his son, even though Absalom died while attempting to overthrow his father (2 Samuel 18:33).
“Saul, Saul!” says the Lord to the future apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, “why do you persecute me? I have an entirely new job assignment for you” (Acts 9:4).
“Martha, Martha!” says Jesus in Luke 10:41, “please stop counting the salad forks in the kitchen and come sit alongside your sister Mary” (Luke 10:41).
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Those are the words of Jesus directed to Simon Peter in Luke 22:31-32. The first “you” is plural – Satan clearly wants to mess with all the disciples – while the second “you” is singular. “I’m praying for you, Peter, because all the others are definitely going to need you in the days ahead.”
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus applied those agonizing words, originally spoken by David in Psalm 22, to himself while hanging on the cross (Matthew 27:46).
In each of these contexts there is a powerful personal relationship that is either being affirmed or implied. Double address connotes something special.
Which brings us to two places in the New Testament where people cry out to Jesus as if they have a special relationship with him – but they are badly mistaken.
The first comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus declares, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you…’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Perhaps we’ve fantasized about doing something spectacular for the Lord. Wouldn’t it be incredible to perform an exorcism in Jesus’ name, or to help pull off multiple miracles?
But the dream would become a nightmare if we were to hear Jesus say, “You missed the whole point. I wasn’t looking for miracles or exorcisms. I was actually looking for you.”
Then there’s Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25. Ten young women are invited to attend an important wedding in their community. Five of them are prepared for the big event, having brought sufficient oil for their lamps to participate in the traditional candlelight procession.
The other five are caught off guard. They have to run off quickly and buy oil.
When they return they find the door to the celebration has already been shut. “Lord, Lord!” they cry. “Open the door for us!” (Matthew 25:10)
These five would-be party crashers, having failed to prepare for the most important social event of the season, now boldly use the language of intimacy. They summon the groom with double address.
Jesus is clearly the groom in the parable. So what does it mean when the five young women without the oil cry out, “Lord, Lord”? They’re saying, “Aren’t we best friends, Lord? Haven’t we gotten really close to each other over the years?”
But saying that and living that are entirely different things.
Look how the Lord replies in verse 12: “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” That doesn’t mean, “I don’t recognize you,” or, “Could you please present two proofs of identify, at least one of which has a recent photo?”
Instead, these words are how a rabbi would typically dismiss a student. They meant, “I am no longer associated with you.” Here endeth the lesson. You once were enrolled as my apprentice. But now we’re done with each other.
These are among the most frightening words in all of Scripture. They’re also among the words most likely to offend modern people.
We’re rebuffed by the idea of closed doors. God’s door is always open, right? Aren’t we entitled to Total Access to God Forever, no matter how we choose to live?
According to Jesus: No.
If you are reading these words, the door is still open.
But a relationship with God cannot be faked. We cannot pretend to know someone whom we have not actually taken the time to know.
Living as a follower of Jesus is not about pursuing our own agenda. It means pursuing God’s agenda.
And doing so without becoming a “Lord, Lord” disciple.