The Bible records only eight times when God reiterates someone’s name. Four were spoken in the Old Testament era: to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses, and to Samuel. A thousand years later, Jesus–God with skin on–repeated Martha’s name and, at the Last Supper, Simon Peter’s. The seventh double knock was spoken by God the Son from the cross. The eighth and final one was heard after Jesus’ resurrection.
What he lacked in height Saul made up for with ego. A thoroughbred with the pedigree to prove it, he didn’t prance in anyone’s shadow.
Born in a multicultural seaport and speaking three languages fluently, he could hobknob with the greatest minds. Moreover, he always carried with him the clout of being a Roman citizen by birth. In fact, at home in Tarsus he went by his Roman name, “Paul.” But in Jerusalem, where he was educated, he used his Hebrew name, “Saul.”
To have studied the law under revered Rabban Gamaliel was an accomplishment that looked good on any Jew’s resumé. Add to that the honor that Saul surpassed his peers. None of them reached his intellectual prowess, where power and position hold hands.
He had made his father proud when he followed in his footsteps and became a Pharisee. And he was glad for that. But now he would prove he was his own man and make a name for himself. No one would ever dare murmur he was riding his father’s coattails.
And he had a stake in a just cause. Too bad that Rabban Gamaliel would not join this crusade. Probably getting soft in his old age. Why else would his esteemed teacher speak of leniency for this upstart sect, advising to wait and see if it would self-destruct?
That’s not how Saul would deal with this threat to Judaism. He believed in striking while the iron is hot. The riffraff espoused dangerous heresy that must be eradicated from the world. Those dummies alleged, of all things, that a crucified felon was the prophesied Messiah!
Every fiber of Saul’s being was bound and determined to protect every letter of the law all day every day. If those heretics were allowed to change one iota, they’d soon be rewriting all the ancestral traditions. No, he would give the likes of them no breathing room. They would soon be on their way to extinction!
So Saul, brimming with vim and vigor, mercilessly persecuted the early church while sincerely believing he was doing God a service. But he was sincerely wrong.
He became the point person for the fuming mob that stoned Stephen (the first Christian martyr). Next he relentlessly tracked down and threw into prison in Jerusalem every Christian–man or woman–he could find. Spurred on by his avenging fury, Saul then cast his net farther:
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:1-4 ESV).
Stunned by the light’s brilliance, Saul fell prostrate. With his face to the ground, he heard his name called twice. The double knock spoke love and compassion, followed by the searing question, “Why are you persecuting me?”
In bewildered wonder Saul replies: “And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”’ (Acts 9:5 ESV).
At that moment Saul changed course, and the church’s passionate persecutor became its persistent propagator.