All Posts /

One-Name Wonders

One-Name Wonders

Iddo. Junia. Sheerah. Asenath. Jochebed. Priscilla. Zipporah. Aquila. Archippus. Apphia. Onesimus. Nympha. Epaphras.

So many of the phrases I’ve circled in my Bible contain a name. A single name — sometimes with a sentence of explanation, and sometimes these monikers fly solo. Names containing mostly unknown stories and glories, these secondary and tertiary characters in God’s epic love story nestle into the folds of my brain and circle around there.

Did Asenath, daughter of the pagan priest of On and wife of Jacob’s son Joseph, have any inkling of her status as the mother of the two half tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and the outsized part they would play in God’s story? Did she know that Ephraim and Manasseh would replace Reuben as the firstborn of the nation? Did she know that Jewish children would be blessed with the words “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh” (Genesis 48:20) still today? Did she understand her rare position as an outsider grafted into the family tree of God’s people?

Which prophecies caused Iddo’s hands to shake as he recorded God’s words and warnings during the reign of Solomon and Jeroboam? Where are his words now?

What kind of city builder was Sheerah? Did she draw up ancient architectural plans?

What kingdom exploits did Nympha participate in?

I truly think on these and so many other names. Perhaps because I have generally played lesser-seen characters onstage and been an understudy, I find these parenthetical people particularly intriguing. In college we were often assigned the task of researching secondary characters, filling in the societal and cultural blanks, deciphering what their motivation might be for their onstage actions, words, and feelings. We tried to ferret out what the author intended to say through these characters. Though this is a far, far lesser metaphor for the same pursuit in the biblical narrative, I think this has always been the source of my bent to lean toward the unknowns, the hidden characters in the pages of Scripture.

God knows every unknown.

That word unknown used to cause my heart to pinch up a bit; how about yours? I’m a word girl to the marrow, but I don’t like this word. The word unknown makes me turn my head away. Unknown things, at least for me, feel shadowy, slightly dangerous, apt to wrap themselves like anchors around my legs and drown me.

Once, while I was visiting with a wise woman at my collegiate church, I received something that forever encapsulated my tendency toward hating the unknowns. After praying and talking with me, she said something akin to, “Allison, I imagine you as a young girl, presented with a beautifully wrapped present from your heavenly Father. But you won’t unwrap it because you’re afraid it contains snakes. But it doesn’t. It contains untold blessings. You stand frozen, looking at it, refusing to unwrap it. Unwrap the present.”

Sometimes I’m still tempted to believe that blessings always come with a billy club. But it’s not true. Scripture declares,

The blessing of the Lord enriches, and He adds no sorrow to it. Proverbs 10:22 BSB

Slowly, the emotional fog is lifting; I dare to raise a new sail. Yesterday, my Tall Man and I were talking about the things we can’t see (the unknowns), and he said something powerful to me: “You’ve spent your whole life thinking if you can’t see it, it must be all bad. But what if you can’t see it, and it’s all good?”

I thought: I don’t have to know every loop-de-loop, because God does.

Up and Up and Up

Recently, my family went on a trip to the mountains of North Carolina, and I thought it would be a dandy idea to walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain, America’s highest footbridge. I thought I would lollygag right on across the bridge with plenty of cute family selfies to boot. How high and mighty of me!

I got to the edge of the bridge, started to take the first step, and then accidentally looked down. I pulled back to the platform of safety like a woman who had just been asked to do a triple gainer off a high dive into a pool of molten lava. I was terrified, which was odd to me because I had never, in all my life, struggled with heights — but that day, there was no way I was going to make it across that bridge without adult diapers.

Once I had caught my breath, I looked at my husband, my two sons, and countless others walking calmly across the bridge. After glancing at the safety wires going up to the neck of the bridge, I told myself, You can do it; just don’t look down. I looked at the destination and the objects of my affection — my husband and my sons (Levi, named for the priests, and Luke, a tip-of-the-hat to the beloved doctor of one of the Gospels) — the whole way across. I looked at where I was going and, step by careful step, I traversed it. And heavens, what a view was waiting for me on the other end!

The key to the whole experience was found in looking up, not down to the gorge below. The key was setting my mind on higher things. I could not help but think of Jesus, who set His heart and mind on the joy set before Him as He endured the unendurable.

In Plain Sight

After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, there was a boatload of confusion among those who had followed and loved Him, as well as among those who were on the periphery of His ministry and teaching. Scripture is clear that His followers didn’t understand that Jesus would rise from the dead.

But even those who didn’t recognize Him as Messiah would’ve heard about (and possibly witnessed) some sea changes in Jerusalem: an earthquake, darkness at midday, and the temple’s thick curtain torn from top to bottom. Bodies bounded up from their graves, women reported seeing angels and the missing body of Jesus... the list goes on. So much to process. So much to make sense of.

At the following point in the post-resurrection story, we find two disciples who were agitated by recent events and befuddled that Jesus had not delivered to the Jewish people an earthly kingdom as they had expected:

Two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. Together they were discussing everything that had taken place. And while they were discussing and arguing, Jesus Himself came near and began to walk along with them. But they were prevented from recognizing Him. Then He asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped walking and looked discouraged.
The one named Cleopas answered Him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that happened there in these days?”
“What things?” He asked them.
So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him. But we were hoping that He was the one who was about to redeem Israel. Besides all this, it’s the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women from our group astounded us. They arrived early at the tomb, and when they didn’t find His body, they came and reported that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see Him.”Luke 24:13–24 CSB

There are so many things about this passage that grab me and make me grin at the same time, if only because I see myself so deeply in them. First, we can’t gloss over the fact that the Emmaus disciples’ lives had been flattened in an emotional hurricane. All their hopes about Jesus — and how He might deliver them from Roman rule — had been smashed to smithereens. In addition, some of their women were telling strange tales about a missing body and resurrection. They were walking through (and arguing about) a tragedy, conundrum, and mystery.

Into this spiritual tangle, “Jesus Himself came near and began to walk along with them” (v. 15 CSB). There He is again. With. But even with the Savior walking alongside them, curious about their arguments, explaining all things about Himself in the Scriptures, “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him” (Luke 24:16 ESV).

(An aside, if I may: even when we can’t quite recognize Him, Jesus still comes in close, walking alongside us, patiently and perfectly revealing Himself to us.)

It was not until Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to Cleopas and the unnamed disciple — an action I imagine would have been a reminder of the Last Supper — that Scripture records “their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him” (Luke 24:31 ESV).

Friend, they had been walking with Jesus, but He had been hidden from them in plain sight.

How many times when we feel bereft is His arm encircling our waist and holding us up? How often have I missed His beautiful visage because it was veiled by distressing circumstances? How many times have I averted my eyes from Him because I didn’t understand the tumult of what had just happened?

Once the Emmaus disciples saw Jesus, their hearts began to burn within them. After such an encounter, they knew. They recognized Him for who He actually is — not a ruler who had come to overthrow earthly kingdoms but a suffering King who would overthrow death, hell, and the grave once and for all. They were citizens and recipients of a Kingdom hidden from human eyes but embodied and seen in the risen Christ.

Just as Paul reminded the Colossian believers, there is no hidden, secret knowledge but only a revealed Christ in whom we, as people of faith, are all hidden.

Excerpted with permission from Seen, Secure, Free by Allison Allen, copyright Allison Allen.

* * *

Your Turn

God knows every unknown. Your unknown. My unknown. He is hidden in plain sight right now, right in the hardest circumstances. You’re hidden in Him but not from Him! Jesus sees you and He is with you. ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full