Years ago coffee percolated through a contraption that took time and effort. I remember my grandma pouring water in the bottom half of her aluminum coffee pot then putting in a pole-like-contraption topped with a basket, into which she measured out coffee grounds — usually from a red Folgers can. She’d put on the lid and turn up the heat. It took several minutes for the water to boil and start flooding its way up the pole. But eventually, we could see brown liquid splashing against the clear knob in the lid. When the percolating finished, Grandma would fish out that basket-on-a-pole and pour herself a hot cup of coffee. At last.
I feel like this is what I’ve been doing for the last four years, slowly percolating on the little word behold. It’s not a word I paid much attention to in my life. In fact, except for Christmas songs and a few phrases, like “lo and behold” or “a sight to behold,” there just wasn’t a lot of beholding happening around me. That is until 2017 when I read an Advent series about what it means to behold.
I invite you to percolate on this word with me as we pause in the midst of busyness this Advent season to behold our Savior.
Behold: A Word With a History
The modern definition of behold is “to perceive through sight; to see; to gaze upon,” which stays pretty true to the Hebrew and Greek words used in Scripture for behold. What’s interesting, however, is that most modern Bible translations either completely drop the word, behold, or substitute it for something else — like remember (Matthew 28:20, NRSV) or here am I (Isaiah 6:8, KJV). When I search the NIV for behold, there is ONE use (Numbers 24:17), compared to the King James Version, which has 1,298. So, I’m grateful for the English Standard Version because it has modern language and the word behold — at 1,069 uses.
Maggie Ross in her book, Silence, describes behold as a liminal word, one whose meaning is barely perceptible and creates a threshold where paradox thrives. As such, behold can infer that in order for a reader to grasp, she must first ungrasp (p.129). I love this because so much of what Jesus calls us to as believers is to let go — of assumptions, of impure motives, of unhealthy habits, and of preconceived ideas — because He wants to do something new (Isaiah 43:18–19).
Behold signals us, as readers, to recognize when God is calling us to see something special. Behold heralds newness and importance.
O, come let us behold…God’s Word.
Behold: A Word in God’s Word
God has called us to behold since the very beginning:
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”Genesis 1:31, ESV
When we read this verse, behold nearly trips us up. The flow feels interrupted — and that’s the point! Behold calls for a pause so we can ready ourselves for what God has next. So, as we slow down at the conclusion of this creation story, we see with awakened senses that after creating humans, God stops to admire His handiwork and announces, “behold, this is very good” (emphasis and additions mine). God’s spoken word has brought into existence everything in creation, and we’re meant to know, without a doubt, it is good.
Consistently, the idea of God’s word holds a place of utmost authority and esteem and is often announced with behold. As you read each of these verses, allow behold to grab your attention to see what God’s word is saying or doing:
- “There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” 1 Kings 19:9, ESV
- “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’” Jeremiah 1:9, ESV
- “‘Behold,’ they say to me, ‘Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come!’” Jeremiah 17:15, ESV
- “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.’” Amos 8:11, ESV
- “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:38, ESV
- “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” Revelation 21:5, ESV
Beholding becomes our means of percolation. It gives us pause to see how the word of the Lord encourages and restores a faithful prophet and how God conveys His word to another. It enables us to hear the desperation in the voices of God’s people who are missing His word and the conviction of God as He doles out the consequences to those same faithless people. It allows us to hear with awe and wonder the voice of our Sovereign God announcing that He is doing something new, that His words are trustworthy and true.
And, behold opens our eyes to the heart of an obedient servant, the mother of Jesus, who trusts God’s word above everything else. The way God employs this ancient verb sheds light on complex ideas, as well as passages that have become familiar — like the story of Mary’s annunciation. We’ve read or heard the Christmas story in Luke so many times that it’s easy to miss its depths, but when we pause — behold! — to see Mary, an unwed teenage girl, say YES to the God she loves without hesitation, we recognize the many excuses she laid down in order to trust His word.
The Drought and the Word
Behold, one of many threads woven throughout God’s Word, draws attention to the word of God and pulls God’s story together — from beginning to end. For instance, that famine of God’s word, predicted through Amos (8:11), stretched on for 400+ years. No one — not a single person — heard from God for four centuries. Then, God breaks-in — at just the right time — with His word, speaking first to Zechariah (Luke 1:8-23) then to Mary. The famine is over. Behold, God is speaking! The feast of hearing from God begins!
Lauren Daigle’s song, “Light of the World,” opens our Behold! playlist for lots of reasons, but here’s one, tucked into her lyrics. Do you find the allusion to Amos 8:11 and its source of deliverance?
The drought breaks with the tears of a mother
A baby’s cry is the sound of love
Come down, come down, Emmanuel
Oh, He is the song for the suffering
He is Messiah, the Prince of Peace has come
He has come, Emmanuel
God’s Word reveals His words, threading their way from the old covenant into the new. Through His Son, perfectly defined by John as the Word (John 1), God keeps His promise of a Savior. He holds true to His word and sends the Messiah — the Deliverer for all the world.
The story of Jesus coming to the earth as a tiny baby is at risk of being too familiar, too recognizable to capture our reverence and awe — unless we pause to behold just how miraculous and perfect and unbelievable it all is. When we behold, we can ungrasp what we think we know, opening ourselves to all the new that God has for us.
Behold, the Word became flesh. For all the world. For you and for me.
- Here’s a great playlist to help you Behold Jesus more this Advent as we seek to pause and percolate in His presence more than stress over all the things we still need to do or grieve the losses of the past year(s). The Word of God came for us! In Him is all we need.
- Using a journal helps us to sit with hard ideas and emotions and bring them before the Lord Jesus — all of which helps us be made whole in Him. Try spending a minute today making a list of what keeps you from beholding Jesus in this Advent season. What blocks your view of Him? Once identified, ask Him to help you remove that obstacle so you can see Him first and most!