For the longest time, I assumed that “Behold!” - that antiquated word peppered throughout our Bibles - was only there for dramatic effect. It certainly adds a bit of Shakespearean gravitas to whatever follows; it feels like the sort of thing Sir Ian McKellen might say to grab the attention of a wayward hobbit.

I had never really given the word much thought. But it actually appears in the scriptures about 1,500 times (depending on the translation), so it’s probably worthy of a bit of consideration.

Behold means “look!”, “open your eyes!” or “pay attention!” I’ve started to notice how it’s so often paired with an exclamation mark – the grammatical equivalent of a slap in the face. It’s not a gentle request. It’s a command. When God uses it, he’s grabbing us by the collar, urging us to notice something incredible that we’re currently ignoring.

As a person currently sitting with no less than four chiming, Wi-Fi enabled rectangles within arm’s reach, maybe “behold” is just the message I need – a call to abandon my beloved distractions and pay attention to what actually matters.

I wonder how much of the spiritual life comes down to just that – paying attention?

Worship, for me, is often a function of my attention; I see something and so I sing something. For instance, when I slow my life down to match the unhurried cadence of nature, rather than burying my head in emails, I begin to see more of the holy magic tricks that God is doing in the background every day. And worship rises pretty effortlessly. (Sidenote: If I had lovingly crafted a galaxy full of stars, put them on display every night and people kept choosing Star Wars instead, I would say something a lot stronger than “behold!”)


Illustration: Flix Gillett

Compassion is also enabled through beholding. When I see the person losing his mind with his bratty kids in the Tesco car park and failing to rise above their whines, I get an opportunity to glimpse Christ in there somewhere, beneath the surface of their frustration. When I resist the powerful urge to scroll past distressing images of refugees in crisis, war and poverty, I begin the process of caring more deeply, which in turn leads to acting more justly. Conversely, it’s hard to love your neighbour if you won’t turn your head to look at them.

Like all journeys that don’t end in the intensive care ward, it seems the narrow road of Christianity is best walked with your eyes wide open.

God is pleading with us to be alive and alert to his presence.

“OPEN YOUR EYES! ‘I stand at the door and knock’” (Revelation 3:20).

“OPEN YOUR EYES! ‘The Lamb of God’” (John 1:29).

“OPEN YOUR EYES! ‘I am doing a new thing!’” (Isaiah 43:19).

Maybe now is the time to put down your magazine or look up from your computer screen and witness the amazing things God is up to, right here and right now.

I mean, it turns out God has asked you about 1,500 times already…