The KJV and others render John 1:36, “Behold the lamb of God.” The NIV and some others render it, “Look, the lamb of God.” Look works, of course, but behold works better. In Revelation 21:5 we hear that he who sat on the throne said (KJV), “Behold, I make all things new.” The NIV renders it, “Look, I make all things new.” Again, look works but behold works better.
If people in the kitchen are searching for the salt and someone finds it, he might say, “Look, the salt!” Unless he means to be amusing he won’t say, “Behold, the salt!” The word look would work if he wanted people to know he had found the salt but behold wouldn’t. Why is that?
We know the word behold doesn’t work for the very ordinary, the very familiar. It’s a word we’d reserve for something grand, something out of the ordinary; it’s a word we’d tend to associate with pageantry and the blowing of trumpets, with something wondrous. It has, for perfectly good reasons, an old English sound because that’s what it is—an old English word that has dropped out of use because people have lost something of the sense of wonder and if you lose that then you have no use for the speech of wonder. And it works in a vicious circle for part of the reason we have lost the sense of wonder at life is because we cheapen it with speech that cheapens it. You only have to think of the long list of tasteless slang used for the lovemaking between two who love one another. So many words that have dropped out of common use and we’re the poorer for it. I’m glad that some versions have had the good sense and good taste to retain the word behold.
It’s a word that promises the looker something mezmerizing if he looks. Behold, says the King who sits on the throne, as he draws attention to a glorious renewing of the entire creation. Behold, says John and focuses their attention on something, on someone, more wondrous than the entire creation—the Lamb of God! Behold said the angel of God to the trembling shepherds when he came to announce the arrival of the Messiah, the incarnate Son of God.
It doesn’t matter that the human family didn’t understand; it doesn’t matter that the human family still doesn’t understand the reality and nature of its misery, the depth of its alienation from the Holy Father or the cure for it. Voices here and there with some sense of it all have asked the questions for us. We’ve always sensed that something was wrong and Dwight and Adams spoke the truth about us and for us when they wrote something we could sing and confess: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining/ till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” There is a great multitude of us that has felt and do now feel a desperate need for some assurance outside ourselves that our souls are worth something, for we can’t find that assurance in ourselves.
It isn’t only that we find us doing outrageous again and again; it’s more than that, but not less. Many of us, beyond the outrageous, see our lives as pathetic, weak, inglorious—lives with nothing we feel worthy to bring and lay at the feet of our Savior as a gift. We aren’t seeking to earn His favor, we seek only to please Him but unlike the Magi the things we have to offer Him and have offered Him are shabby, threadbare, pitiful. Sigh
This is true not only of individuals—it’s true of the human family as a single family. We’ve tried everything to bring peace and satisfaction to ourselves. We’ve murdered our brothers as Cain did, we’ve cheapened marriage as Lamech did, we abandoned ourselves to self-actualization, swore we’d build towers and glorify ourselves by ourselves and our masterful skills and we’ve armed ourselves to steal and keep what we grabbed. We’re still doing it—aren’t we!
Then every now and then (wouldn’t you hope?) the awful realization of the depths of evil to which we can plunge and have plunged fills us with self-loathing and we thought ourselves—God’s creation, God’s children—we thought ourselves unworthy of His redemption. We heard Him say, “After you’ve done all you were asked to do, consider yourselves unworthy servants,” and completely misunderstood what He meant.
His Bethlehem arrival to rescue us showed that God thought more of us than we thought of ourselves. He said, “You’re worth it to me!”
One day God visited the ancient city of Ur not far from the river Euphrates and knocked on a door.
“You Abram?” he said to the man who answered.
“I am sir, and who are you?” the man asked.
“For now, just call me El Shaddai.”
“And what is it you want, sir?”
“I want you to come with me, you and your wife. I want to save a
world and I want you to help me.”
Then one day God sent Abraham on a three-day ride with his future riding beside him, his future embodied in a boy called Isaac. They got to the place and the boy asked, “I see the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb?” His faith-filled father said God would provide and so the question became, “Where is the lamb of God?” Now there was a ”lamb” (ram) that kept Isaac from death and God assured Abraham that He thought highly of sinful but faithful Abraham (Hebrews 11: 16) and that He too was faithful to the human family through the faithful old man.
Then later came a fearful night when God strode into Egypt and thundered on Pharaoh’s door demanding that the king let his son Israel go and Pharaoh refused. He continued to refuse until one awful night when an angel of death visited every home in the land of Egypt and spared only the homes of those who took shelter under the blood of lambs. Now there was a lamb that redeemed Israel from death and enabled them to begin their journey to a promised land. This Passover lamb too bore witness to God’s faithfulness to Israel and their father Abraham.
And on another day a psalmist called the nations of the world to sing God’s praises. Notice how he puts it:1
O praise the LORD, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.
For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of
the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD.
He calls the entire human family to sing God’s praises because he was good to Israel—“to us.” But why should the non-Jewish nations sing praise to God because he is good to Israel?
Because this psalmist knew that a God so great and so generous as Israel’s God would be good also to the entire human family He created.
If in His goodness He would deal with sinful Israel’s need, in keeping with His promise to Abraham, He would deal with the need of all the nations in keeping with His promise to Abraham concerning “all the families of the earth.” 2
The question, “Where is the lamb of God?” became, “Where is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world?”
The Baptist having witnessed Jesus fully identifying Himself with His sinful Israelite family by being baptized with a baptism meant for them and having seen the Spirit of God descend on Him later points Him out and says: “Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!”
Was that a sight or not? Do you “look” at Him or do you “Behold” such a one?
Sometime when you’re able, sometime when you’re alone and nothing else is demanding your attention, sit down, dismiss the talk of the preachers (sometimes Jesus is hidden under our talk—too much talk, too much “explanation”) and behold Him; envision and take a long lingering, thoughtful look at the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—yours and mine included.
(1) Psalm 117
(2) Genesis 12:3: 22:18; 28:13-14; Psalm 67:1-5