So when most of us read the word “behold” in many translations of the Bible, we tend to see it as just an archaic pleasantry – a routine biblical way of beginning sentences that we do not pay a lot of attention to. But the Hebrew word hinneh in the Old Testament and the Greek word idou in the New Testament which are so frequently translated as “behold” (or sometimes “look”) actually have a much greater force of meaning.
Although it is hard to find a single word in English that really conveys the thrust of these biblical words (which is why so many translations still use the somewhat outdated “behold”), the expression “Pay attention!” comes close. Now it is true that the words translated “behold” appear a great many times in the Bible (for example, “behold” appears well over 1,000 times in the King James Version, the English Standard Version, and others), but their frequency does not undercut their importance.
We should realize that the words translated “behold” in both the Old and New Testaments are usually used of important statements that the writer or speaker wanted to emphasize. For example, in Genesis 6:13 when God tells Noah: “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth,” the word “behold” (emphasized here and in the scriptures below) is much more than “filler” or “polite speech” – it is a verbal highlighting of a fact of great importance.
That is why the Hebrew word hinneh appears in Isaiah’s pivotal prophecy: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14), a prophecy that is quoted using the Greek word idou in Matthew: “Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
“Behold” may be used several times in a biblical passage to signal an account of particular importance – for example, the word appears six times within just a few verses in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus. The word is used in the same way at other key times in Jesus’ life – his baptism, temptation, miracles, crucifixion and resurrection. Notice for example: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Finally, “behold” is often used to draw our attention to particularly important commands or to stress important points we must not miss: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
So next time you read “behold” or “look” in a scripture, remember that the word is probably there to help us focus on something of particular significance. Remember to pay attention!