I can’t help but notice that the word, “behold,” appears 79 times in the ESV version of the book of Genesis. I notice when I’m standing at the kitchen sink, listening to Max McLean narrate the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in his rich, bass voice. Just as my attention drifts to the sound of an argument forming in the basement,”behold” jars me awake. I’m as sheepish as a school girl who’s been caught looking out the window at the trees swaying in the schoolyard.
I wonder why it is that the word, “behold,” appears 79 times in Genesis, 1069 times in the entire Scriptures in the ESV – and only ONCE in the most recent translation of the NIV.
My guess is that the ESV translators must have known how much we would need this two syllabled interjection, the one that boxes our wandering ears and insists: sit up straight; pay attention; listen closely because something spectacular is happening and you’re about to miss it.
I think it was a word Abraham needed as much as we do. When you read the story and take note of the chronology of Abraham’s life as it unfolds, you can’t help but see how deliberately vague God was with Abraham. Twenty-five years of Abraham practically bumbling in the dark, his send off from Haran, when he was already seventy-five, as unspecific as, Go to land I’ll show you.
Piece by piece, God grants a bit more clarity. But the literary text is incredibly sparse: ten stories is all we have for the twenty-five years between God’s first conversation with Abraham and the eventual fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham of a son. Like a man collecting cryptic clues, Abraham cobbled together a sense of what God meant to do and how He intended to do it. Every interaction with God pulled back the shade of the future, allowing in a bit more light, but never was Abraham’s understanding flooded with full daylight.
No, it won’t be Eliezer, your servant, through whom I’ll grow your family.
I’ll give you a son from your own body.
And no, the son will not be Hagar’s but Sarah’s.
And actually, for the record, the land will not be the possession of your descendants for another 400 years.
You can’t read the book of Genesis without sensing that faith is not at all like reading a blueprint. It would have seemed infinitely easier had God given Abraham the complete picture up front, had He given Abraham advance notice of the twenty-five years of necessary waiting, had He explained to Abraham the mechanics of the the plan.
But I guess faith doesn’t come fully-assembled. It grows in dark places. It grows when we’re confused, when we have nothing on which to rely but the voice we think we’ve once heard.
I might wonder how much more important is the word today in our digital age when the phones in our pockets and the screens of our computers buzz, beep, blink and hold captive our capacities of listening, looking, for beholding.
“I sometimes wonder if we’ll survive our own ingenuity. . .We’re living in sensory poverty, learning about the world without experiencing it up close, right here, right now, in all its messy, majestic, riotous detail. The further we distance ourselves from the spell of the present, explored by our senses, the harder it will be to understand and protect nature’s precarious balance, let alone the balance of our own human nature. . .” (“Are We Living in Sensory Overload or Sensory Poverty?” Diane Ackerman, New York Times)
And I might argue, the harder it might be to hear God.