Behold Our God first appeared on the 2011 Sovereign Grace Music album, Risen. It was the next-to-last track and one of the last songs chosen for the project. We went on to include versions of the song on Together for the Gospel II, 30: Three Decades of Songs for the Church, and Behold Our God, recorded with the Shiloh Church Choir in 2019.
When the songwriters (Ryan, Jonathan, & Meghan Baird, and Stephen Altrogge) first played the song for the evaluation team at a songwriting retreat back in 2010, they received this feedback: “Seems too ordinary at this point. Work on fresh and creative ways of saying these things.” Apparently God didn’t think it was too ordinary, because twelve years later “Behold Our God” has been translated into over 15 languages and is one of the most well-known and widely sung songs Sovereign Grace Music has ever recorded.
Last year at the 2022 WorshipGod conference we recorded a fresh arrangement of Behold Our God that seeks to musically capture God’s transcendent sovereignty and his gracious mercy in Jesus Christ. To mark the occasion, we wanted to tell you how the song came to be. Thanks to Ryan Baird for providing many of these details. You can read his complete version here.
In The Beginning
Behold Our God started in the place that many Sovereign Grace songs start – at a songwriter’s retreat experiencing writer’s block.
After working on a song for a while with no progress, Stephen Altrogge mentioned he had been meditating on Isaiah 40, and wondered if they could develop something from the questions of vss. 12-14:
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:12–14, ESV)
That was enough of an inspiration to write two verses fairly quickly. But they needed a chorus. Everyone agreed it should start with, “Behold our God.” After a series of ideas that didn’t work, Jonathan sang out the chorus just as it ended up on the recording. They added the men/women response bridge and felt like they had a song.
Testing It Out
After the retreat, they wisely ignored the counsel of the evaluation team and introduced it to their church in California. The church loved it. But Lynn Baird, father to three of the writers, said it needed a reference to the gospel. “You’ve got to write about Jesus next!”
Over the next year, the writers worked on a third verse that connected the greatness of God to Christ. At the same time, Sovereign Grace Music was working on an album with a resurrection theme, and we asked if the last verse could reference Jesus rising from the dead. No small task for four short lines! Here’s a snapshot of the not quite finished verse.
Finally, through the encouragement of a friend who said they could do it, was well as the stick-to-it perseverance of the writers, the Holy Spirit inspired the last verse, which beautifully and succinctly communicates the gospel.
One Last Word
As the Bairds continued to lead the song in different contexts, they were amazed by the response. Congregations sang it so LOUD! But the song wasn’t finished just yet. That chorus of the first version of the song began like this:
Who has felt the nails upon his hands
Bearing all the shame of sinful man
After leading the song at a conference, Bruce Ware, one of the speakers, came up to thank them for writing it. He then suggested they change the word “shame” to “guilt.” He thought it would draw attention to the fact that our problem before God isn’t simply shame, which can minimize our sinfulness, but actual guilt. The songwriters agreed, and the song reached its final form.
People all over the world have sung and recorded Behold Our God, including this version in 19 languages. We think that’s due not only to the God-exalting, gospel-centered lyrics, but the “ordinary” melody that people can pick up and sing with passion almost immediately.
We pray this new version will encourage you, your family, and your church to worship the God who dwells “in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15) There is no one like him.
And if you have a story of how God has used Behold Our God in your life or in your church, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.