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Daily Inspiration - August 19: O God Our Help in Ages Past

Isaac Watts (1674-1748), an English Congregational minister and theologian, is credited with over six hundred hymns and psalm paraphrases, ten of which are included in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. O God Our Help in Ages Past, a paraphrase of the first part of Psalm 90, was written in 1714, shortly before the death of Queen Anne and at a time of acute national anxiety about the succession to the throne and fears of impending religious wars. The tune, St. Anne’s, was probably composed by William Croft (1678-1727), successively organist of St. Anne’s Soho (from which the tune derives its name), the Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey.

Psalm 90, on which the hymn is based, is unique in that it is attributed, “A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God,” which would make it the earliest of the psalms. Moses saw God’s power when the sea opened before him. He led the people into the wilderness and saw an entire generation pass away and a new generation rise. “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations…”

More recent scholarship places Psalm 90 as part of the wisdom literature, about a thousand years after Moses and at the time of the Babylonian exile. How could God let this happen? Does God matter? In awe, the Psalmist declares, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”

O God Our Help in Ages Past seems especially suited to times of distress, or for services that mark the passage of time. When I started as a church organist a half century ago it was commonly sung at funerals. Now it rarely is, but Janet and I certainly hope it will be sung at ours.

We remember before God some of our deepest fears: We will die. We will be forgotten. O God. Our help. Our hope. Our guide. Our guard. Our home. Our eternal home. Amen.

Janet and Ted Reinke

O God Our Help in Ages Past, by Isaac Watts


O God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast,

And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne

Thy saints have dwelt secure;

Sufficient is Thine arm alone,

And our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,

Or earth received her frame,

From everlasting Thou art God,

To endless years the same.

A thousand ages in Thy sight

Are like an evening gone;

Short as the watch that ends the night

Before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away;

They fly forgotten, as a dream

Dies at the opening day.

O God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Be Thou our guard while life shall last,

And our eternal home.

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