But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD: he is their strength in the time of trouble. And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him (Psalm 37:39-40).
O God Our Help in Ages Past is possibly the most poetic hymn of English tradition; simply eloquent. While I cannot remember hearing Issac Watts’ work as a child, I have listened to many times in the last few years. The words speak to my heart and remind of God’s sovereignty and protection.
Isaac Watts wrote the lyrics in 1719 as part of his work The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. Originally titled Our God Our Help in Ages Past, John Wesley changed the title in his hymnal, Psalms and Hymns, to the more popular title show here though both are still found in hymnals. It has been said that Isaac Watts wrote the hymn while England was facing a dark period when Queen Anne tried to restrict religious freedom. Ironically, the lyrics were set to a composition entitled “Saint Anne” written by William Croft in 1708.
The lyrics of O God Our Help in Ages Past are a paraphrase of Psalm 90. Rather than I make more comments I offer you the King James text of Psalm 90 followed by the lyrics of O God Our Help in Ages Past. I hope you let your heart enjoy both and take comfort that God is our help and hope.
1 Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
3 Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
4 For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
5 Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
6 In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
7 For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.
8 Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
9 For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.
10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
11 Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.
12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
13 Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.
14 O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.
16 Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.
17 And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.
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 op’ning 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.
note: Originally there were 9 verses but 3 are mostly left from hymnals.