Worthy of Praise: Day 4

O God, Our Help in Ages Past

by

Today's Text: Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 90:1-17, Lamentations 5:19

Text: Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 90:1-17, Lamentations 5:19

Isaac Watts never wanted to write hymns. In fact, he didn’t even enjoy singing. A scraggly and rebellious teenager in Southampton, England, Watts was a poet who refused to sing psalms in church because they didn’t rhyme.

Watts’ lyrical appreciation and incessant poetics were an annoyance to everyone around him, including his own preacher father, who threatened to whip his son if he continued his daily rhyming. The son replied, “O Father do some pity take, and I will no more verses make!” (McKay 67).

After his anger subsided, Watts’ father challenged his writer son to create something “better” than King David’s psalms. At just 18 years old, Watts began writing hymns that were loosely rooted in the Psalms and aligned with his own singing preferences (which, of course, included rhyming). He aimed to communicate timeless gospel truths in contemporary language, as if King David was writing in the present-day 1700s (Watts 15).

His hymn “O God, Our Help In Ages Past” is based on Psalm 90:4:

For in Your sight a thousand years
are like yesterday that passes by,
like a few hours of the night.

When Watts’ signature style is applied to this passage, it becomes a singable hymn:

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Whether sung in original psalmic context or modern rhyming prose, the importance of recalling God’s character remains the same. When we adopt the practice of recalling His past faithfulness, we are reminded of His present kindness.

O God, Our Help in Ages Past
Isaac Watts

Our 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 your throne
your saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
soon bears us all away;
we fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

Our God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home!

SRT-Hymns6-Instagram4s

McKay, Graham. A Hymn a Day. Franklin, TN: O’More Publishing, 2003.

Watts, Isaac. The Psalms of David – Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and Applied to the Christian State and Worship. Qontro Classic Books, 2010.

  • The words that David used in his psalms to worship God were still applicable to Isaac Watts, just as both of their words of worship are applicable to us – because our unchanging God is always worthy of worship in all times.

  • ❤️

  • Josie Walsh

    I struggle with appreciating everything God has given me because I have a hard time putting Him before all else. This passage has helped guide me into putting more trust in Him, rather than in temporary distractions that I’m surrounded by. I feel that not only are the things of this earth a test of our faithfulness, but they are also a reminder that God is the only way, the only truth, and the only life .

  • Olivia Weeks

    ❤️

  • Jocelin Delaluz

    The word that has been consistently been showing up for me this year has been faithfulness, and this passage surely adds to it. I praise God for showing me this day after day because it reminds me of His faithfulness and love to us, who may fail Him many many times.

  • Kelly Kasal-Flegel

    In the psalms where it says to teach us to number our days really stood out to me in particular. So many times I think that I have lots of time on this earth and that I have lots of time to do the things God wants me to. Yet this passage is almost like a reminder that we should live everyday for Him, as if we may not have a lot of time. I’m hoping this helps me re prioritize my life so that I become more focused on God’s calling not my desires.

    • Brandi

      The same passage caught my heart in my reading today! ❤

    • Sarah Balizan

      The same passage stood out to me. I recently lost my dad and I am heartbroken. But that scripture reminds me how my dad loved the Lord, how he was so ready to be home. He knew his days were numbered and to live as gracious, giving, compassionate, and a disciple of God as my dad did – he knew that the Lord calls us to live daily for Him.

  • Amy Eichelberger

    I love the line “Before the hills in order stood or earth received its frame, from everlasting you are God, to endless years the same.” Such an amazing promise to claim. God is always the same.

  • Katelyn Hamm

    I think for me the main message I’m getting out of this today is not to worry. The young man wrote “A thousand ages in your sight is like an evening gone” God sees a thousand years, but it feels like one evening. This just reminded me not to worry about the little things from day to day because God sees the whole picture, and why worry? It produces a lot of negativity and stress/anxiety. This week I am going to work on worrying less.

    • Amanda

      Wow! Thank you for this! I will keep this in my mind throughout today

    • makayla

      also the part of the reading that said “when we recall His past faithfulness, we are reminded of His present kindness. powerful.

  • Jessica Kamin

    I appreciate this message in light of the elections this week. God has been faithful in the past and is unchanged by temporary rises and falls in the power of men.

  • This reading makes me so much more aware of how my sin I shrug off as “tiny” still hurts God and even after the sin I commit that has broken the Lords heart he doesn’t hold a grudge he forgives and he loves me the same and I need to be more thankful for that. I pray we seek God more in every move we make.

  • Christen Nohra

    I pray that my heart will always seek Him, no matter what comes my way.

  • Nicol Phillips

    Watt’s father was wise…he could have let his son’s rhyming become a stumbling block, instead he turned it into a tool for the ages to help us know God.

  • Latoya Irving

    I thank God for this passage to God be the glory and I will continue to seek you everyday of my life in Jesus name amen.

  • Reading these bible passages today just opened my eyes to realize that material things pass but the Love of God and his words will never fade away. To continue to look to Him which our help comes from him alone.

  • This hymn helps me to reaffirm my faith on God’s ever present help and drives me to ponder on eternity.

  • Christy N

    Reading this hymn today (and the She Reads Truth book yesterday) reminds me to think about what is permanent and what is passing away. When material success comes my way, I’m terrified I’ll lose sight of what really matters. I’m praying for God’s Will to be done, and that he’ll direct my feet upon his path, not my own.

  • I rarely take time to read God’s word, but I loooove hymns. How serendipitous that, on a day I decided to get back into His word, SRT was beginning this study! I’m taking that as encouragement from Him to be faithful in this.

  • Herminia Esqueda

    The Psalms made me weep. I have enjoyed changing my God time to the mornings. “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”…”May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us”

    I also couldn’t help but think that Isaac Watts would be a rapper today :)

  • Keri McCue

    I love learning about where all these hymns come from! I love that Watts was a little rebel haha It makes this song even better to know that he hated to sing. Oh the irony! I love that God has such a great sense of humor!

    http://www.littlelightonahill.com

    • Grace

      this is quite funny! I find parts of myself in Watts as well! I am that rebel… lol not in the same way but still rebellious!

  • I had no idea that Issac Watts was so rebellious. That was a great motivation that his father gave him, it made him into the great hymn writer that he became. Such a great song!

    • Beth

      Maybe it wasn’t that he as so rebellious, but that maybe no one had ever explained to him that the psalms do not rhyme because they are translations from their original language, and that the Hebrew language used a different style for poetry that what we are used to in the English language.
      I can’t help but think that God gave Isaac that gift of rhyming, but his youth and immaturity was still unpolished for what Gid was going to use him for as a great song writer one day. The challenge his father gave him was very wise. Isaac didn’t refuse the challenge as a rebellious teen would, he rose to the challenge and seems that he was led if the Holy Spirit to pen so many doctrinal truths that he had to have already learned or began to learn if he was immersing himself in God’s Word. That is not something a rebellious person would do. Just my perspective, esp dialysis as a mother that has gone through four teens.

  • “The son replied, “O Father do some pity take, and I will no more verses make!”
    This made me giggle; I saw glimpses of my own personality :)
    This is may be my favorite study so far; I love learning the history of the hymns. I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of hymns, so now I love finding all these new songs and starting off my morning in worship. Thank you SRT :)

  • Thank you Jesus that you are our hope for years to come!

    http://www.in-due-time.com

  • churchmouse

    Isaac Watts’ preacher father was one wise man! Even though his son’s rhyming was “annoying,” he didn’t tell him to stop. He challenged him to use his “incessant poetics” in a more productive manner. He redirected him to use his particular gift for God’s glory. And we are to this day blessed by the result! Thank you to the unnamed papa of unruly Isaac! Well done, wise father! (and may we parents and grandparents today pray to redirect our children/grandchildren as needed also!)

  • Dee Dee W

    If you want to sing some of these hymns as part of your devotional while studying them, go to hymnal.net. Type the title in the search bar and sing along with the piano. As someone who grew up on hymns and now attends contemporary worship, I’m really enjoying revisiting and singing them!

  • churchmouse

    “Teach us to number our days carefully.” Surely that carefulness requires remembering God’s faithfulness. That is why I am grateful for the stories from the Shes posted so often here. Your experiences encourage me and challenge me to stay the course. And they provide me the privilege of praying alongside too. God is indeed our help, past and present. He is our hope for years to come! Grateful for His covenant promises and for you all this morning.

    • Angela

      Indeed, we forget easily and need constant reminder. The Israelites saw all the miraculous and spectacular deeds and could still forget!

  • Ashley Waldvogel

    Such a timeless hymn and such an interesting look into Issac Watts life!

  • As a 17 year old, I think today’s hymn stood out to me most in that even at a young age, the Lord can still use me in important ways, and that there are no limits just because I’m young!

    • SuzD

      I am proud of you Allie for being willing to do Gods work.

    • Kylee

      Yes Allie, God still can and will use you! 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity”. In a world where it’s harder than ever for young people to stay the course of Christ daily, YOU can set an example for other believers AND unbelievers as a young Christian in the world. And we need that, ever so much these dark days. Be encouraged that God sees your heart – I’ll be praying for you!

  • I think the part that brings a smile to my face is that Isaac Watts was a bit of a rebellious child. It’s so great that we serve a God who can use our orneriness for his greater good!

  • Heather (MNmomma)

    These words are really moving for me….they strike a chord….thank you SRT!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-hN740J6qA

  • candacejo

    I used to sit at the piano, with a hymn book in front of me, and purposefully play songs over and over, singing along just to hear the words of each verse. I wanted to learn the verses I didn’t know, those seldom sung, to see what else the composer had to say. I would get up from that piano encouraged, uplifted and go about my day remembering those words written so long ago. Thankful there are artists out there even today who will take a hymn and add a chorus to it so that a new generation can fall in love with its words!

    Grounded in the Word, we can sing about this Hope that keeps us even in such troubled times as we find ourselves this very day. He was our help in ages past and He is more than able to keep us in 2016. Sufficient is Your arm alone and our defense is sure. Amen.

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