Posted by: rcottrill | August 29, 2011

Unto the Hills

Words: John Douglas Sutherland Campbell (b. Aug. 6, 1845; d. May 2, 1914)
Music: Sandon, by Charles Henry Purday (b. Jan. 11, 1799; d. Apr. 23, 1885)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: John Campbell was a prominent British nobleman, the Duke of Argyll, and the Marquess of Lorne. He was married to Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria. He served as a member of the British parliament, and also as a popular Governor General of Canada, the queen’s official representative in the Dominion (1878-1883).

John Campbell’s hymn is an accurate metrical rendering of Psalm 121. (See the Wordwise Hymns link for a discussion of verse one.) In Psalms, this is one of the fifteen “Songs of Ascent” (Ps. 120-134). The most common view is that these were pilgrim songs, sung by the people of Israel as they made their way to Jerusalem for the various holy feast days.

Psalm 121, sometimes called the Traveller’s Psalm, is one of great assurance for the people of God. The key word in the psalm is “keep” “or “preserve,” both of which translate the Hebrew word shamar, meaning to keep watch over and guard. It is found in vs. 3, 4, 5, 7 (twice), and vs. 8. God protects His children: from all enemies (vs. 1-2), at all times (vs. 3-4), in all circumstances (vs. 5-6), for all of life and beyond (vs. 7-8).

In difficult circumstances, we can remind ourselves that Almighty God, who is the Creator of all, is our God (Ps. 121:1-2; cf. Jer. 32:17). In creation we can see: 1) His power (Rom. 1:20). One who is powerful enough to but speak the word and call worlds into being sure has the ability to provide abundantly for His children. 2) His wisdom (Ps. 104:24). He is wise enough to do for us what is best. 3) His providence (Ps. 104:14, and the context). By His before-seeing (pro video), the Lord knew long ago what our need would be, and has already taken steps to provide for it. We can, and should, fully trust in such a God.

CH-1) Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes
O whence for me shall my salvation come, from whence arise?
From God, the Lord, doth come my certain aid,
From God, the Lord, who heaven and earth hath made.

We are each imperfect human beings, weak in ourselves, and prone to take a misstep. But God has the answer. In Him, we have One watching over the pilgrims of earth who never relaxes His vigilance (Ps. 121:3-4). On our journey to our heavenly home, facing some rough and uncertain terrain, there will be the danger of stumbling and falling. But The Lord is sufficient for that need as well (cf. Ps. 26:1; 37:31). Then, in times of darkness, there is further cause for fear. But, unlike human watchmen, God’s people have the comforting assurance, “Behold, He who keeps Israel [and each of His saints] shall neither slumber nor sleep.”

CH-2) He will not suffer that thy foot be moved: safe shalt thou be.
No careless slumber shall His eyelids close, who keepeth thee.
Behold, He sleepeth not, He slumbereth ne’er,
Who keepeth Israel in His holy care.

Ps. 121:5-6. The blistering heat of the sun in that clime was perilous if travellers had no shelter. It is a poetic symbol for difficult and unavoidable circumstances. And the Lord can shelter us from them (Ps. 91:1, 4). Physically speaking, the moon, of course, is relatively benign, and not as dangerous as the rays of the sun. But it represents the night that comes with its darkness and cold and other problems. It is a poetic way of saying that whatever the daylight has in store, or whatever the night may bring, we can count on the Lord’s overshadowing care.

CH-3) Jehovah is Himself thy keeper true, thy changeless shade;
Jehovah thy defense on thy right hand Himself hath made.
And thee no sun by day shall ever smite;
No moon shall harm thee in the silent night.

The triple repetition in Psalm 121:7-8 is reassuring and calming. “The Lord shall preserve…He shall preserve….The Lord shall preserve.” Whatever experiences face the believer in the journey of life, they are controlled by a sovereign God. He will allow nothing to touch our lives that He is not able to use for our good and blessing, and for His own glory.

CH-4) From every evil shall He keep thy soul, from every sin;
Jehovah shall preserve thy going out, thy coming in.
Above thee watching, He whom we adore
Shall keep thee henceforth, yea, forevermore.

1) In the early church, when the followers of Christ were threatened and told to stop preaching the gospel (Acts 4:17, 21), what was a great encouragement to them (vs. 24)?

2) What is there in this psalm (and the hymn) that is a special encouragement to you, personally?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. This hymn corrects what I have seen to be a very common mis-interpretation of the Psalm. That mis-interpretation is the idea that our help comes from the *hills.*

    No — our help comes from the *LORD,* Who made heaven and earth.

    Years ago I kept a printout of verse 8 by my front door. That printout disappeared in a move; I think I should make a new one . . .

    • Good to hear from you. Yes, I believe vs. 1 needs to be a question–which vs. 2 of Psalm 121 answers. And I like the idea of using vs. 8 at the door of your home. Good reminder of God’s continuing watch care.


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