Posted by: rcottrill | July 3, 2013

Be Thou My Vision

Words: Attributed to Dallan Forgaill (b. circa _____, 530; d. _____598)
Music: Slane (a traditional Irish melody)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Dallan Forgaill was a blind Irish poet who lived over fourteen centuries ago. He was killed by invading pirates in AD 598. The earliest copy of this poem attributed to him is dated around a century after his death. In 1905, Mary Elizabeth Byrne (b. July 2, 1880; d. Jan. 19, 1931) rendered an English translation in thirty-two lines of literal prose. She made no attempt to adjust the wording to create rhyming metrical verse that could be sung. Here is a sample of her work.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.
None other is aught but the King of the seven heavens.
Be Thou my meditation by day and night;
May it be Thou that I behold even in my sleep.

In 1912, Eleanor Henrietta Hull (b. Jan. 15, 1860; d. Jan. 13, 1935) produced a versified version of Byrne’s work. That is the five stanza hymn that we sing. In some hymn books, the various words referring to God are capitalized, considering them to be personal titles (Vision, Wisdom, etc.). That has been done here. The Wordwise Hymns link will tell you a little about Eleanor Hull, with secondary links (at the bottom of the page) to information about Mary Byrne, and the hymn tune Slane.

These beautiful words constitute an early Celtic understanding of the person of Christ and His attributes. In personifying various things that the Lord has given the believer, the poet tells us, in effect, that the Lord is those things. That to have them, we need to have Him, and to have Him is to have them. (For “my high Tower,” cf. Ps. 144:2).

CH-1) Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

CH-3) Be Thou my Battle shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Lest we think that this personifying of qualities is strange, it should be noted that the Bible does this frequently, especially in its Hebrew poetry. Here are a few examples.

¤ “The LORD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation” (Exod. 15:2). This triplet of praise, after Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea, is repeated twice more in the Word of God (cf. Ps. 118:14; Isa. 12:2).

¤ “Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield” (Ps. 33:20).

¤ “Sing aloud to God our strength” (Ps. 81:1).

¤ “In His [the Messiah’s] days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD [is] OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jer. 23:6).

¤ “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

¤ “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Saviour and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope” (I Tim. 1:1).

The hymn writer glories in the fact that the Lord dwells within him and that he dwells in God (CH-2). Though the Scriptures clearly teach that the Spirit of God indwells each Christian, this pairing ideas seems closer to Christ’s usage in John to refer to the believer’s close and unbroken fellowship with the Lord. Then we abide in Him and He abides in us (cf. Jn. 15:5).

CH-2) Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

The great hope and joy of the hymn writer is that one day he will be with the Lord in the heavenly kingdom, there to behold Him in all His glory (cf. Ps. 17:15

CH-5) High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heav’n’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

1) Does this personifying of God’s gifts as God Himself help you to appreciate His blessings? (If so, how?)

2) If God is all these things to us, what does that mean for how we conduct our lives?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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