I seem often to awake in the mornings with songs on my brain. One such recently was ‘I to the hills will lift mine eyes’, sung to the tune, ‘Dundee’. Written in 1615, I first learnt this hymn when I attended the Buccleuch and Greyfriars Free Church of Scotland in Edinburgh as a student. I was new to the city then, and wanted a good church to worship at. Located by the University of Edinburgh, the church was conveniently placed for me to walk to and from for morning and evening services; and during this time, I met many Highlanders who showed me, a foreign student, much kindness.
I could not find a YouTube recording of this hymn, but came across some sheet music online: www.hymnary.org/hymn/PH/page/259. It isn’t quite the same tune I had in mind when I woke up that morning, but it is one of the tunes I know. Here are the words from the Scottish Psalter:
1 I to the hills will lift mine eyes,
from whence doth come mine aid.
2 My safety cometh from the Lord,
who heav’n and earth hath made.
3 Thy foot he’ll not let slide, nor will
he slumber that thee keeps.
4 Behold, he that keeps Israel,
he slumbers not, nor sleeps.
5 The Lord thee keeps, the Lord thy shade
on thy right hand doth stay:
6 The moon by night thee shall not smite,
nor yet the sun by day.
7 The Lord shall keep thy soul; he shall
preserve thee from all ill.
8 Henceforth thy going out and in
God keep for ever will.
I love the blessings that this hymn spells out, and the benedictions it bestows. Although the world is a hard place, how comforting is it for the believer that our Lord only wants good for His people! The blessings of the Lord are all encompassing: spiritual, physical, and psychological.
That is not to say that Christians will not suffer hardship or face untoward danger in their lives. It is a natural fact of life that the silver spoon can only be a pipe dream. However, those who trust in the Lord have Someone greater than they to call upon for succour: the Lord God Himself, who loved us little humans so much that He provided a means for us to re-connect with Him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when we accept Jesus as our Saviour and Lord.
I always have an image in my mind whenever I sing this hymn. It is of a man or woman looking up towards the peaks of lush green hills, where clear or sun-streaked skies dominate. It might be a summer’s day with bright blue skies decorated with fluffy white clouds, or it might be the red, orange and purple streaks of a setting sun that pattern the sky: there is always a sky to look up to above that hilltop.
Of course, living in the Lake District, there are plenty of hilltops to look at. Any number of the fells in the Lake District would serve as depictions of the hills that the psalmist knew. Based on Psalm 121, ‘I to the hills will lift my voice’ may refer to the peaks of the Middle East. However, I feel that it denotes more about Man’s tendency to look up to God, ‘as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that He have mercy upon us.’ (Psalm 123:2)