Week 3: God as Protector



A Mighty Fortress

Text: Martin Luther (1483–1546), 1529, tr. Frederick H. Hedge, 1852

Tune: Martin Luther (1483–1546), 1529, harm. Johann Sebastian Bach, 1728

  1. This hymn is based on Psalm 46, but is probably too loose to be considered a “true” paraphrase. Comparing the hymn text against its scriptural inspiration, what differences stick out to you?

    • Explicit references to the devil
      • the “little word” to fell him is the “name above all names” (Philippians 2:9-10)
    • Fully Trinitarian - includes references to Jesus as well as the Holy Spirit
  2. When the text speaks of “mortal ills prevailing”, what modern “ills” come to mind? How do you envision the Lord Sabaoth to “win the battle” against such ills: is it an ongoing process? Or do we simply wait for the New Jerusalem?

    • For Luther, both theological (selling of indulgences, spiritual privileges of Church hierarchy) as well as social (oppression of peasants, entrenched ignorance of the masses).
    • “Sabaoth” is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word for “hosts” or “armies”; “Lord Sabaoth” equates to “Lord of hosts”, meaning commander of the innumerable hosts of heaven

Eternal Father, Strong to Save

Text: William Whiting (1825–1878), 1860, rev. 1869

Tune: John Bacchus Dykes (1823–1876), 1861

  1. Appropriately for Dykes, the hymn follows a Trinitarian formula. The first verse is addressed to God the Father, Creator of the earth and sea, and states how God holds the waves and sea in place. Often, though, we’re tempted to think of God as distant and only intervening in creation from time to time, rather than continually acting to keep nature in balance. Which view would you say is more correct?

  2. Verse 3 refers to the Holy Spirit, who “didst brood upon the chaos dark and rude”, clearly a reference to Genesis 1:1-2. What’s the significance of this verse? How does it provide assurance of God’s protection?

The Lord My Pasture Shall Prepare

Text: Joseph Addison (1672–1719), 1712

Tune: Henry Carey (1687–1743), 1723

  1. This hymn is a paraphrase of Psalm 23, and while it shares themes of God’s protection and guidance, the overall feel is softer than the strong, powerful words of “A Mighty Fortress” and “Eternal Father”. Do you find there to be differences in content between the hymns, or merely emphasis and tone?

    • In Addison’s rendering, God and man are seen more as partners - God leads, guides, and supplies. In the other hymns, God shields and saves. “He must win the battle”, not “We must win the battle”.
    • Writing in the middle of the Enlightenment, Addison may be reflecting the times’ optimism toward human reason and goodness. Still, though, Addison’s God is more personal than the Deists’ “Prime Mover”.
    • Pastoral poetry (and art) was very much in vogue at the time of Addison’s writing, lending to the calm, idyllic imagery of greenery and babbling brooks that give the hymn its “softness”
    • Meter of the hymns reinforces the contrast: triple meter is associated with pastoral themes (recall the “Pastoral Symphony” movement in Handel’s Messiah) whereas duple meter is associated with marching (appropriate, since “A Mighty Fortress” is sometimes referred to as “the battle hymn of the reformation”)