A written copy of the text, from the 12th Century, of Rop tú mo Baile (Be Thou My Vision) is kept in the National Library in Ireland. Some believe hymn was originally written sometime in the 6th century. It’s unquestionably one of the oldest hymns we sing today.
This hymn, like many others, is the result of collaboration over time. With the original author unable to be verified, we do know that Mary E. Byrne translated the prayer into literal prose in 1905. Later, this translation was adapted by Eleanor Hull in 1912. In 1919, it was put to the Irish folk tune SLANE and published in the Irish Church Hymnal. Since then, it has found its way into over 150 hymnals.
We sing all types of hymns with prose that can be used as prayers. But with “Be Thou My Vision”, the entire hymn is a prayer, with five main points;
- Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
- Be Thou my wisdom, Thou my true word
- Be Thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight
- Riches I head not, nor man’s empty praise
- High King of Heaven, my victory won
When we view this as a prayer, it becomes a prayer for life. Lord, my God, be my vision, my wisdom, and my breastplate. Let me not seek after riches or man’s empty praise. Lord I praise you and thank you for victory over the grave!
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
be Thou my best thought by day or by night,
waking and sleeping, Thy presence my light.
David wrote in Psalm 26:3, “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.” It is not by our own merit that we see. Sight comes from the recognition of who God is and the submission in love because of what he’s done for us. C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
Be Thou my Wisdom, Thou my true Word;
I ever with thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, and I Thy true son,
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
After the introduction of why he wrote the book, Solomon opens his instruction with one simple yet profound statement in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis writes about this fear.
“In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that-and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
To pray “Be Thou my Wisdom” is to posture oneself in reverence and humility before the Almighty God, our Creator and Redeemer.
Be Thou my Breastplate, my Sword for the fight;
be Thou my whole Armor, Thou my true Might;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my strong Tow’r,
raise Thou me heav’nward, great Pow’r of my pow’r.
This verse is often omitted, and opinions for such reasoning vary. But the hymn is written in the tradition of Irish “lorica” which is a prayer for protection. As this hymn serves us a window into early Christianity in Ireland, it presents a view of their times of frequent and constant war. Additionally, this stanza gives us words to pray for dealing with the ever-present spiritual warfare that we often gloss over or ascribe incorrectly. Ephesians 6:12-13, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only the first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
1 Timothy 6:7-10 “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” The temporary pleasures of this life do not compare to the eternal riches of heavenly dwelling. Once again, the prayer is to humbly submit to Christ as first in our hearts desire. If He chooses to bless us with wealth or fame, let it only be because of a right posture towards Him. And if He chooses not to bless as He has done to others, may our hearts be content with a right posture towards Him.
High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
Paul writes in Colossians 3:1-7, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefor what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.”
May we sing this hymn / pray this prayer daily to equip and encourage us. In 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.”
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16