Lyrics: “Please, Lord, show me Your glory!” pled a discouraged Moses after his people had fallen into idolatry with the golden calf.
“You can’t look at My face and survive Moses,” replied God. “But here’s what I’ll do for you. I’ll hide you down in a crevice in this big rock and cover you with My hand while I go past. Just before I’m out of sight, I’ll remove My hand and give you a glimpse of Me disappearing.”
“And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with My hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see My back parts: but My face shall not be seen” (Ex 33:22,23).
It seems Fanny Crosby had this curious Old Testament incident in mind when she penned the song commonly known as “He Hideth My Soul.” It is the only place in the Bible that mentions “the cleft of the rock,” although the metaphor has gotten good mileage in our songs (i.e., “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” etc.).
Hiding in the Rock is a recurring Bible image. For Moses, it meant a life-saving screen from the terrifying visual glory of YAHWEH. To Crosby, it’s a cool and restful crypt—an escape from the heat and peril outside.
Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) was a blind poetess from New York who wrote several thousand Christian song texts. She was married to the blind musician Alexander Van Alstyne. Perhaps she, like Moses, felt God had shielded her eyes from beholding His full glory on the earth. Instead of being resentful about this, she lifts up a rapturous anticipation of her coming Redeemer in this poem. She knew the scales would fall from her eyes when “clothed in His brightness” she would look into His face without blinking.
Music: This song first appeared in an 1890 collection of Gospel hymns called Finest of the Wheat. The composer, William J. Kirkpatrick (1838-1921) was born in Duncannon, Pennsylvania, to an Irish immigrant family. His father Thomas Kirkpatrick, himself a school teacher and musician, gave young William early formal training in music, both vocal and instrumental.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he immediately enlisted as a Fife Major. But apparently, the grim realities of the war soon curbed the romance of battle, for his musical position was terminated in less than a year, and he returned to his work in Philadelphia. Kirkpatrick did carpentry and woodworking until the death of his first wife in 1878, after which he abandoned his trade and turned his full attention to composing and publishing Gospel songs. Some sources estimate he compiled over one hundred songbooks.
Kirkpatrick composed a handful of other Gospel tune classics, such as “O to Be Like Thee,” “Lead Me to Calvary,” and “Away in A Manger.” He died at age 83 while writing a song late at night.