In yesterday’s services one of our hymns was The Solid Rock (My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less) with text written by Edward Mote (1834). It’s a wonderful hymn of the believer’s eternal assurance in Christ containing allusions to the parable of the wise and foolish builder (Matt 7:24-27), and Jesus calming the storm (Mark 4:35-41), among others.
One of the lines, using nautical metaphors, states: “In ev’ry high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.” Being a nerd when it comes to the history and theology of hymns, plus having a tendency to play grammar cop, the word “veil” caught my eye as the text ran across our display screens yesterday. This word didn’t make sense to me in the context of searfaring as a veil is something that covers or obscures and certainly has nothing to do with anchors. I suspected then that this was a typo and should have been spelled “vale,” meaning valley or hollow, which Mote would have meant as a synonym for “harbor.” That made all the sense in the world to me to draw a parallel between the believer’s security in Christ with a ship being safely at anchorage in a harbor amid a storm.
So, I mentioned to our audio-visual guru between services that there was a misspelled word in our lyrics. A few minutes later he responded that the text matched up with the published text in the hymnal. Hmmm, that was curious. How could that have gotten through the editors? How could it have gone unnoticed for years? Perplexed, I decided to dig a little.
Turns out I was wrong, wrong, wrong about what Edward Mote meant to convey and “veil” is absolutely the right word! This line of poetry actually derives directly from Hebrews 6:19: “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil” (ESV). The “veil” in question refers to the curtain in the Jerusalem Temple that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant resided, representing the throne of God. Further, the writer of Hebrews uses this Temple imagery to point out that Christ has superseded the old covenant and its rituals and now ministers for us not in the earthly Temple, which is but a “copy and a shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb 8:5), but in the “greater and more perfect tabernacle” (Heb 9:11), that is, heaven itself.
So, when Mote writes, “In ev’ry high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil,” he says, “through every trial and tribulation Christ holds our hope secure in the very presence of God the Father.” And now you know why Mote used “veil” instead of “vale!”