Thank you for submitting your selections for this year’s Favorite Hymns Summer! As I said last month, my articles for this summer will be telling a bit of the stories behind the three hymns that I picked. With that said, on to number two on my list, “The God of Abraham Praise”!
This hymn has an extremely rich history. There are some scholars who attribute it to Immanuel of Rome, but the most complete information I can find attributes the text to Daniel ben Judah, a Jewish liturgical poet living in Rome in the fourteenth century. Whoever the actual author was, the poem is known as “Yigdal” (Hebrew for “magnify”) and is a Hebrew paraphrase of the thirteen articles of belief (like a creed) constructed by rabbi Maimonides in the 1100s. The Yigdal gained and continues to hold an important place in the liturgy of several strands of Judaism, often being used for morning prayer and the close of Sabbath evening services in the Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions over the last seven centuries.
If the history of the Hebrew text were not enough, though, its journey into the Christian hymn tradition is also very interesting! To tell this history, we have to bring back a character from last month’s article, the early Methodist Thomas Olivers (two whom the tune for “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending” is credited).
Olivers visited the Great Synagogue of London in 1770, and he heard the Yigdal sung by opera singer Myer Lyon, more commonly known by his stage name of Michael Leoni. Impressed and intrigued, Olivers decided to translate and paraphrase the piece for use in Christian worship, birthing a new hymn that is a paraphrase of a paraphrase! The new hymn was set to the music that Lyon gave Olivers, causing the tune to appear in many Christian hymnals with the name LEONI, though our Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal simply uses YIGDAL as the tune name. The backstory between Lyon/Leoni and Olivers is a great example of embracing the common history linking Christianity and Judaism, and “The God of Abraham Praise” is sometimes sung at interfaith worship services.
Like the original text on which it is based, Olivers’ text contains a whopping thirteen verses! While I would be pleased as punch to sing all thirteen verses, I am an avowed “hymn nerd” and realize that more sensible folks would prefer a more compact version. Our hymnal’s version preserves and adapts eight verses of Olivers’ original, of which I list a few of my favorites below:
1. The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days, and God of love -
"I Am the One I Am," - by earth and heav'n confessed;
I bow and bless the sacred name forever blest.
2. The God of Abraham praise! At your supreme command
from earth I rise and seek the joys at your right hand.
I all on earth forsake - its wisdom, fame, and pow'r -
and you my only portion make, my shield and tow'r.
3. The God of Abraham praise! Your all-sufficient grace
shall guide me all my pilgrim days in all my ways.
You deign to call me friend; you call yourself my God!
And you will save me to the end through Jesus' blood.
Pastor Micah Garnett has been our Pastor since July 2016. He grew up in York, PA and graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. He enjoys worship, working with social services in Fulton County, writing hymns, and cycling.