“O God of Bethel”

"Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest" (Gen. 28:15)

     INTRO.: A hymn which emphasizes that God has promised His people to be with them and keep them in all places where they go is "O God of Bethel." The original text was written by Philip Doddridge (1702-1751). Doddridge produced many other hymns, such as "O Happy Day" and "Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve." This hymn, "O God of Bethel," was produced in 1736 or 1737 and first published in the Scottish Paraphrases of 1745.  The present text is a revision that was made most likely by John Logan (1748-1788). It was published in the Scottish Translations and Paraphrases of 1781 edited by William Cameron. The sixth stanza is by an unknown Scottish author, perhaps Logan, and was added in the Scottish Paraphrases of 1781.

     The tune (Salzburg) used in most of our books is dated 1806 and usually attributed to Johann Michael Haydn, who was born around Sept. 14, 1737, at Rohrau in Austria. The younger brother of composer Franz Josef Haydn, Johann began singing as a chorister at St. Stephen’s in Vienna and while there studied violin, clavier, and counterpoint. In 1757, he was appointed to the court of the Bishop of Grosswardein in what is now northern Romania, and in 1763 won an appointment as concert master to Archbishop Schratenbach of Salzburg, where he remained until his death.  Also he played organ in Salzburg and taught violin at the court. His works include symphonies, oratorios, other sacred music, and instrumental works for organ. In 1804 he was inducted into the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and died two years later, on Aug. 10, 1806, at Salzburg.  Several hymn tunes are possibly credited to him, including the one (Lyons) most often used with "O Worship the King," and another (Greenland) often used with "The Day of Resurrection."

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the text of "O God of Bethel" was used with a tune (Dundee) attributed to Guillaume Franc and most often associated with William Cowper’s "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," in the 1922 edition of the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) edited by E. L. Jorgenson, and the Haydn tune was used with "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" in the 1925 edition of Great Songs (No. 1). The song with the Haydn tune appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 also edited by Jorgenson. Today, the text may be found, again with the Dundee tune, in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the song with the Haydn tune is found in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand.

     The song identifies Jacob’s God at Bethel with the God whom we worship and serve.

I. Stanza 1 addresses God as the one who has always fed and led His people
"O God of Bethel, by whose hand Thy people still are fed,
Who through this weary pilgrimage Hast all our fathers led."
 A. Bethel was the place where Jacob had his dream, received God’s blessing, and promised to serve Him: Gen. 28:16-22
 B. It is by God’s hand that we are still fed, just as He sent manna for the children of Israel in the wilderness: Exo. 16:14-15
 C. And as He led them, He still leads us through our weary pilgrimage: 1 Pet. 2:11-12

II. Stanza 2 says that we present our vows and our prayers before His throne
"Our vows, our prayers, we now present Before thy throne of grace;
God of our Fathers, be the God Of their succeeding race."
 A. Because He is a loving Father, we can make our requests known to Him in prayer: Phil. 4:6-7
 B. This is symbolized by our coming before His throne of grace for help in time of need: Heb. 4:14-16
 C. But we can do these things only as we make Him our God, just as He was the God of our fathers who determined to serve Him with all their house: Josh. 24:15

III. Stanza 3 asks Him to guide us and give us our daily bread
"Through each perplexing path of life Our wandering footsteps guide;
Give us each day our daily bread, And raiment fit provide."
(The original read:
"If Thou, through each perplexing path Wilt be our constant guide,
If Thou wilt daily bread supply And raiment wilt provide.")
 A. The path of life is often perplexing, and the right way is described as strait and narrow or difficult: Matt. 7:13-14
 B. However, we look to God to guide us with His word as the lamp to our feet and light to our pathway: Ps. 119:105
 C. In addition, we also look to Him to give us each day our daily bread: Matt. 6:11

IV. Stanza 4 makes the request that He cover us with His wings and lead us to heaven
"O spread Thy covering wings around Till all our wanderings cease,
And at our Father’s loved abode Our souls arrive in peace."
(The original read,
"If Thou wilt spread Thy shield around Till these our wanderings cease.")
 A. We can request that God spread His covering wings around us as we journey through live: Ps. 36:7
 B. Someday all our wanderings will cease when we pass from this life: Heb. 9:27
 C. And our hope is that we shall arrive at peace in our Father’s loved abode: Jn. 14:1-3

V. Stanza 5 vows that we shall our whole selves resign to God and give Him all we have
"To Thee as to our Covenant God We’ll our whole selves resign,
And count that not our tenth alone But all we have is Thine."
 A. God is our Covenant God because Christians have accepted His new covenant: Heb. 8:6-13
 A. Like the Macedonians, we should first give ourselves to the Lord: 2 Cor. 8:5
 C. Then, like David, we will recognize that all things come from Him and that whatever we give is of His own: 1 Chron. 29:14

VI. Stanza 6 promises that because of His blessings He will be our God and our portion
"Such blessings from Thy gracious hand Our humble prayers implore;
And Thou shalt be our chosen God, And portion evermore."
 A. God is the source of every good and perfect gift, both physical and spiritual: Jas. 1:17
 B. Therefore, we can continue to seek His blessings with the assurance that He will hear and answer us: 1 Jn. 5:14-15
 C. But, again, we must determine that we shall make Him our God and portion evermore: Ps. 16:5

     CONCL.: Albert Bailey wrote of this hymn, "It is the story of Jacob’s vow made at Bethel after he had had his dream of the ladder reaching to heaven. See how closely Doddridge followed the original scripture….In the old days when every Christian knew his Bible, each phrase in the hymn would at once suggest the original words, and part of the joy in singing the hymn was that constant recognition of Jacob’s parallel situation." It is the opinion of many in our day that "old" hymns such as these, though steeped in Biblical imagery and language, just do not speak to modern mankind. Yet, if we truly understand the Bible, we will realize that we still need Him whom we address as  "O God of Bethel."


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