“THE GOD OF ABRAM PRAISE”
“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM” (Exo. 3:14)
INTRO.: A hymn which praises God as the great “I AM THAT I AM” is “The God of Abram Praise.” The text is usually identified as having been written by Thomas Olivers, who was born at Tregynon in Montgomeryshire, Wales, in 1825. Left an orphan at the age of four and growing up without much care, he was passed from relative to relative, who gave him little nurture or education, and finally reared on the farm of a distant one named Tudor who lived near Forden, leading a restless, undisciplined life. At the age of eighteen, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker but was fired because of bad conduct. Shortly after this, though steeped in ungodliness, he was converted by a sermon preached by George Whitefield at Bristol, England joined the Methodist Church at Bradford-on-Avon. After meeting John Wesley and being appointed a minister, for 22 years, he traveled over 100,000 miles on horseback as an itinerant Methodist preacher throughout England, Cornwall, and Ireland, during which time he also produced some hymns. From 1769 to 1771, he was superintendent of the Methodist circuit in which Taxall was included and in memory of a Taxall woman who died in 1769 published a pamphlet which included the hymn “O Thou God of My Salvation.”
Around 1770, Olivers heard the Hebrew Yigdal or Doxology sung in the Great Synagogue at Duke’s Place, London, and, while visiting in the Westminster home of hymn writer John Bakewell, translated it into English with twelve stanzas. Sometimes he is listed as “translator,” but it is a very free translation, and sometimes he is called the “paraphraser.” He commented, “I have rendered it from the Hebrew, giving it, as far as I could, a Christian character.” The original Hebrew poem is said to have been the work of a Jewish judge in Rome, Italy, named Rabbi Daniel ben Judah Dayyan (14th century). It was begun around 1396 and completed around 1400 to 1404. It in turn was a metrical version of “The Thirteen Articles of Faith,” the creed drawn up for the Jewish faithful by the great Hebrew scholar Moses Maimonides (1130-1205). Olivers’s version was initially published in a 1770 leaflet entitled A Hymn to the God of Abraham. Its first hymnbook publication was in the Wesleys’ compilation The Pocket Hymn-Book of 1785. Olivers said that he asked for the music from the Jewish singer Meier Leon (1751-1797). The usual tune (Leoni or Yigdal) is considered a traditional Hebrew melody used as a synagogue song. Its origin is unknown, but it is thought to be related to Spanish and Basque melodies. Leon, who transcribed it for Olivers, is often attributed as the arranger of the tune.
When the Calvinistic Whitefield and the Arminian Wesleys separated, Olivers remained with the Wesleys and in 1775 became supervisor of all their publications, editing the Methodist Arminian Magazine for a time, but was discharged by John Wesley for mistakes due to his lack of education in 1789 and spent his retirement in London, England, where he died suddenly in Mar., 1799. The original Hebrew melody is in a minor key. For those who have trouble with or just do not like minor hymns, the Protestant Episcopal Hymnal 1940 provided a second tune (Covenant), composed in 1889 by English church musician John Stainer (1840-1901). Nethymnal lists another alternate tune (Harvington), composed by A. E. Kettle, in the Methodist Hymn and Tune Book published in 1894 by the Methodist Book and Publishing House of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Another hymn translation of the Yigdal was made in the mid to late 1880s, around 1885, by Jewish Rabbi Max Landsberg and Unitarian minister Newton Mann. It was later arranged by William Channing Gannett to fit the Leon tune in 1889 with the opening line “Praise to the living God.” Some books use a combination of stanzas from the two sources. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the hymn with the original melody has appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The song offers praise to Jehovah who is God of both Abraham and Christians.
I. Stanza 1 extols God for His name (Great Songs, Hymns of the Living Church, Trinity Hymnal, United Methodist Hymnal, Protestant Episcopal Hymnal, Lutheran Worship)
The God of Abram praise, who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days, and God of Love;
Jehovah, great I AM! by earth and Heav’n confessed;
I bow and bless the sacred Name forever blessed.
A. The God of Abram reigns enthroned above: 1 Chr. 16:31
B. He is the Ancient of everlasting days: Dan. 7:13
C. His name Jehovah means that He is the eternal I AM: Exo. 6:3
II. Stanza 2 extols God for His authority (Great Songs, Trinity Hymnal, Lutheran Worship)
The God of Abram praise, at whose supreme command
From earth I rise—and seek the joys at His right hand;
I all on earth forsake, its wisdom, fame, and power;
And Him my only Portion make, my Shield and Tower.
A. By His command, we can rise to see the joys at His right hand: Ps. 16:11
B. Therefore, we must forsake all to follow His leadership in Christ: Lk. 14:33
C. In this way, we make Him our Portion, Shield, and Tower: Ps. 72:26
III. Stanza 3 (4) extols God for His oath (Great Songs, Hymns of the Living Church, Trinity Hymnal, United Methodist Hymnal, Protestant Episcopal Hymnal, Lutheran Worship)
He by Himself has sworn; I on His oath depend,
I shall, on eagle’s wings upborne, to heaven ascend.
I shall behold His face; I shall His power adore,
And sing the wonders of His grace forevermore.
A. God’s promises to us have been sworn with an oath: Heb. 6:17-18 (The United Methodist Hymnal alters the first line to read, “The Great I AM has sworn and explains the alteration in the handbook, saying “with several minor changes to avoid sexist language.” Heaven forbid that the modern Methodists would allow God to be identified with male language, although in the Bible that is exactly how He speaks of Himself!)
B. With His oath, He promises that we shall be born on eagle’s wings: Exo. 19:4 (for some unknown and inexplicable reason, Great Songs changes this to “angel wings”)
C. The result of this promise and oath is that someday we shall behold His face: Matt. 5:8
IV. Stanza 4 (6) extols God for His land (Trinity Hymnal, United Methodist Hymnal)
The goodly land I see, with peace and plenty blessed;
A land of sacred liberty, and endless rest.
There milk and honey flow, and oil and wine abound,
And trees of life forever grow with mercy crowned.
A. The “goodly land,” of course, refers to heaven which will be a land of endless rest: Heb. 4:8-9
B. Like Canaan was to the Israelites in the wilderness, we can look forward to heaven as a goodly land which flows with milk and honey: Exo. 3:8
C. It is a place where the tree of life will forever grow: Rev. 22:1-2
V. Stanza 5 (7) extols God for His righteousness (Protestant Episcopal Hymnal)
There dwells the Lord our King, the Lord our righteousness,
Triumphant o’er the world and sin, the Prince of peace;
On Sion’s sacred height His kingdom still maintains,
And glorious with His saints in light forever reigns.
A. The God who dwells in that land is “The Lord our Righteousness”: Jer. 23:6
B. This Lord is also called the Prince of Peace: Isa. 9:6
C. And it is said that His kingdom shall never be destroyed by stand forever and that He shall reign forever: Dan. 2:44, Rev. 11:15
VI. Stanza 6 (10) extols God for His eternal nature (Hymns of the Living Church, United Methodist Hymnal)
The God Who reigns on high the great archangels sing,
And “Holy, holy, holy!” cry, “Almighty King!
Who was, and is, the same, and evermore shall be:
Jehovah—Father—great I AM, we worship Thee!”
A. Our God is the one to whom angels sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy”: Isa. 6:1-3
B. His nature is that He was, and is, and evermore shall be the same: Rev. 1:8
C. He is Jehovah, the great I AM, the Father who is in heaven: Matt. 6:9
CONCL.: The above stanzas have all been included in at least one hymnbook which I checked. Here are the stanzas which are not commonly used:
3. The God of Abram praise, whose all sufficient grace
Shall guide me all my happy days, in all my ways.
He calls a worm His friend, He calls Himself my God!
And He shall save me to the end, thro’ Jesus’ blood.
(This one was used in Lutheran Worship.)
5. Though nature’s strength decay, and earth and hell withstand,
To Canaan’s bounds I urge my way, at His command.
The watery deep I pass, with Jesus in my view;
And thro’ the howling wilderness my way pursue.
8. He keeps His own secure, He guards them by His side,
Arrays in garments, white and pure, His spotless bride:
With streams of sacred bliss, with groves of living joys—
With all the fruits of Paradise, He still supplies.
9. Before the great Three-One they all exulting stand;
And tell the wonders He hath done, through all their land:
The listening spheres attend, and swell the growing fame;
And sing, in songs which never end, the wondrous Name.
11, Before the Savior’s face the ransomed nations bow;
O’erwhelmed at His almighty grace, forever new:
He shows His prints of love—they kindle to a flame!
And sound thro’ all the worlds above the slaughtered Lamb.
12. The whole triumphant host give thanks to God on high;
“Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” they ever cry.
Hail, Abram’s God, and mine! I join the heavenly lays;
All might and majesty are Thine, and endless praise.
While we are not under the Old Testament law, we recognize that Jehovah of the patriarchs and Israel is the same Lord whom we worship and serve. Therefore, we should strive in everything that we do to make sure that we “The God of Abram Praise.”