God of Abraham Praise
This is the season of Easter and Passover for Christians and Jews world over. I remember in 1965 when I was not yet 13 in a Jewish foster home. I was new to America, a Gentile or non-Jew who had a little vague idea about God and religion. Here in my new home I learned so many things that would last for many years to come. Jewish foods, ideas, values, holidays, and manners. Celebrated a foster-relative’s Bar Mitzvah on his 13 birthday. Changed my last name to that of my Jewish parents. There were many good memories of those years from 1965-1967, from 12 to 15. I saw the novel called Exodus by Leon Uri on the shelf, and a few months later watched the Movie with Paul Newman as the leading character. A few months later had major foot surgery which gave me many weeks to read and think of all the new changes. I had some Christian influence from churches picking us up for Sunday School; so it was natural that I desired to be a preacher. I asked Who am I?, Where did I come from?, Where am I going? My foster mom did not have answers for me, but did give me a copy of Max Dimont’s Jews, God, and History, which I read very quickly, and without much understanding, but began to admire the Jewish people. It was from them I was introduced to the cobbler’s trade which ten years later I would return to and continue to this hour. It was a Palestinian Arab from Ramallah and Jerusalem that taught me the trade in San Diego, which he had been apprenticed as a youth to a Italian Jew who had migrated to Palestine before it became Israel. And it is strange I taught the trade to an American Gentile who turned out to be a Jew.
The Jew or Hebrews, that is Israel, has had a long and mysterious history, filled with endless stories and experiences. The Holy Bible or the Book is of the Jews, as is Salvation, and Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. Since the death of the Apostles and completion of the New Testament the alienation between Israel and the Church has grown ever wider over the centuries, with much blame on both sides. The Protestant Reformation brought about in a few cases a heart change towards the Jew, and continued to increase over the centuries to the present, so much so that the Christian West, especially England and the United States of America, are regarded as Israel’s strongest and most loyal friends and defenders. In the 17th-18th centuries the attraction to the Jew by Christians, Protestants and Catholics, was strongly at work in many areas of society. In music the Jewish influence and attraction became likewise obvious. Among the many Protestants that admired or were attracted to the Jew were the Methodists of the Wesleys and their movement. It was Charles Wesley and Thomas Olivers who were enticed by the Jewish Synagogue and the Chosen People, in particular to the musical service and performance of the Jewish Traditional Melodies.
Charles Wesley having heard the singing or chanting of newly popular vocalist named Meier Lyon (Michael Leoni) in the great London Synagogue, reported with admiration of this very young man. In 1770 Thomas Olivers and others got to here for themselves the performance of young Leoni singing the Yigdal. He immediately determined to create a Christian rendition or version in Church Meters as a tribute to the Hebrews and their God, the God of Abraham. Olivers was a Methodist Preacher who John Wesley had chosen (for his zeal) to labor with him in the Gospel and the spread of Armenian Methodism. He had been with the Whitefield’s ministry since time he was 18 at Bristol when he heard George Whitefield preach from the text “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” He turned to Christ and never looked back. His parents died when he was 4, few years later his uncle died also, left to little care and great poverty, he was apenticed to a cobbler (shoemaker), but this ended badly also. Wild and free on the road to destruction and unhappiness, God intervened in grace and mercy. He wrote the great Psalm of Praise and had Leoni help him with the Tune and Melody, and in turned called the Yigdal tune Leoni. It became popular and widespread very quickly; and like Luther’s Reformation Hymn it had a life of its own.
Michael Leoni was also peculiar in his life and talent. A gifted child vocalist, widely popular in his twenties and thirties, then fading and forgotten except for his name and legacy connected with this Praise Hymn and Song. He retired early for failing voice, rescued by the Jamaican Jews of the Kingston Synagogue for a decade, then died suddenly. He was one of many who performed the Jewish Songs for both the Synagogue and the non-Jews. The Yigdal, like the Adon Olam, was a Hebrew Jewish elaboration of the Basic Tenets of Judaism, in particular that of Rambam, the 13 Principles of Jewish Faith, or the Creed of Israel. Developed from essential doctrines of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, it found versification as poetic pieces, poems like the psalms, to epitomize and encapsulate Israel’s beliefs for the Jew. The 13 Principles were developed from the 7 of earlier centuries, and those in turn grew from the 3 of the earliest times. Many Bible verses were reflected by the Yigdal and by this Christian Praise Psalm.
The God of Abraham Praise
(Thomas Olivers 1770 based on Jewish Synagogue Piyut (Poem) Yigdal Elohim Chai (Magnify the Living God; Prayer Creed) chanted by Meyer (Meier) Leon (Michael Leoni) in London. Tune or Traditional Melody: Leoni or Yigdal.)
The God of Abrah’m 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.
The God of Abrah’m 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.
The God of Abrah’m 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.
He by Himself has sworn; I on His oath depend,
I shall, on eagle wings upborne, To Heav’n ascend.
I shall behold His face; I shall His power adore,
And sing the wonders of His grace Forevermore.
Tho’ nature’s strength decay, And earth and hell withstand,
To Canaan’s bounds I urge my way, At His command.
The wat’ry deep I pass, With Jesus in my view;
And thro’ the howling wilderness My way pursue.
The goodly land I see, With peace and plenty bless’d;
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.
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.
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.
Before the great Three-One They all exulting stand;
And tell the wonders He hath done, Through all their land:
The list’ning spheres attend, And swell the growing fame;
And sing, in songs which never end, The wondrous Name.
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!”
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.
The whole triumphant host Give thanks to God on high;
“Hail, Father, Son, and Holy (Spir’t),” They ever cry.
Hail, Abrah’m’s God, and mine! (I join the heav’nly lays,)
All might and majesty are Thine, And endless praise.