The God of Abraham praise

The God of Abraham praise
Who reigns enthroned above,
Ancient of everlasting days,
And God of love:
To him uplift your voice,
At whose supreme command
From earth we rise, and seek the joys
At his right hand.

This hymn was written by Thomas Olivers (1725-1799), after hearing Meyer Lyon (d.1797), a chorister in the Great Synagogue, Duke’s Place, London, sing the Yigdal or Hebrew Confession of Faith. This is read antiphonally by precentor and congregation at the opening of the morning service, but is sung to traditional tunes on the eve of the Sabbath and on the evenings of the Jewish Festivals. The Yigdal is believed to have been written by Daniel ben Judah, a judge in Rome, in 1404, and is based upon the thirteen creeds of Moses Maimonides (ca.1130-ca.1204), with a concluding verse. Olivers wrote the hymn sometime between 1763 and 1770. He is reported to have told a friend during a conference at Wesley’s City Road Chapel: ‘Look at this; I have rendered it from the Hebrew, giving it, as far as I could, a Christian character.’ It first appeared in John Wesley’s Pocket Hymnbook for the use of Christians of all Denominations, 1785, becoming extremely popular in Methodist circles. The hymn is a free paraphrase of the Yigdal; there are twelve verses in total, although most hymn books reproduce only eight or ten. The verses refer extensively to passages of Scripture; Olivers produced references for virtually every line of the text, beginning with Exodus 3:6: ‘ I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham’.

James Montgomery wrote of Oliver’s hymn:

That noble ode ... though the essay of an unlettered man, claims especial honour. There is not in our language a lyric of more majestic style, more elevated thought, or more glorious imagery.
... like a stately pile of architecture, severe and simple in design, it strikes less on the first view than after deliberate examination, when its proportions become more graceful, its dimensions expand, and the mind itself grows greater in contemplating it.

Tune - Leoni

Leoni was the liturgical name for Meyer Lyon, and was the Synagogue melody used by Lyon for the Yigdal. Thomas Olivers harmonised the melody into a striking eighteenth-century tune in a minor key.

Nigel Day
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997