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Monday, October 17, 2016
The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above,
the Ancient of Eternal days, the God of love!
The Lord, the great “I AM,” by earth and heaven confessed,
we bow before your holy name, forever blest.
Your spirit still flows free, high surging where it will.
In prophet’s word you spoke of old and you speak still.
Established is your law, and changeless it shall stand,
deep writ upon the human heart by your strong hand.
Your goodly land we seek, with peace and plenty blest,
a land of sacred liberty and Sabbath rest.
There milk and honey flow, and oil and wine abound,
and trees of life forever grow with your mercy crowned.
You have eternal life implanted in the soul;
your love shall be our strength and stay, while ages roll.
We praise you, living God! We praise your holy name:
the first, the last, beyond all thought, and still the same!
Moses Maimonides’s “The God of Abraham Praise,” trans. Thomas Olivers (tune: Leoni)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
Lest we think that the church of our day invented interreligious dialogue, the remarkable history of this hymn teaches us otherwise.
How did Moses Maimonides, the twelfth-century Jewish philosopher, end up being credited for a hymn in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal? His articulation of Jewish dogma, The 13 Articles, the basis for the Yigdal, was usually sung at the beginning of morning prayer and the end of evening service. The Yigdal was what Thomas Olivers, the translator of “The God of Abraham Praise,” heard in the Great Synagogue of London in 1770. Olivers, a follower of John Wesley, was so moved by the tune and the praise of God that it expressed, that he preserved it into the earliest version of this hymn, which was included in Wesley’s 1780 publication Sacred Harmony (Michael C. Hawn, “History of Hymns: ‘The God of Abraham Praise,’” gbod.org).
And so? Where this story directs my thinking is to the long history of salvation of which we are a part. There are the 2,000-some years of Christianity, but there are also the 2,500 years of Jewish history before that. And then there’s the life of God, the “Ancient of Eternal Days,” which we are pulled into when we pray, sing, work, and play. Indeed our very existence is praise of the One who told Abraham that the One’s name is “I AM.” When our lives start to close in on themselves and seem very small, that kind of broad perspective is a gift.
O God of Abraham and Sarah, you whose story is everlastingly wonderful, help us find the ways in which we are meant to praise and bless you in our time and place. Give us the desire and the vision and the means. We ask this through Jesus, the human expression of your perfect love. Amen.
Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
Center for Life and Learning
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