Hymn of the Week: February 6, 2022
by Nick Bideler,
Acting Organist and Choirmaster
The Episcopal Church of St. Michael & St. George, Clayton
Hymn 401 – LEONI
Not to start off with what sounds like a joke, but what hymn brings together the Hebrew Yigdal (doxology), a Welsh Wesleyan preacher, and John Wesley? The answer is the hymn The God of Abraham praise.
The story goes that in London around the year 1770, Thomas Olivers heard cantor Meyer Leoni chanting the Doxology of the Yigdal at Duke's Place Synagogue. The music so impressed Olivers that he wrote a Christian hymn based on the Yigdal with the tune LEONI named after the cantor, Max Lyon - Leoni being his professional name. Some think that Leoni himself transcribed the tune for Olivers following the service.
The opening stanza of this hymn is based on Exodus 3:6, "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham," and Exodus 3:14, "I AM THAT I AM." Each of the original 12 stanzas is packed with scriptural allusions. The version in the Hymnal 1982 uses stanzas 1, 4, 7, 10, and 12.
In The Hymnal 1982 Companion reads: “He found it a source of inspiration, however, beyond merely versifying the material at hand. Not only did he Christianize it, but his complete version comprises twelve stanzas divided into three parts of four stanzas each. Olivers published the hymn in a circular with copious scripture references and even performance indications.”
We learn that God is the God most high—El Elyon in Hebrew. We learn that He is God Almighty—El Shaddai. We learn that He is Jehovah Jireh—the Lord who provides, told for us in that story in Genesis, and Abraham and Isaac. We learn that He is a promise making, covenant-keeping God. We learn that He will bring judgment on sinners, but we also learn that He is merciful and compassionate. And in the episode with Hagar in the desert we learn that God is the God who sees, and He is the God who hears. The God of Abraham praise.