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Thomas Olivers composed the hymn “The God of Abraham Praise” around 1772. Olivers was inspired by the preaching of a Jewish rabbi in London and the chanting of the famous Jewish cantor, Meyer Lyon.

Olivers named the tune Leoni in Meyer Lyon’s honor. We call the tune “Yigdal”, but it is otherwise Olivers’ version, the same as that published in the late 1770s.

The text, which was once called “a stately pile of architecture”, is based on the Hebrew Doxology of Yigdal, which dates from the mid-13th Century. The Doxology is a listing of what are known as the thirteen articles of the Jewish faith, based on Exodus 15:1–19. Here is a literal translation from the original Hebrew of each of those thirteen articles:

  • Extolled and praised be the living God, who exists unbounded by time.
  • He is one of unparalleled unity, invisible and eternal.
  • Without form or figure—incorporeal—holy beyond conception.
  • Prior to all created things—the first, without date or beginning.
  • Lo! He is Lord of the world and all creation, which evince his greatness and dominion.
  • The flow of his prophetic spirit has he imparted to those selected for his glory.
  • No one has appeared in Israel like unto Moses; a prophet beholding his glorious semblance.
  • God has given the true law to his people, by the hands of his trusty prophet.
  • This law God will never alter nor change for any other.
  • He perceives and is acquainted with our secrets—sees the end of all things at their very beginning.
  • He rewards us with kindness according to his work; dispenses punishment to the wicked, according to his misdeeds.
  • At the end of days by him appointed, will he send our Messiah, to redeem those who hope for final salvation.
  • God in his mercy, will recall the dead to life. Praised be his glorious name forevermore.

Olivers’ version of these thirteen articles, which he presented in twelve stanzas, gave the text a Christian character.

The hymn was first published in a leaflet titled “A Hymn to the God of Abraham.” There were numerous editions of the hymn between 1772 and 1773 in both England and America.

Thomas Olivers was orphaned at the age of four in England, in 1729. He worked as a shoemaker’s apprentice from a young age and had a reputation as a very difficult child. After he was converted, John Wesley convinced Olivers to use his talents as a traveling evangelist. He was said to be a bold preacher who sometimes encountered danger because of his message. While he wrote a number of hymns, this is the only one still in use today.

We hope you enjoy singing “The God of Abraham Praise”!

Enjoy more information about new hymns or the hymns you already love as we explore the Lutheran hymnody. Use this month’s hymn in your devotions and get to know the tune. We’ll be singing it a few times in worship over the next month or so and adding it to our growing congregational repertoire! Information for this article came from The Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship (Augsburg Fortress Press) and the Hymn Stories series (Kregel Press).