Hymn of the week: O God of Bethel

The Sunday Gospel readings in August are slowly working their way through John chapter 6, which begins with the Feeding of the Five Thousand and concludes with a dialogue between Jesus and the crowd on the theme of bread. Two of the hymns we sung on Sunday have already featured as Hymns of the Week, namely ‘Jesu, thou joy of loving hearts’ and ‘Guide me, O thou great Jehovah’. It was a non-eucharistic service and finding hymns about bread that are not Communion hymns is surprisingly difficult. However, today’s Hymn of the Week made a very suitable offering hymn, bringing together the themes of bread, God’s provision and dedication.

The original version of this hymn survives as a copy handwritten by the author Philip Doddridge, dated 16th January 1736. It is based on the story of the patriarch Jacob’s vow at Bethel:

And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.  (Genesis 28:20-22 KJV).

Doddridge’s hymn was revised by John Logan for Scottish Translations and Paraphrases (1781) and this is essentially the version sung today.

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) is not as well known today as his older contemporary Isaac Watts and younger contemporary Charles Wesley, although a number of his hymns are still in use. During his lifetime they “were circulated in manuscript, and copies were much prized” (The New Methodist Hymn-Book Illustrated). Three hundred and seventy of Doddridge’s hymns were published after his death by colleague Job Orton. The son of a merchant, Doddridge became a congregational minister in Northampton.

John Telford tells the following anecdote:

This hymn…  was greatly loved by David Livingstone. It often cheered him in his African wanderings, was the most inspiring and endearing strain heard in his little mission study in Africa, and was sung over his grave in Westminster Abbey (The New Methodist Hymn-Book Illustrated).

O God of Bethel, by whose hand
thy people still are fed;
who through this earthly pilgrimage
hast all our fathers led:

Our vows, our prayers, we now present
before thy throne of grace:
O God of our fathers, be the God
of their succeeding race.

Through each perplexing path of life
our wandering footsteps guide;
give us each day our daily bread,
and raiment fit provide.

O spread thy covering wings around,
till all our wanderings cease,
and at our Father’s loved abode
our souls arrive in peace.

To thee as to our Covenant-God
we’ll our whole selves resign,
and this not as a tithe alone,
for all we have is thine.

Philip Doddridge (1702-51), John Logan (1748-88) and others
Hymns and Psalms 442

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About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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