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Paraphrase 2 – Oh God of Bethel

18/10/2011

O God of Bethel, by whose hand

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made 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 clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (Genesis 28:15-22 ESV)

In this paraphrase of Jacob’s encounter with the living God at Bethel, Doddridge, faithfully follows the biblical narrative to produce a song and a poem that will draw the worshipper’s heart and mind to their Bible.

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

The opening stanza acknowledges God’s provisions for us in a material sense, for everything that we have belongs. To Him, the breath we take and the clothes we wear and the food we eat. Everything is His gift, and we return thanks to Him. But Doddridge also reminds us that God’s common grace has extended right throughout history. That any blessings enjoyed by our fathers and forefathers were also His gift. It is this continuity of providence that is the theme of this stanza. It reminds us of the description of the immutability of God in Malachi 3, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6 ESV)

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

Because the Lord is unchanging, we can trust Him, and we can present our prayers before Him, in confidence that as He has always dealt justly with men, so He always will. Doddridge remembers that our God is a Covenant keeping God, who has promised us that he will be our God, and we will be His people.

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

We pray for simple things, for the basic needs of life to be supplied from His gracious hand. For help when the way is hard, and we can’t understand the fuller picture, for essential food, and for the warmth and protection of clothing, suitable for our needs. Jesus Himself taught us to pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’.

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

We need spiritual help from the Lord too, and we sing this prayer, that God would gather us up, under His protecting wings, and bring us from our sinful wanderings, and set us on a path that will lead to our safe arrival in Heaven and home.

Such blessings from thy gracious hand
our humble prayers implore;
and thou shalt be our covenant God
and portion evermore.

This last stanza was added by a revisionist when the hymn was added to the Scottish Translations and Paraphrases in 1782. One of those who worked a revision on the hymn was John Logan, and it is thought he may have added this verse. It is added as a conclusion to the preceding stanzas, praying that God would hear the prayers offered throughout the poem, and that he would honour His Covenant, and continue to fulfil His people’s longings and needs.

Words, verses 1-4: Philip Doddridge, 1736;
verse 5: unknown Scottish author

From → Hymns and Praise

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  1. Resources for Genesis 28:15 - 22

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