A fascinating post by Matthew Carver.
Here is my translation of “O starker Gott, Herre Zebaoth” which I dedicate to Brian Westgate on his birthday. Probably written by Musculus in Low German in the 1540s (when it was published on a broadsheet as “Ein Lobgesang der Altväter”), this High German version appeared by 1550 and continued in several hymnals up through the early 17th century. Some suggest because of the rough, archaic wording of the German, that it may have originated as a late medieval or pre-Reformation Christian folksong. Its intent is to show that all the Biblical heroes and heroines of the Old and New Testaments had faith in God and the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ (who gets a stanza, too), and otherwise attempts only a very cursory account of their stories.
The melody is proper, based on the “second verse” of the Latin hymn “Rex sanctorum angelorum,” probably suggested because of its sanctoral litany. Here the litany is corrected and changed into a history of the Biblical saints: patriarchs, prophets and apostles, etc., or as it was once called, “the Bible in 35 stanzas.” Here is the Latin melody; the second and third rows form the basis of our present melody:
Here is the melody as recorded by Praetorius (ed. Friedrich Blume).
Here is the 4-part melody in midi format.
MIGHTY GOD, Father, Lord of Hosts on high,
Strong Defender! To Thee we cry
King of our nation,
And of all creation
Lord of great and small,
Of heav’n, and earth, and all:
Oh, grant us all that we may find salvation.
2. All who want wisdom, and would fain discern
What is truth, repent ye, and turn
To God your Maker,
Scripture not forsaking,
O’er your sins now grieve,
With humble faith receive
The Word of God, all trust upon it staking.
3. When for sin, ADAM Eden’s Garden left,
Of true faith he was not bereft,
His trust not broken
in God’s promise spoken:
From the woman’s seed
A Man shall come indeed,
And many an age will long to see this token.
4. Adam’s son, ABEL, this same truth confessed,
In true faith he gave God his best,
And praised no other,
Therefore, Cain, his brother,
Was enraged with spite,
And envied Abel quite:
Foul murder wrought, and Abel’s life did smother.
5. NOAH had warning of God’s wrath and flood,
And he made a great ark of wood;
For a year he floated,
Through the wind and rain,
Thus eight did life retain,
With all the beasts which God to him allotted.
6. ABRAHAM trusted in God’s holy Word;
More than his dear home, he preferred
Where, by intimations,
God swore in that place,
The Savior would by grace
Descend from him to bless the sinful nations.
7. Abraham’s wife SARAH barren was for long
Yet her faith was constant and strong,
In God’s apprising:
“Lo, by God’s devising
You shall soon conceive,
This cov’nant to believe,
And shall bring forth a son, and call him Isaac.”
8. So was their ISAAC in the Spirit firm,
He believed, and never did squirm,
Of death unfearing,
Who gave up his son.
But as the knife was drawn,
God said, “Wait, thou hast shown Me thine adhering.”
9. JACOB, born second, still the blessing sought
And the birthright from Isaac got,
Blest by his father;
He escaped his brother,
From his home he went
In faith where’er God sent,
Who brought him safe to kinsmen of his mother.
10. JOSEPH was faithful, and endured his cross,
As his brothers him did oppose.
And sore misused him
In a pit they threw him,
Grieved his father good,
They stained his coat with blood,
For thirty silver coins a slave they sold him.
11. Righteous LOT trusted in the Lord his God,
Warning to the five kings he brought:
“Love God and fear Him.”
But when none would hear him,
God his life did save,
Escape from fire he gave.
Lot ran to safety with two daughters near him.
12. MOSES was beckoned into Egypt land
by the Lord and brought by His hand,
His flock to sunder;
And with many a wonder,
Brought the children out,
Through waters, dry of foot.
While Pharaoh’s forces all were swallowed under.
13. AARON was chosen and ordained high priest,
God arrayed him to keep the feast,
With every splendor ,
The true faith’s defender.
God He glorified,
His calling was his pride:
Before the Lord, His people’s mediator.
14. JOSHUA, faithful, CALEB at his side,
As God bade them, Canaan they spied,
With faith unabated;
Others feared to go
But these two feared no foe,
And captured Canaan by God’s dominating.
15. GIDEON, mighty, battle’s glories knew,
Many a king and heathen he slew,
All foes he conquered,
In their countries entered,
City walls he broke,
And all their goods he took,
All things according to God’s will he ventured.
16. To old ELIJAH all the world did wrong,
Persecuted and plagued him long,
So a drought sustaining,
For three years and more,
He caused no rain to pour;
He prayed again and heav’n resumed its raining.
17. Woe did ISAIAH suffer in his day,
For the truth he met with dismay,
By men rejected.
He the just protected,
Whom men counted last.
False idols he unmasked,
And so they slew him as their hearts directed.
18. When JEREMIAH saw the great disgrace
Which the Jews did in every place,
It so appalled him
That he boldly told them
“God ye sore offend!
His warning now attend,
Or He in hands of wrath will soon enfold you.”
19. AMOS the prophet would his flock defend,
Saying, “Listen! God soon will send
Drought and great famine,
So your lives examine,
For your sin and vice
This drought shall be the price;
God’s Word shall be withheld from all in common.
20. Unto the shepherds cried EZEKIEL,
“Feed the sheep and pasture them well;
Leave no one wanting,
You will give accounting
For your life and way
When comes the Final Day,
And there shall be distress and woe surmounting.”
21. God’s true servant JOEL hope in Jesus laid,
Kindly warned the people and said
God’s wrath lay o’er them,
So with pray’r implore Him,
And in Godly fear
Await His advent near,
When good and wicked both must stand before Him.
22. JOB, the long-suff’ring did God prove and test,
And to send him grief and unrest
Satan did borrow.
Quickly came Job’s sorrow,
Friends and wealth he lost,
His body bore the cost.
In faith he said, “God can right all tomorrow.”
23. Youthful TOBIAS by the angel stood,
Trusted in his words, as was good,
Went from his father,
Rightful gold to gather,
Sara loved he fain,
Whose seven grooms were slain
He chased the slayer off, and they were wedded.
24. JONAH the prophet Nineveh forsook,
Fled to sea, to God would not look,
When storm inflated
Drew the lot ill-fated
Leapt into the sea,
And swallowed up was he
And brought alive to land full three days later.
25. By faith SUSANNA found deliverance
From the plot of two wicked men,
Who would abuse her.
But ere they so used her,
God did them prevent,
His messenger he sent
Disproved and put to death the false accusers.
26. DANIEL knew sorrow, but to God held fast;
Down into a pit he was cast
With lions seven,
That had not been given
Meat for many a day,
But God had heard him pray,
And shut the lion’s mouths, and him delivered.
27. JUDITH the widow, led the battle bold,
Acted sweetly, prayed unto God,
Of foes unfearful;
Promised her to wed,
And as he lay in bed,
She cut his head clean off, and freed her people.
28. DAVID, God’s servant, as a prophet reigned,
He had faith and steadfast remained,
Giving God’s pleasure
Writing all in measure
Which he saw by grace
Full many things took place,
And at last he gave all confirmation.
29. SOLOMON, glorious, waxed in wealth and fame,
Kings and rulers all knew his name,
And his wise writing,
All his words reciting.
These words still remain
In hearts that love God’s name:
By faith in God, the truth was his delighting.
30. God gave assurance to ELIZABETH
That she would behold by true faith
Fruit of her body:
John his parents called him:
Precious man of God,
And witness of His Word,
Whose like there hath not been nor ever shall be.
31. Saint JOHN the Baptist to the Jordan came
To the world God’s Word to proclaim,
For repentance living;
Witnessed to God’s Son,
And said, “This holy One
Baptized by me, shall for all sins make payment.”
32. MARY, pure virgin, was by grace alone
Chosen to give birth to God’s Son
In womb so lowly,
Jesus Christ most holy,
Who alone could save—
To Him her flesh she gave,
Remaining ever virgin, God’s true Mother.
33. SIMEÒN righteous, in old age found grace,
In his arms his God to embrace,
And see salvation,
In the incarnation
Christ, his infant Lord,
Whom God o’er all adored,
And said, “God here restores His lost creation.”
34. Our LORD, CHRIST JESUS, very Man and God.
As all saints bore witness and showed;—
Glad news they gave us:
He won God’s good favor
For His sons most dear
And brought His children cheer,
Defeating death upon the cross to save us.
35. Sing we together to the Lord of heav’n,
Praise to God our Father be giv’n,
With Christ, the Savior,
And the Spirit ever,
One true God for ay!
In choirs of endless day,
To Him be glory, laud, and praise forever.
Translation © Matthew Carver, 2010.