Dakota Hymn

Our song writer, Joseph Renville, was born in 1779 in a small village near the east bank of the Mississippi River in a place now called St. Paul, Minnesota, only four miles from where I was born 175 years later. His song and his life’s story get us thinking about the last instructions Jesus gave his disciples just before ascending. Please give this Native American hymn a sing-along listen and come back for some history that puts light on the path leading to a victorious future.

“Occupy till I come”

The Gospels of Mark and Matthew both end with Jesus instructing the disciples just before he ascended. His words have been called “the Great Commission”.

Mark says, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved …”

Matthew says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, ….. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you …”

There is little doubt that Matthew and Mark are both describing the same incident, but which version is closer to what Jesus actually said? Here is a tip to keep in mind when reading the Bible: different verses relating to the same incident may not give the same details. When all the details are combined they will complement and agree with each other and give us a more complete understanding. The question is not “which verse has it right?”, rather “when all the verses on the identical incident are combined, what picture do we get?”

Notice Mark says preach … to every creature [to everyone]. He
Notice Matthew says teach all nations … telling them

Add these together and we get a more complete understanding of the Great Commission. Mark gives part one — preach to every person so they can believe and receive everlasting life through Jesus Christ and live abundantly.
Think “revival“.

Matthew gives part two — teach every nation so God’s wisdom and ways can be employed to guide and bless every aspect of society — including family, education, media, government, business & finance, arts & entertainment and, of course, religion.
Think “reformation“.

Has the Lord enabled us to carry out “the Great Commission”? The Bible says YES.
Has “the Great Commission” been carried out? A quick survey tells us NO.
Does the Bible say — or have prophets of the Lord declared — or should we imagine — that the Lord has called it quits on “the Great Commission” and is just going to snatch us out of here in defeat and hand the keys over to the enemy?

Where are men like Elijah and David when we need them?!?

Such a man for the Great Commission

What Joseph Renville packed into his 67 years of life is astounding. North Dakota and Minnesota both named counties after him. Minnesota also named a town after him. It is easy to believe God’s guidance was in his life.

Wikipedia offers the following information which I paraphrase:
Joseph Renville was was an interpreter, translator, expedition guide, Canadian officer in the War of 1812, founder of the Columbia Fur Company, and an important figure in dealings between settlers of European ancestry and Dakota (Sioux) Natives in Minnesota. Renville, the son of a French Canadian father and Sioux mother, accepted the invitation to become a Christian. He welcomed missionaries into the area, and sent his own children to the missionaries for schooling. He contributed to the translation of Christian religious texts into the Dakota language, work which also helped develop the written Dakota alphabet. Renville and sons worked with Christian missionaries to compose a hymnal that was published in Boston in 1842. Its successor, Dakota Odowan, first published with music in 1879, has been reprinted many times and is in use today.

Renville’s wife, Mary Tokanne, was herself an early Christian convert and was kin to a prominent Sioux leader called Big Thunder. Mary & Joseph taught their eight children how to read and write in both Dakota and English. Many of them continued in their parents’ footsteps, translating, teaching and serving in both business and ministry. The Renville’s became a prominent family in that region of Minnesota. (This information about Joseph Renville is drawn from Wikipedia. Explore more of his fascinating history at

Consider how Joseph Renville’s life meshed with details of the Great Commission — with Kingdom work of revival and reformation.
► Born again and lived accordingly.
► Family — married a Christian and they raised their children in the Lord such that their children continued serving in areas of concern, interest and need, one becoming an ordained minister.
► Education — helped bring a successful missionary school into his area
► Media — contributed to translating Christian text and music publications
► Government — helped in policy and practice with dealings between European settlers and Natives in Minnesota and served as a military officer
► Business & Finance — founded the successful Columbia Fur Company
► Arts & Entertainment — wrote hymns
► Religion — supported Christian outreach and helped translate the Bible

This is only a rough sketch of Joseph Renville’s contributions — but what a full, productive life!

Dakota Hymn

Look at the lyrics and think how they might resonate with Native Americans in Minnesota in the early 1800’s. They were times of European settlers, wars, changes and dangers. In contrast to that stark backdrop, Renville writes about God’s many and great works — beginning with the familiar and the awesome — Earth, sky, heavens, stars, mountains, plains, waters. Then he takes them to something possibly less familiar and even more awesome — communion with an ever present God through His gift of life, more abundant and never ending. What a powerful, loving and beautiful song!

When life is easy, there might be a temptation to forget the Lord. When times are hard — as those times were — how much greater becomes the deliverance and blessing to learn about God and connect with Him. What a multitude of thoughts can be stirred up when we sing “Dakota Hymn”.

God bless you lots!
-Dale R.

Download this song sheet

LYRICS — Dakota Hymn
Author: Joseph Renville (1842)
Paraphraser: Philip Frazier;
Tune (Lacquiparle) “probably” by Joseph Renville

1. Many and great, O God, are Your works,
Maker of Earth and sky.
Your hands have set the heavens with stars;
Your fingers spread the mountains and plains.
Lo, at Your word the waters were formed;
Deep seas obey Your voice.

2. Grant us communion with You, O God
Though You transcend the stars.
Come unto us and stay by our side;
With You are found the true gifts of life.
Bless us with life that has no end,
Eternal life with You.

Let’s stay in touch

Each time I post a new song and lesson here I send a brief, cheerful note to friends of this song site. The note gives a quick description of the song and lesson along with a link to the new song’s page. It is super-easy for you to get a note from me, too. Just click the green “Song of the Week” button below and you are almost there.

To sweeten the deal, you will also get instant access to the “Music Box” where I put all the free resources and downloads that go along with these song pages. Check it out now! Good stuff. (Side note — I still post announcements on social media, too, even though I have learned it is terribly unreliable at getting the message out and keeping us connected. Email gets that job done where social media fails. We do well to connect this way, and avoid getting throttled by social media.)

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6 Replies to “Dakota Hymn”

  1. Craige Banios

    Hi Dale,
    Great song and info as Alicia said. Thank you.
    I ended up clicking the “open in a browser” link, which worked better for me since the email made the picture at the top super wide and I had to slide back and forth to view the whole thing.
    God bless you,
    Craige Banios

    1. Dale Reichel Post author

      Craige, thank for feedback on this new mail setup. Still working out kinks. Glad you enjoyed the song. I really like this one, too. God bless you lots! – Dale R.

  2. Patty Reed-Reimer

    Thank you for bringing that wonderful history and hymn to us. What a remarkable life Joseph Renville led.
    Were you aware at all of his name or history when you were growing up near his home and legacy?

    1. Dale Reichel Post author

      Patty, thanks much for your note. Though I grew up in Minnesota, I was not aware of this beautiful song or of Joseph Renville until now. Learning the Minnesota history made this song all the more special. Plus, this sounds like another song I learned as a child while canoeing in the Boundary Waters and still love today. Seeing how Renville applied his life to advance the Lord’s Kingdom in so many relevant ways is thrilling. I guess getting a couple of counties named after you says SOMETHING about making a difference. Great example and wonderful inspiration his life story provides. Plus — a lovely song to enjoy singing and sharing. Thanks again for your note. God bless you lots — Dale R.

  3. Alicia Andrews

    Email and links all came through.
    Thank you for this great song and bio on Joseph Renville and his legacy.
    Another great brother in Christ.

    I am a registered Lenni Lenape American Indian and surely appreciate those following the great commission in love.

    Thanks Dale!!

    Alicia Andrews

    1. Dale Reichel Post author

      Alicia, thanks for the heads up on email coming through — still mysteries to work out on that front. What a joy learning about Joseph Renville. What a wonderful song. I grew up in Minnesota, and there is something about the song and its history that stir up a lot of happy memories about growing up there. Thank YOU for giving it a listen and letting me know it blessed you. Wishing you all God’s best — Dale R.


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