by Tad Lindley
We tend to think of Thanksgiving as a modern American holiday. It’s not. If you attended public schools, you may have been taught that the first Thanksgiving involved the English speaking Pilgrims at the Plymouth Rock settlement and their Indian neighbors in 1621. It didn’t. Actually the first Thanksgiving involving European immigrants/invaders (depending on your point of view) was celebrated by about 600 Spaniards on September 8, 1565 in what is now called Florida. I hate to mess up your paradigm, but there was not a word of English spoken at the first Thanksgiving. The Spanish celebrated with a Catholic mass. Prior to 1565, the many tribes of people already living in North America when the Europeans got here already had their own festivals of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving in the Bible
In fact, Thanksgiving has been celebrated for thousands of years. Although existing since earliest times, Thanksgiving was officially instituted in Leviticus chapter 7 about 3,400 years ago. In the book of Nehemiah the Jews which returned to Jerusalem and were rebuilding the walls celebrated it (11:17). They even had special ministers whose job it was to oversee Thanksgiving (12:8). Eight of the 150 songs in the Hebrew song book specifically mention thanksgiving. Sixty-three of them praise God for his greatness. One of the most famous being Psalm 100:4, Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
Looks the same
This Thursday in the United States people will be celebrating Thanksgiving. If you could look through the windows into many homes and not hear what they were saying, it might appear that they were celebrating in Biblical fashion. People will be leaping around their living rooms. There will be loud shouts of acclamation. They will be celebrating with food.
But it sounds different
Psalm 107:22 gives us this picture of a Biblical Thanksgiving: And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing. It is just like modern Thanksgiving, except instead of declaring the Lord’s works with rejoicing, people will be declaring the college quarterback’s works with rejoicing. Times have changed.
Not just once a year
In the Hebrew scriptures we read about frequent Thanksgiving. Abel brought the firstlings of his flock and the fat portions thereof (Genesis 4:4). Noah built an altar to God as soon as he beached the Ark (Genesis 8:20). In the face of his own personal destruction Job somehow managed to recognize God’s excellent greatness (Job 1:20). Across time we see God’s people recognizing that he is the source of every blessing. Thanksgiving could be celebrated at any time.
It was about Him, not them
In the Bible, Thanksgiving was always about Jesus or Yahweh (in the Old Testament). Nowadays, Thanksgiving seems to be more about us. Many of us will be more concerned with gorging ourselves with food than about recognizing the Lord who blessed us with the food. In the Bible Thanksgiving was about man entertaining the Lord with praise. Now it seems to be more about man entertaining himself with bowl games, beer, and baked bird.
Fight back against modern Thanksgiving
What if every home in Bethel and every village in the AVCP region were to turn off the television on Thursday for one hour? (And shouts out to all of you who have gotten rid of your TVs.) Then spend that hour as a family thanking the Lord for the many blessings that he has given us. For one day, that would make us the prayingest place on the planet! There would be about 20,000 people having an old time Thanksgiving. If we threw in a few songs of praise and read some Bible, we would be getting even closer to a Biblical Thanksgiving. Not quite sure how to do it? Here are some instructions:
Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.
This Thanksgiving, let us take time to give thanks to the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ.
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.