Above, Israeli soldiers celebrate a Nefesh B'Nefesh (Soul by Soul) Thanksgiving.
Every year at Thanksgiving I’m reminded of the holiday’s origin, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. It was the crowning event in Israel’s cycle of fall feasts that also included Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It was a celebration of the harvest, of God’s mercy in forgiving their sins for another year, and a remembrance of the time when He lived among them in the wilderness, setting them apart as His people.
The Jews were about to enter the Promised Land. The Lord had Moses tell them that in the future they were to set aside a tithe (1/10th) of their production each year and bring it, along with all their other voluntary offerings, to the place He would choose for them to worship Him. They were to eat them there in a gigantic national feast. Think of it, 1/10th of all the lambs, goats and cattle born that year, 1/10th of the grain, vegetables and fruit from through out the land, breads and cakes and barrels of wine.
So by these two passages we learn the rules of what I call God’s Blessing Game. We show our gratitude by giving God His due and He blesses us with more. We increase our giving and He increases His blessing, allowing us to give still more. And on it goes. But when we become stingy or resentful and try to short-change God, then the blessings are curtailed accordingly.
Lots of people overlook the last half of this promise, and find that because they do it doesn’t come true. The Lord didn’t promise to make us rich so that we could have bigger houses and more cars, He promised to make us rich so that we could be more generous. As one commentator has put it, “God’s blessings are not to increase our standard of living. but to increase our standard of giving.” We’re supposed to be a distribution center for His blessings, not a warehouse. The blessings we receive are supposed to flow through to others, not stop with us. The riches we store up are for Heaven, not Earth. Good thing too, because here they only last a little while, but there they last forever. (Matt. 6:19-20)
It’s a testimony to God’s understanding of the human condition that the Thanksgiving Holiday’s roots have been obscured. You see, he longs to bless us but the rules of the game require an expression of gratitude on our part. By allowing Thanksgiving to be perceived as a secular holiday instead of a religious one, He can receive our thanks without risking the same demand that He be taken out of the loop as there is for Christmas. There’s no public outcry by the pagans, no suits by the ACLU, and no attacks by other religions against its origin. Very few people are even aware of the Biblical roots of this “American” holiday. But being devout Christians, the Pilgrims knew Who they were thanking, and why. You and I do, too. It’s our little secret. Ours and God’s.