The Ancient Roots of Thanksgiving

Did you know the regular practice of enjoying a big meal once a year vastly precedes 1621? In fact, we can find it being practiced nearly 3,000 years ago in Scripture, and many people think this ancient biblical holiday is what originally influenced the first Thanksgiving meal that took place on our soil in the 1600’s.

The Feast of Booths (or Feast of Tabernacles) was instituted by God as the final holiday in the Jewish yearly calendar. It was a seven day feast in which Israel built temporary “tabernacles” or tents to live in during the feast as a way to remind them of God’s provision for Israel in the wilderness after the Exodus. It was also a time where they, after they gathered the final portions of the year’s harvest, got together and feasted on them in thanksgiving for God’s provisions for them during that year.  

Now we do not live in such an agrarian culture as our ancient spiritual forefathers did in Israel. They didn’t have water hoses to go and water their farms and gardens when a drought took place. Whatever grew that year truly was God’s provision for them, and this final feast was a way that they could thank God for that year’s provision. This year I started a small garden for the first time ever. And one of the first things that grew was simple garden beans. Yea, they don’t cost much money at the grocery store. A few bucks will provide you with a few cans worth of them. Yet, I found myself much less willing to waste a single one that came from my garden. They had a greater value to me, a value that superseded it’s monetary value.

All to say, I was more thankful for those garden beans that came from my yard, much more than ones that come from an aluminum can from who knows where. It was in that way that I got a very, very tiny glimpse into the mind of these ancient Israelites who regularly gathered produce from their gardens and farms. For them it wasn’t a hobby, it was a way of life. They were dependent on what grew. And this feast, the Feast of Booths, was a tremendous week long celebration as they feasted in worship of all that God provided for them that year (Leviticus 23:33-44) with a thanksgiving that may be difficult for us to fully understand.

So how do we continue such an attitude of thanksgiving this week? It can be difficult for us in such a prosperous nation to be genuinely thankful for the food on our plates, and the clothing on our backs. Even the poorest in our nation have more clothing and more food and more provisions than the vast majority of the world population. All to say, to cultivate genuine heart-felt thanksgiving may take some intentionality, and it may not happen passively as we eat and feast this Thursday with our families and friends.

So ask yourself this question: How has God provided for you this year? Sure, many of us had enough food this year. But do you think Israel only celebrated the year’s harvest before God? As they also were reminded of God’s provision for them during their wilderness wanderings with manna from heaven, they were reminded of God’s amazing love and care for them. They were reminded that God looks out for them very closely, with deep, intimate care and love unmatched and unsurpassed amongst any available love in this world. Ultimately they were celebrating God’s fatherly love for them. And today, we get to celebrate today his ultimate love for us when he came down in a temporary “tabernacle,” becoming a man (John 1:14), and providing for us the ultimate provision - salvation and redemption from our sins and reconciliation with God our Father. 

So make sure to pause this thanksgiving week. Reflect on all the ways God has richly blessed you this year in Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). Be thankful for all that you have been given and all that has been sustained this year. And don’t be afraid to feast and to enjoy Jesus in worship this week with food and drink, family & friends. May Jesus be glorified this Thanksgiving season