The ancient roots of Thanksgiving

By Joseph Farah

I’m appalled at the way Americans have forgotten the meaning of Thanksgiving.

Have you checked out what your children are learning about this holiday in both government and too many private schools? The Pilgrims had a rough time when they first landed on Plymouth Rock. Finally, the friendly native Americans taught the European plunderers how to fish and plant corn. The harvest feast held by William Bradford and the gang was a way for the Pilgrims to thank the Indians for saving their lives. Thus, Thanksgiving.

This may be a slight oversimplification of what your children are being taught in school about this important American holiday this week – but not by much.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays – a time for family, a time for reflection, a time for feast and a time for praising God for all He has bestowed upon us.

Though it’s a uniquely American tradition, the roots of Thanksgiving go back to ancient Israel. In a real sense, the Jews invented Thanksgiving. I count 28 references to the word “thanksgiving” in the King James Bible – all but six in the Old Testament. For the ancient children of Israel, thanksgiving was a time of feasting and fasting, of praising God, of singing songs. It was a rich celebration – and still is for observant Jews today.

Bradford himself studied the Hebrew scriptures. The Pilgrims took them very seriously. The idea of giving thanks to God with a feast was inspired by that knowledge of the Bible. In a very real way, the Pilgrims saw themselves, too, as chosen people of God being led to a Promised Land.

At the table, they acknowledged “God’s good providence” and “blessed the God of Heaven who brought us over the furious ocean.” For “what could sustain us but the Spirit of God and His grace?” asked Bradford. He then quoted Moses, “Our fathers cried unto Him and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity” (Deuteronomy 26:7).

In addition to proclaiming a day of thanksgiving, like the ancient Hebrews did before them, Bradford and his flock also praised God’s loving kindness, the famous refrain of Psalms 106 and 107 and Jewish liturgy (“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His kindness endures forever”).

The “thanksgiving” idea took different forms in colonial America. It wasn’t until George Washington, the republic’s first president, proclaimed Nov. 26, 1789, as a day for thanking God for bringing America through its trials, that an official holiday was marked.

Washington, too, was a student of the Hebrew scriptures. He believed with all his heart that America would be blessed only if it acknowledged the source of all blessings.

Later, in 1863, with the nation torn asunder by the War Between the States, Lincoln re-instituted the tradition for two years. Again, in 1941, with a global war threatening, Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as the day for Americans to thank God.

In times of crisis, it’s easy to think about God and eternity. When the living is easy, man is much more likely to think pridefully upon his own achievements.

Of course, crisis or not, one day a year is never enough to thank God for all the blessings in our lives. But even that modest proclamation seems to have been forgotten – or intentionally sanitized from all our secular cultural institutions.

Today the whole notion of Thanksgiving has been dumbed down to little more than multicultural gibberish. It’s no longer a day to thank God – it’s a day to thank indigenous peoples for their contributions to humanity. Ironically, Thanksgiving is truly a multicultural tradition in the best sense of the term – having been inspired by the ancient Hebrew pilgrims of the Old World and born anew by Christian people seeking a promised land of religious liberty of their own.

This week, America is in crisis again. We are besieged by an army of well-funded and motivated terrorists who seek to destroy us. A non-Judeo-Christian worldview is at war with Americans, Christians, Jews, and Western civilization. In times past, those who came before us got down on their knees to pray for divine intervention. Moses did it. Joshua did it. David did it. Jesus Himself did it. Washington did it. Lee did it. Patton did it.

Yes, Thanksgiving is a time of celebration – a time to thank God for the bounty He has provided so generously to us. But it’s always a good time to pray – to pray for victory, to pray for safety, to pray for health, to pray for your country.

Remember to invite God to your table today. Ask Him to continue blessing America – to purge it of evil and to shower it with His love.