Commentary: A Time For Thanksgiving
Lest We Forget
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 26-Nov-11; 13 minutes
I was reflecting back on something that happened to me this month, and that is that I began my 80th year. Thinking about that, why, it goes all the way back to when I was born, which was the third year of the Depression. I do not remember almost anything about the Depression. I was too young. But one thing that I do remember about that period of time is that for some reason I had a keen ability regarding locations of things. By locations of things, I mean where states were, where their capital was, what their capital was, what nation was here, there and everywhere.
For some reason, even by the time I was in the first or second grade, I knew a great deal of trivia regarding geography. Geography remained the easiest subject for me all the way through school. However, it was not my favorite subject. My favorite subject was history, and I put that together with the geography because I could always picture kind of where these things were taking place that I was reading about in terms of historical events. When the Second World War began and we began to get into it, I followed the Second World War like hardly any other kid, I think. Every day I read in the Pittsburg Press things about the Second World War. They always had maps that showed what was happening, where this army was, where that army was, and on and on it went.
As a result, I developed a pretty deep love of my country and followed it faithfully through the war, after the war, and on. You might say I was kind of a patriotic nut in some ways, and always loved this nation.
Well, this Thanksgiving made me think about this because of the things that are happening now in the United States, and I think it kind of came out this week in relation to me. Thanksgiving is frequently mislabeled as the most American of holidays. However, like very much of what we hear from the public media, that is not true. It's simply an American adaptation of harvest festivals that have been celebrated virtually in every nation from time immemorial.
Our adaptation of that is certainly not wrong in principle. We should give thanks to the great God who causes all things that He created to grow and produce abundantly, that we might enjoy the beneficence that is part of Him, and give thanks for it. Both Pentecost and Tabernacles are set in harvest associations, so a true pattern is to be found there. At least in America, with its history rooted in a quasi-Christian religious beginning and much of our Constitution's major liberties taken almost directly from the Bible, there is a foundation of truth at the very base of this nation.
But I'm afraid that, like so much of what has happened in the past 70 years or so, we have wandered a long, long way from Thanksgiving's original principles. Did you ever give thought as to why the settlers there at Plymouth Rock are called pilgrims? Well, they called themselves pilgrims. They named themselves that because they sincerely believed that they were like the Israelites of old on a journey to the Promised Land where religious liberty resided and they could worship God according to their understanding. They left Europe because they were escaping religious persecution, and thus they dedicated that first Thanksgiving in America to give thanks to God for His provisioning of them.
Years later, both George Washington's and most especially Abraham Lincoln's addresses, setting aside Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday, were replete with thanks to God. Now, yesterday (I wrote this on Thanksgiving Day), virtually all I heard on the top of the hour news broadcasts that involved President Obama and Thanksgiving was that he spared the lives of two turkeys so that they might spend their days on George Washington's Mount Vernon estate.
Speaking of that Wednesday news, Thanksgiving almost got lost in the shuffle between the news about Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, warning that traffic in airports and the roads was very heavy indeed, and many references directly to Thanksgiving Day, not calling it Thanksgiving, but "Turkey Day."
One exception in the news department here in Charlotte was that immediately following the five o'clock, top of the news on WBT, Vince Coakley, the news talk host who's been a really fine addition, to WBT here, read most of the first chapter of Romans and then expounded upon the reason we have such deep and widespread immorality in the United States. He concluded it was because we have no relationship with God as a people. We talk about it, but we do not live it. He's not a preacher. But I thought the timing of him doing such a thing was fitting. One person even called in and complimented him for being so bold as to say that on public radio.
There is no biblical reason why Thanksgiving cannot be filled with wonderful, warm family activities shared with each other. The root of one of the Hebrew words translated "feast" in the Bible is often used in relation to God's feasts, and it means "to turn in a circle," suggesting dancing. Thuss God's festivals, especially the Feast of Tabernacles, emphasizes those kind of family-type activities without forgetting the God who makes all these things possible.
Can you ever remember seeing a photograph in your Bible, usually at the tail end of the Bible if it's going to be there at all, of present day Shiloh? Shiloh was the location of where God commanded His Tabernacle to be erected after Israel came into the Promised Land and after the warfare was ended. If you have one in your Bible, the photo reveals a barren, rock-strewn, sandy waste as bad as anything that you would see on the Sahara Desert. Judging by the descriptions given in Scripture of how vertically beautiful the Promised Land was—you remember they came out of there with big clumps of grapes and all kinds of autumn harvest things. But consider that, and consider that Shiloh at the time they entered the Land must have been especially delightful for God to choose that as the place where His Tabernacle was and they would meet with him.
Today, that picture serves as a vivid image of God's warning to Israel, found in Deuteronomy 8:10-18, where it says,
Deuteronomy 8:10-18 When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end—then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’ “And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
And then He adds in Deuteronomy 28:45-48,
Deuteronomy 28:45-48 “Moreover all these curses shall come upon you and pursue and overtake you, until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you. And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever. “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you.
It's a disturbing sequence of events that I see happening in this, my nation. We give every appearance that we are headed in the way that Israel very clearly was, and that there is no turning around except for Christ's return. Which way is it going to be? It's up to the American people to do what they need to do, but it doesn't look good