Thanksgiving Day will soon be upon us. We usually spend this day with our family or friends and use it as a day of eating and fellowship. This practice is neither uncommon nor wrong. It certainly is not a sin to enjoy the fruits of our labors in this day. God’s people have done this for centuries. We celebrate the harvest that has again been gathered. That is the reason Thanksgiving Day was established. If we live on a farm or are able to drive past one, we find the fields, for the most part, are empty. The crops that at one time grew there green and plush are harvested: cut down and gathered into barns.
We go to the grocery store and we see where the fruit of men’s labors have gone—we buy our food with little thought where it came from. Each year there is a new harvest, and each year once again we rejoice and celebrate that harvest. Certainly this is a time of rejoicing. Our hearts are made merry with the bounties of the field that we have received.
Should we not stop for a moment to give thanks to our God and Creator? After all, if our rejoicing is going to be sanctified and holy, then we must recognize that Jehovah God has given us all this. It is not a time, therefore, that we set aside to thank all kinds of people for this or that. It is not a time we simply talk about giving thanks without giving thanks really to anyone in particular. It is a time, rather, in which we turn to the one great Provider who has given us all of these things.
In our broadcast today we consider a passage of God’s Word that will lead our hearts into proper praise. We consider a small part of a confession each worshiper was called to bring to God in the nation of Israel during what was called the Feast of the First Fruits. We read what he said in Deuteronomy 26:10-11: “And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me.” Then we learn in these verses what he must do while making this confession. Notice: “And thou shalt set it [your firstfruits] before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God: And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.” Thanksgiving—a good day to say thanks to God. Just as Israel did.
The children of Israel had seven distinct feasts they celebrated during the course of each year. They were required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for three of these feasts. During these feasts, as we will find in a moment, God’s people were required to give thanks to God for their crops and herds. One of these feasts was the Feast of the Firstfruits, which we mentioned. This feast was a time of rejoicing in the harvest, just as we do at this time of the year. In their celebration they too were required to remember God and His goodness toward them. So, we are going to use this passage as the basis for our giving thanks to God this year.
I. God’s Gifts
The words we study today must be viewed within their context if we are to understand them. The first part of verse 10 is the conclusion of a profession each sacrificer spoke to the priest while dedicating his firstfruits. This profession began with these words, Deuteronomy 26:3: “I profess this day unto the Lord my God, that I am come unto the country that the Lord sware unto our fathers for to give us.” By means of this profession the sacrificer acknowledged that he now had come to the temple from the particular inheritance God had given him in Canaan to offer his first fruits. The priest before whom the one sacrificing made this profession would then take the basket of firstfruits and set it down before the altar of the Lord. In verses 5-9 the sacrificer would then continue his confession before God by acknowledging that, though he was undeserving, God graciously had given him his inheritance, and now in gratitude he was offering the first fruits of his crops to God. In thanks, therefore, he spoke the words recorded at the beginning of the two verses we consider today. He said, “and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which thou, O Lord, hast given me.” God had provided for His people Israel richly. He brought them to a land flowing with milk and honey.
The nation of Israel in the land of Canaan was given everything that was needed, together with the many extras of life. The people were given abundant crops. They were blessed with flocks and herds. They had more than their hearts desired. This was expressed to Jehovah when those who came to the Feast of Tabernacles acknowledged, “which thou, O Lord, hast given me.” Every Israelite man must acknowledge that God as the sovereign Provider had caused the plants to grow and produced the fruits, the firstfruits of which he now dedicated to Jehovah. Furthermore, Jehovah had given these to Israel in His grace and with His blessing. They were the people of His covenant, delivered out of the bondage of Egypt and given this land of plenty. God’s blessing rested on His people in Canaan. They could truly look at these earthly gifts God had bestowed upon them as a blessing from God’s hand.
But with these earthly blessings the children of Israel were issued a warning by Moses—and that before they entered into Canaan. We read of that warning in Deuteronomy 6:10-13: “it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.” This warning was issued because, when we are given earthly riches, the tendency of our sinful flesh is to forget the God who has given us these things. We begin to look at ourselves and our own arm of strength as having somehow obtained these things. We begin to think that we have acquired them by our own ability.
Then we forget that everything we receive in this life is a gift from the hand of God. Also, it is the inclination of our sinful flesh to put our trust in these riches themselves as if they are what truly give us joy in this life. We forget the clear warning of Scripture that the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveting after have pierced themselves through with many sorrows. We place stock in our wealth and comforts and find more sorrow in life caused by them than joy in them. So it was, that the people of Israel, in order to remember these things as gifts from God, had to offer their firstfruits at the three annual feasts when they came to the temple in Jerusalem.
We, too, need to be reminded of this in our prosperity. God has prospered us in our lives as no other people in this world. We have been given lands and houses, food and comforts beyond imagination. Perhaps it might take our visiting a third world country and living in a small wooden shanty or a clay hut to begin to understand how much God has given us! We have wealth beyond compare. The tendency of our sinful flesh is no different than that of the people of Israel. We can begin to place our trust in uncertain riches. And in doing so we can forget that these are freely given to you and me from the hand of God alone. He provides us with what we have! God is the good Provider that causes the earth to bring forth her abundance, that we might eat and live.
Also, we can forget that these earthly gifts mean nothing if they do not carry with them God’s blessing. The wicked in this life grow wealthy. Their eyes stand out with fatness. They have more than their hearts can wish for. But all of it is emptiness for them.
Neither do these riches carry with them God’s grace and blessing. They, in fact, carry with them God’s curse. Those who defy God and His commandments have no real reason to celebrate in this day. Everything they possess in this life will be used against them in the judgment day. The curse of the Lord abides in the house of the wicked, we learn in Proverbs 3. What makes what we possess all worth while is that God gives them to us in His great love for us and by them He blesses us. But we can forget that and at times begin looking at these riches we have as an end in themselves. So, we are reminded at this time of the year that it is God who gives us all things. Certainly, we may never—we may never—forget our God who has delivered us out of the bondage of sin and gives us freely our inheritance in the heavenly land of Canaan.
But wait a minute! We are focusing our attention today on the earthly gifts God has given us, and not the heavenly ones. Ah, fellow believers, can the two ever be divorced? This gift of the firstfruits in Israel reminds of us of an important passage in the New Testament, I Corinthians 15:20-23: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” You see, these feasts in the Old Testament were celebrated in order to remind the saints then, first of all, of events that had taken place. But these same feasts had a prophetic aspect to them. That to which the Feast of the Firstfruits pointed was what we read here in I Corinthians 15.
At the end of time there is going to be a huge harvest—the largest harvest one has ever seen. It will not be a harvest of wheat or barley or corn. It will be a harvest of men. God is going to send forth His angels into all the earth and harvest from among men His people. With this, Christ is going to call forth to the dead, and the souls of those who have died will also come forth. And Christ will gather His harvest into His barn, that is, into heaven. We know and are assured of this final harvest. It is the final resurrection from the dead. We know it will happen. We know it because the first fruits of that harvest have already been gathered in. Christ is the firstfruits of that harvest. He has already died and has already been gathered into heaven to be with God. Well, we are one crop with Christ and we are assured that even as the firstfruits have been gathered in, so also will the rest of the harvest!
So, at the time of Thanksgiving, we who are God’s people are reminded of the spiritual blessings that are ours too! We are reminded that right now we have been given the life of Christ. We are God’s people in this world, in whom Christ lives. We are reminded that the heavenly land of Canaan awaits us. It awaits us with all spiritual wealth and joy. It is ours when at the end of time all of God’s people will be gathered in and will fill heaven with their praises. We give thanks in this day for earthly blessings—no doubt about that! But we give thanks for these only because we see them as means that we use here to lay up in store treasure in heaven! God has given us good gifts! He has filled us with earthly blessings—more than we need. But God has given us even greater and more worthwhile spiritual blessings in which we, as believers, rejoice today. For that reason we express to God our thanks now but also all through the year.
II. Our Rejoicing
The question that remains in connection with the verses we examine today in Deuteronomy 26 is: how are we to rejoice and give thanks to God? This we find in the latter part of verse 10 of the passage in Deuteronomy 26 and in verse 11: “Thou shalt set it before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God: And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house.” We briefly mentioned at the outset of our broadcast that there were seven annual feasts that the people of Israel were called to celebrate in the course of one year. Three of these feasts required that the men of Israel gather in Jerusalem in holy convocation and worship of God. These three feasts were the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. All three of them coincided with harvests. The Passover coincided with the barley harvest; Pentecost coincided with the wheat harvest; and the Feast of Tabernacles was the time of the general harvest of all the crops. At each of these feasts therefore the men of Israel were required to take their firstfruits—the first of their crops—to the temple and give them to the Lord.
This is meant by the command given at the end of verse 10: “And thou shalt set it before Jehovah thy God, and worship before Jehovah thy God.” We have already noticed what was involved with that worship. The point is this: this worship was necessary. The way that the people of Israel rejoiced in God was first of all by way of worship! It was this worship that kept men focused on the fact that it was God who gave them these things. It was worship that extolled Jehovah, the covenant God—the God who is ever faithful and ever sure and whose mercies endure forever. It was a humble homage paid unto the God of their salvation for His blessings on them. Sacrifices were then offered, and from that point on the feast began.
Surrounding the feast days were the feasts themselves. Sometimes these feasts were celebrated within the courtyard of the temple. By the people who lived in Jerusalem or close by or who had close relatives in this area the feasts were celebrated in the homes. What is striking to me, however, is that these were actual feasts! People would sit down with each other and eat and drink with each other. While they joyfully feasted together, they would follow the command of verse 11: “And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house.” They would eat and drink together. They would laugh and make merry. But in all of their celebration they were rejoicing together in Jehovah their faithful God, who had given them and their families all these things. The feasts had their significance. Every feast signified fellowship within the covenant: with God and with fellow saints. In other words, these were not mere meals eaten as ours are today. These meals were religious gatherings in which God’s people gathered together to rejoice in the works of God’s hands. They spoke of fellowship with God and with each other as those whom God had delivered out of Egypt and given this land of rest. And again, this was not without its prophetic significance. Revelation 19 speaks of the supper of God that God’s saints will eat together before God and Christ in heaven. In heaven God’s children will gather around their heavenly Father’s table in communion with Him and Christ and with our fellow brothers and sisters who sup around the table of their Father. Such then was the way God’s saints of old rejoiced in the bounties that God had provided for them.
Now, I realize that we as the church of Christ today no longer celebrate these feast days. They have been fulfilled, as we noticed, in Christ. Christ’s work on the cross has brought these Old Testament ceremonies of the law to an end. We no longer celebrate days and times and seasons of the year. Thanksgiving Day is arbitrary. We celebrate it because the pilgrims celebrated it. Yet, there are churches today who meet for a few moments on Thanksgiving Day morning to rejoice in the bounties God has again given us as families in this past year. The people of God in the Old Testament met in joyful worship of God during the Feast of the Tabernacles. Yes, it was a practice of the Levitical law that Christ has fulfilled. We certainly do not wish to be slaves to the laws of the Old Testament! Christ has set His church free from these. But in our day of prosperity, when it is so easy for us to place our trust in uncertain riches, is it not a good thing to be reminded of what we have considered in our broadcast today? What a blessing for God’s people to be able to meet together for worship on a day we set aside to give thanks to God for opening His hand wide and giving us the many earthly gifts we receive. Worship is never wrong. Worship is always good. It is especially good for us in this time of year, that we might be reminded to whom we must bring our thanks.
The point is: do not forget who has given us richly all things to enjoy. Do not forget to give God thanks in this time of the year. We may eat and drink. Food is a gift from God and can be used to fellowship with each other. But as we do, let us not forget in whom we rejoice. May God be thanked by us. May his name be glorified by all the works of His hands.