Understanding True Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, a United States holiday federally established by Abraham Lincoln, is said to be a day of thanking God for His blessings. On this day, many Americans gather together with their families to eat a large meal. During this day, families recall impactful events and share stores of the “good ole’ days.” After the meal, families consume rich desserts while enjoying the company of others for a few additional moments. After everyone is full, some family members pack plates of food to take home and leave. Others stay behind to help the host or hostess clean the house.

                In some families, especially religious families, there is a discussion about what each member is thankful for. Each member gets an opportunity to tell the rest of the room what he or she is thankful for this year. This tradition brings families together and provides a moment of reflection for each person. This is a very positive thing, but is this the way God tells us show our appreciation?

                Contrary to popular belief, Thanksgiving is not technically a Christian holiday; however, there is a festival God commands us to keep in the Fall. This Fall festival is 8 days long. Instructions for this feast can be found in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Read Lev. 23: 33-44 and Deut. 16:13-17. These days are called the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast shows forth the last part of God’s plan. (This plan will be discussed further in future posts.)

“40 And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.41 And ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month.” (Lev. 23:40-41)

                God instructed the Israelites to gather in their harvest and rejoice before Him seven days. This was to be a feast thanking God for His blessings. This event is supposed to take place in the seventh month each year forever (verse 41). If you read the descriptions of the Feast of Tabernacles, you’ll discover that Thanksgiving Day cannot compare to this amazing feast.

“13 Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine:14 And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow,that are within thy gates.” (Deut. 16:13-14)

                After working Spring to Fall, the Israelites were to gather in the harvest and have a feast sharing with family, servants, priests, foreigners, and the less fortunate. Essentially, this fall feast was to be like a vacation. Recognize much of the economy of ancient Israel was agricultural. Participants were to relax and rejoice before God as most of their work for the year was complete. Employers and workers (servants) were to enjoy in this feast together. They were to give thanks and praise to the Lord who blessed them with a bountiful harvest.

Analyzing the Difference

                Let’s look at a few differences between the Feast of Tabernacles and Thanksgiving. The most obvious difference is the number of days. Thanksgiving is one Thursday every year. Depending on the industry you work in, Thanksgiving may or may not be a day off for you. Some people also take off from work the Friday following Thanksgiving. So, depending on where you work, you may have a four-day weekend and only one of those days is used to rejoice and thank God. As mentioned previously, the Feast of Tabernacles is eight days long. Seven of these days are a feast of rejoicing before God. This feast is four days longer than a four-day Thanksgiving weekend. For a large amount of people, Thanksgiving is a one-day celebration.

                This leads right into the second difference. Since a lot of people can only celebrate Thanksgiving for one day, many people overconsume food and alcohol. As we all know overeating is bad for the body especially large amounts of meat. We all must learn to be better stewards of our bodies. For the Feast of Tabernacles, a feast is eaten for seven days. In this scenario, there is no need to overeat one day when there are six other days to enjoy the foods you like. Even if someone wanted to overeat, it would be very expensive to do so therefore it is less likely that any fiscally responsible person would consume more food than necessary each day.

                Another major difference between Thanksgiving and the Feast of Tabernacles is charitable actions. Though many observers of Thanksgiving give to charity, volunteer at shelters, and help less fortunate people, there is no mandate to do this. In Deut. 16:14, there is a clear mandate to help those who are less fortunate. The fatherless and the widow are given as two groups of people who should enjoy the harvest God has blessed us with. Foreigners are also included as participants in this celebration.

                The Feast of Tabernacles is a grand opportunity to point others to God. On the first and eighth day of the feast, there is a holy assembly (Lev. 23:35-36). During this time, the word of God is to be read. The fatherless, the widow, and the stranger can learn that God blesses us for obedience to Him. This same opportunity is not available in the same way in Thanksgiving.

Should We Keep the Feast of Tabernacles

                If you adhere to the Bible, then you should make it a point to understand that the called-out-ones (church) of God are now considered as a part of Israel. Israel is described as an olive tree that Gentiles can be grafted into through faith.

“17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:” (Rom. 11:17-20).  

God considers all those who stand in faith as Israelites. Paul tells us, Israel has been blinded due to unbelief “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” (Rom.11:25) So, whether you are an Israelite or a Gentile that God has called into full understanding of the faith, you are Israel. Also read Eph. 2:11-18.

                So, if you have been brought into commonwealth of Israel, the laws do apply to you. Remember, Lev. 23:41 tells us Israel is to keep the Feast of Tabernacles forever.

                The last proof I will use to support why we should keep the Feast of Tabernacles is found in the book of Zechariah. Zechariah wrote down prophecies that have not been fulfilled yet. In the final chapter of Zechariah, the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God are discussed, the following verses discusses the Feast of Tabernacles:

“16 And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.17 And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.18 And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, wherewith the Lord will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.19 This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.” (Zech.14:16-19)

Even those who are not Israel now will be required to keep the Feast of Tabernacles when Jesus establishes His Kingdom. Knowing this we should have a desire to keep God’s law now. There is much joy to be found in keeping this holy day. This is not to say you shouldn’t keep Thanksgiving. The point is,why reinvent the wheel when God has already given us eight days of rejoicing and giving thanks through the Feast of Tabernacles?

“For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.”(II Cor. 2:9)

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