The first Thanksgiving
Day did not take place in the United States or
Canada, but in the Promised Land. It was Israel's
national Thanksgiving Day, and its purpose is stated
for us in Deuteronomy 26:1-19.
When the people entered
the Promised Land, they were to bring the first
fruits of the land to God and give thanks to Him for
all His blessings (Deu. 26:1-11). In the second half
of the chapter, the people are to use their
triennial tithe to minister to the Levites,
foreigners, orphans, widows and people less
fortunate than they have been (vv. 12-19). The
people who have been blessed of God are to be a
blessing to others. From this first thanksgiving we
learn great lessons for our Thanksgiving Day
From Deuteronomy we learn
that true worship must be directed to the one true
LORD God—Jehovah. The repetition of the name Yahweh,
the LORD, and the reminder that He and no one else
had redeemed Israel were a reminder that He was the
one true God.
THE SACRIFICE OF
The Lord brought Israel
out of Egypt to the Promised Land. He provided
everything for them. Therefore, God's redeemed
people offered the sacrifice of praise. Worship is
offered to God from people who have been purchased
by the blood of the Lamb. Worship is the privilege
of the people who are complete in Christ.
people can enter into God's holy presence.
In Deuteronomy 26:1 Moses
commanded the people: "Then it shall be, when you
enter the land which the Lord your God gives you as
an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it"
(Deuteronomy 26:1, NASB 1995). (All Scriptures are
from New American Standard Bible unless otherwise
The first ceremony was to
take place in the Promised Land, after the conquest,
and when the Israelites had begun to live in the
land and be supported by its produce. The offering
of the first fruits would be a new religious
institution in Israel. Before taking possession of
the land, they were not an agricultural people and
therefore had no harvest festival. This first
offering of the first fruits, once the Israelites
had taken possession of the land, would mark the
beginning of the new life that had been anticipated
on the basis of the covenant promise of God.
Israel was God's redeemed
people; redeemed by the blood and power of God
dwelling in the inheritance God had given them.
Israel owed God everything. They purchased nothing.
It was an act of God's sovereign grace.
Offering of First
The first fruits were not
observed until the nation entered into the Promised
Land and took possession of it (v. 1). It was the
celebration of God's provision in the Land. For
forty years they had eaten manna, the food of the
wilderness journey. The Jewish people at the time of
sowing of seed would mark off certain barley in the
field. When the time of the harvest season arrived,
men would carry a sickle and basket and on command
reap the specially designated grain. The men would
march to the Tabernacle bringing a sheaf of the
first fruits of the harvest to the priest The priest
would wave the sheaf accompanied by burnt and meal
offerings (cf. Lev. 23:9-12). Barley would be the
first grain to ripen in Israel. After the barley
came the fruit, olives, grapes and finally wheat.
Now it was time to
celebrate the promise of God's abundant harvest in
the land of provision. These first fruits of the
harvest were brought to the Tabernacle. Moses
continues, "you shall take some of the first of all
the produce of the ground which you bring in from
your land that the Lord your God gives you, and you
shall put it in a basket and go to the place where
the Lord your God chooses to establish His name. You
shall go to the priest who is in office at that time
and say to him, 'I declare this day to the Lord my
God that I have entered the land which the Lord
swore to our fathers to give us'" (Deuteronomy
The first fruits in the
basket symbolized the whole which they had brought
with them, and represented the whole harvest yet in
the field. Men gave thanks for the harvest while it
still stood in the field. God still claims first
fruits of everything. It belongs to Him, even before
it is harvested.
God is faithful.
The declaration by the
worshiper was a testimony that he had entered into
the Promised Land, and the basket he carried
symbolized that already he was beginning to
experience the blessing of the new land and the new
life God had given him. It was a testimony to the
faithfulness of the LORD God and the faithfulness of
His provision in the land. In the verses that follow
Moses emphasized God's gift of the land to His
covenant people. Let us state it clearly: the land
belongs to Israel. It has always belonged to the
people of Israel. The Exodus was the delivering of
God's chosen people to the land God promised them.
No modern day rewriting of history can change the
facts. God redeemed them and with His mighty power
delivered them into the land. He is a faithful God.
Now it was time to celebrate His faithfulness to His
people. It was a time of rejoicing.
The response of the
people is given in vv. 4-11.
It was a confession of
God's faithfulness and their presence in the
Promised Land was the result of His grace and power
to redeem them. There was no reason God should have
chosen Israel except of His grace (Deut. 7:6-8).
They confessed their humble origins, the harsh
treatment by the Egyptians, and God's answer to
their prayers. He now has a land he could call his
own, "a land flowing with milk and honey."
"Then we cried to the
Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our
voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our
oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt
with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with
great terror and with signs and wonders; and He has
brought us to this place and has given us this land,
a land flowing with milk and honey" (Deuteronomy
The worshiper then
acknowledges God's abundant provision. "'Now behold,
I have brought the first of the produce of the
ground which You, O Lord have given me.' And you
shall set it down before the Lord your God, and
worship before the Lord your God; and you and the
Levite and the alien who is among you shall rejoice
in all the good which the Lord your God has given
you and your household" (Deuteronomy 26:10-11).
The people of Israel came
with grateful hearts that first Thanksgiving. Then
they celebrated the feast of the first fruits
yearly. It was a time of great rejoicing. This
moment marked a dramatic moment, the culmination of
several centuries during which the promise of God
had been anticipated.
We have entered
into our inheritance
We have entered into the
inheritance, which is ours in Christ. Our great High
Priest presents to the Father our worship and
We are saved by grace
through faith. Jesus is our Passover Lamb who shed
His blood to redeem us. We are His unique
possession. "Or do you not know that your body is a
temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you
have from God, and that you are not your own? For
you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify
God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
We are His chosen people
who are a royal priesthood. The apostle Peter wrote,
"you also, as living stones, are being built up as a
spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up
spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus
Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). Then he adds, "But you are a
chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a
people for God's own possession, so that you may
proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you
out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you
once were not a people, but now you are the people
of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have
received mercy" (1 Peter 2:9-10).
We who have been blessed
of God are to give thanksgiving to Him and in turn
be a blessing to others less fortunate. We have been
blessed to be a blessing.
Christ our First
The apostle Paul picks up
on this great theme of first fruits and tells us
that Jesus Christ is the first fruits of the
believers who are dead in Christ.
"But now Christ has been
raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who
are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man
also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in
Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made
alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first
fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His
coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the
kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished
all rule and all authority and power. For He must
reign until He has put all His enemies under His
feet" (1 Corinthians 15:20-25).
Jesus described Himself
as the grain of wheat that fell into the ground and
died, that it might spring to life and bring much
fruit (John 12:23-24). Christ rose from the dead as
the first fruits of the resurrection on the third
day from His death. Our Lord Jesus Christ is in the
presence of the Father in heaven as the
representative of the whole church that is still in
the filed waiting the harvest. The feast of the
first fruits is a living testimony to God's
sovereignty and it says to a watching world,
"Because I live, you shall live also."
The tomb is empty! Jesus
rose from the dead! He is the first to rise from the
dead in expectation of a greater harvest.
Christ was the first to
rise from the dead. He is designated the first fruit
indicating that a great harvest will soon be
gathered in from all over the world. The resurrected
Christ has entered into the presence of God as our
forerunner, the pledge of the greater ingathering
when the redeemed will be transformed and changed at
the moment of His second coming (1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1
We come with hearts
filled with Christ
As believers we come to
the Lord God with hearts filled with Christ,
thinking of Him, praising Him, occupied with Him
alone in worship.
God delights to receive
worship from His redeemed. Can you imagine what it
is going to be like in heaven in the presence of the
Lord God for all eternity? We have only tasted what
it is going to be like when He comes for us. The
presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives guarantees
since we have confidence to enter the holy place by
the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He
inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His
flesh, and since we have a great priest over the
house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart
in full assurance of faith, having our hearts
sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our
bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:19-22).
We enter into the
immediate presence of God and present our first
fruits of worship and thanksgiving for salvation.
Going back to Deuteronomy
26:12-15 we see a second religious service
prescribed for the people of Israel. This service
relates to the presentation of the tithe every third
year (v. 12). This offering was not to be taken to
the priests, but was given directly to the Levites,
the strangers, the orphans and widows, "that they
may eat in your towns, and be satisfied."
God's people are walking
by faith trusting Him to keep His covenant promises.
Their one consuming passion is to please Him. God
declares His faithfulness to His people. "This day
the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes
and ordinances. You shall therefore be careful to do
them with all your heart and with all your soul. You
have today declared the Lord to be your God, and
that you would walk in His ways and keep His
statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and
listen to His voice. The Lord has today declared you
to be His people, a treasured possession, as He
promised you, and that you should keep all His
commandments; and that He will set you high above
all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and
honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to
the Lord your God, as He has spoken" (Deuteronomy
WE ARE TO BE A
In Deuteronomy 26:12-14
Moses says to the same people that they have been
blessed in order to be a blessing to others. Verses
12-15 would take place two years later during the
third year of full settlement in the Promised Land.
The tithe of the third year took place in the
Israelite towns or settlements. That which was
tithed was distributed among the underprivileged
people in the land.
Our joy becomes
greater as we share God's blessings with other
The people were to offer
their gifts to God with a solemn payer in
verses13-19 and give it to the needy people. The
worshiper was to keep in mind that what he offered
was part of the blessing of God, and not something
he had produced through his own intelligence or
agricultural skillfulness. The tithe was a sign that
the Israelites were already experiencing the
blessings of God.
The worshiper declares
that his gift is the full tithe. It was a solemn
statement before the Lord. The results of a sinful
heart are described for us in Acts 5. The worshiper
declared that he had observed the regulations for
giving his tithe to the poor (v. 14).
The ceremony reminds us
of Matthew 25:31-46. "As you did it to one of the
least of these my brethren, you did it to me." We
can't divorce the two great commandments to love God
and to love our neighbor.
We find the same great
truths of Deuteronomy 26 summarized in Hebrews
13:15-16. "Through Him then, let us
continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God,
that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His
name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for
with such sacrifices God is pleased" (Hebrews
13:15-16). Verse 15 speaks of the sacrifice of our
praise to God. It is the fruit of lips that confess
the name of Jesus. In verse 16, we have the
sacrifice of ministering to those in need; doing
good and sharing with others what God has given to
On Thanksgiving Day we
offer to God through Christ the spiritual sacrifices
of praise and thanksgiving. We come with hearts
overflowing with gratitude for God's rich benefits
and blessings upon us. Our sacrifices of praise and
thanksgiving are offered through Christ the one
great High Priest and Mediator of the new covenant.
This sacrifice of praise is offered continually,
implying that the one perfect sacrifice by the Lamb
of God has already been offered and accepted by God.
The offering of the heart
to God in praise and thanksgiving must be followed
by the sacrifice of love manifested in good deeds
and in free sharing of our possessions.
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
1. God is faithful.
2. There is no
worship without concentration on the person and work
of Christ. When we worship we enter by faith into
the holy presence of the LORD God and there gaze in
love and gratitude upon our Lord Jesus Christ. There
you are overwhelmed with a sense of divine holiness
and God's redeeming love. "A heart filled with
Christ, that constitutes a worshiper," says Harry
3. God has first
claim on our lives. He claims the first fruits of
4. God always
answers our prayers. When we pray to God that He
fulfill a divine promise, we can rest assured that
God is able and willing to answer our prayers.
5. "To praise God
continually requires us to be in daily communion
with Him," said A. W. Pink. The psalmist wrote, "I
will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall
continually be in my mouth" (Psalm 34:1). "I will
sing unto the Lord as long as I live; I will sing
praise to my God while I have my being" (Psalm
6. We are "created
in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2:10). Jesus
modeled this continually during His earthly
ministry. "It is not enough to be good; we must do
good," says Pink.
7. No one has ever out
given God in ministry. Jesus gave a great word of
encouragement to the giver when He said: "Give, and
it will be given to you. They will pour into your
lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together,
and running over. For by your standard of measure it
will be measured to you in return" (Luke 6:38). He
still does it that way.
8. "Let your light shine
before men in such a way that they may see your good
works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven"