Paul Wheelhouse

November 23, 2023 Thanksgiving Day

“O give thanks to the LORD [YHWH], for He is good! For His mercy is forever” (Ps. 106:1)

Dear Friends, Fellows, and All Readers,

If I may be honest and straight forward with you and moved by my conviction from an intimate knowledge of sacred Scriptures, not only the Bible but of other major religious traditions (Islamic, Zoroastrian, Hindu/Vedic, etc.): the Judeo-Christian tradition of giving THANKS to God is superb and unparalleled compared to any and all other religious traditions.

I thus want to highlight several verses in the Bible on giving thanks to God. By seeing this collection of thanks perhaps for your first time, you may quickly discern that indeed this tradition which we commonly refer to today as the “Judeo-Christian” tradition is distinct and unparalleled from other religious traditions whether you have just been exposed to them alone or actually read through other sacred Scriptures also.

Psalms 105-107 each begin with giving thanks to God [LORD YHWH] and thus are a set of psalms we could call Thanksgiving psalms. But giving thanks to God are throughout the Book of Psalms. The first occurrence of “thanks” (Heb. Todah) is found in Ps. 6:5: “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?” (NKJV). Next, it occurs in Psalm 18, a psalm of David “when the LORD [YHWH] delivered him from the hand of all his enemies….” “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD [YHWH], among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name” (vs. 49). In Psalm 30, another psalm of David, we read “sing praise to the LORD [YHWH], you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name” (vs. 4). God’s holy name in the Hebrew tradition is YHWH which in most English translations is translated as “the LORD,” but which is a poor translation in my view and that is why you typically see ”[YHWH]” after which indicates God’s personal name, not merely a title as “lord” is a title not a name. This Psalm 30 also ends with thanks: “O LORD [YHWH] my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (vs. 12). Next, we encounter “I will give You thanks in the great congregation” (Ps. 35:18). Next, “We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks!” (Ps. 75:1).”So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, will give You thanks forever…” (Ps. 79:13). “It is good to give thanks to the LORD [YHWH] and to sing praises to Your name…” (Ps. 92:1). Likewise, giving thanks to God is found in Ps. 97:12, 105:1, 106:1, 47,107:1, 118:1,29, 119:62, 122:4, 136:1,2, 3,26, and 140:13. There is a psalm of David that is recorded in 1 Chronicles ch. 16:7-36 “to thank the LORD [YHWH] in which thanks to God occurs five times after verse 7.

The source of this strong giving thanks to God tradition in the Psalms is found in 1 Chron. 16:4. King David, the priestly pre-Messianic Judaic king instituted the Levitical priests “to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the LORD [YHWH] God of Israel” (vs.4). And the evidence of this tradition we exactly find in the 23 occurrences of giving thanks to God cited in the book of Psalms above. The word “thank” and “thanks” is the same word in the Hebrew. “Thank” occurs 7 times in I & II Chronicles, 8 times all together in the Old Testament and “thanks” occurs a total of 36 times in the Old Testament, in the NKJV translation. In addition, we have “thanksgiving” which first appears in the book of Leviticus of the Old Testament, ch. 7: “If he offers it [the sacrifice of peace] for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer, with the sacrifice of thanksgiving, unleavened cakes…” (vs. 4). “Thanksgiving” appears 5 times in Leviticus, 3 times in Nehemiah, 8 times in the book of Psalms, and a total of 20 times in the Old Testament. A couple highlights from the Psalms: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise” (Ps. 100:4) and “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call upon the name of the LORD [YHWH]” (Ps. 116:17).

This strong giving thanks to YHWH God tradition, founded by king David, carried out by the Levitical priests Asaph and his sons and others, passed it on to the next generations for about 1000 years to the time of Jesus, the Messiah and King of kings, who embodied the Old Testament, Word of God incarnate, the manifestation of Israel. And this giving thanks to God tradition continue through the apostles as recorded in the New Testament. A few examples of thanks and thanksgiving in the New Testament are highlighted. The ancient Jewish Passover meal included the “cup of thanksgiving.” It was at this cup at the Last (Lord’s) Supper with His disciples that Jesus instituted the holy meal for the remembrance of Him which is recorded in the Gospels and the apostle Paul recounts it (Matt. 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17-19, and I Cor. 11:24). The apostle Paul was abundant in expressing thanks. To the Ephesians, he wrote “…giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Eph. 5:20). “We give thanks to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (Eph. 1:3). Another example is to the Thessalonian church, Paul wrote, “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation…” (II Thess. 2:13). There are many more examples from the apostle Paul we could cite, but suffice for now. And concluding with the final book in the New Testament, Revelation: the angels and elder and four living creatures around God’s throne broke out, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever, Amen” (Rev.7:12).

To summarize thanks and thanksgiving in the New Testament, we have 37 occurrences of “thanks” and 8 occurrences of “thanksgiving.” The rich Hebrew-Judaic tradition of giving thanks to God certainly continued in the earliest Church of the Christian faith founded by Jesus Christ. And this tradition has continued these nearly 2000 years since the founding of Christianity to our day.

The Judeo-Christian tradition of giving thanks to God was certainly foundational in the United States of America establishing a National Thanksgiving holiday. There have been several Christian commentators, leaders, ministers, televangelists, professors, and authors who have taught on this. To name only a few: David Barton of Wall Builders, an expert on Constitutional law, Will Federer, Andrew Wommack, the late Prof. Michael Gannon (University of Florida professor of history: Spanish and Colonial period), et. al.

Let us give thanks today and always for all God’s blessings, and let us maintain this holiday of Thanksgiving in our nation, setting aside differences of mind and even belief among the family members and friends who gather at our tables or we at their tables. Amen.

A Brief Comparative Reflection Focusing on Indigenous Peoples

I begin this section with the premise that God created all peoples. While my belief in this is rooted in the Bible, virtually all indigenous peoples have had some kind of belief in a High God, but their myths of origins, including the origins of peoples, carried by oral tradition, varies greatly. And I submit that very few people today believe their various myth of origins since they are not very believable. For example, the Seminoles of Florida myth of the origin of people are as follows: people came from a snake. People were living in a dark cave and could not get out of a cave. But there was a crack in the rock and a small sliver of light coming it. Only the snake could climb through the crack and get outside onto the ground. And all the people of the world come from this snake. Do any of you actually believe this? And I am sure that even many Seminoles today do not believe this. Hold that thought.

Now let us get back to thanks and joy. All human beings, made in the image of God (based on Gen. 1:26-27 of the Bible), have at times feelings of thankfulness and joy. In the Hebrew faith tradition, it gets focused and articulated in the faith of YHWH. And so this tradition becomes distinct. But we should understand that thanks and joyfulness are universal. Each sacred tradition expresses it a bit differently. One of the key differences is to whom do you give thanks? The Judeo-Christian tradition has a clear and unhesitating answer: you give thanks to the one true God who made Heaven and Earth and whose personal name in Hebrew is YHWH. Other established religions like Zoroastrianism was similar. Just replace YHWH with Ahora Madza, how they addressed God, which literally means “Wise Lord.” From here, it gets real fuzzy with the highly polytheistic religions such as Hinduism and Indigenous sacred ways. In Hinduism, they simply have too many deities for any one person to give thanks to. The Gaia Earth believers actually use the greeting “Thanks be” and in place of saying goodbye. But they don’t say to whom they give thanks to because its essentially absent from their belief system. That is, they believe basically that the Earth itself is God (a form of pantheism). And returning to Indigenous peoples whose religions are grouped in the phrase “Indigenous sacred ways” actually has many different traditions and mythologies, but they share these in common: they virtually all have a concept of a High God but he is too far away to be of any good on earth or of any help to them, viewing him on a perpetual vacation or in perpetual rest. So they all have lesser deities and spirits to whom they pay homage to. And they all have an oral culture.

Wrapping this section up, from the biblical (Judeo-Christian) tradition, the Bible is the revelation of God. And those who have not been enlightened by the Bible have not received the written revelation of the true God who created the Heaven and Earth. But they all have the capacity for joy and thanks. We therefore are to share the true creator God with them so that they move from the position of ignorance to light and begin to give thanks and praise to YHWH God, incarnate in the Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World (John 4:42, Acts 4:12).

 

SOURCES for the INDIGENOUS WAYS SECTION

Hopfe, Lewis, Mark Woodward, Religions of the World, Pearson. 2009
1st two chapters on Indigenous sacred ways

Fisher, Mary Pat, Living Religions of the World, Pearson
1st chapter on Indigenous sacred ways