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Happy Thanksgiving!

In this season of Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking about God’s provision. I recently read an excerpt from the book “The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History” and learned about the severe challenges faced by the early American settlers who had no experience in surviving the winters in America. Many died in the first winter due to starvation and illness. The harvest of 1622 and the help of the natives provided a temporary reprieve from hunger, but it fell short of their needs for the coming year. Then in the spring of 1623, the Pilgrims’ situation became dire again as they experienced a two month drought and watched their corn wither. One of the colonists, Edward Winslow, wrote about the Pilgrims as a community setting aside “a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress.” In the same afternoon that they had gathered to pray, the rain came. Heaven opened and gently showered for 14 days straight and their corn was revived. It was in response to this obvious divine intervention, that the first real record of a “Day of Thanksgiving” was written. Winslow wrote “We thought it would be great ingratitude, if we should content ourselves with private thanksgiving for that which by private prayer could not be obtained. And therefore another solemn day was set apart and appointed for that end; wherein we returned glory, honor, and praise, with all thankfulness, to our good God.” We don’t know the day of the first Thanksgiving celebration, but some historians think it was likely closer to the time of Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths which was the original biblical fall harvest feast. They think this because the Pilgrims were living in exile among Sephardic Jews in Holland before leaving for the New World. The Old Testament template for this celebration is found in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 16:13-15: You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat; and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns. Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful

Being thankful is easy when you know that God is not only concerned Turkish Cherriesabout providing for our needs, but loves to give us abundance. I have had the privilege of traveling internationally for the last 2 years. I spent over a year in the outskirts of a small city in Turkey and was so impressed by the number, diversity and bounty of their fruit trees. In the summer, on our short daily walk around the block, we would graze from the ten plus cherry trees that were overflowing with more fruit than leaves.  For a month straight, my family of five, enjoyed a heaping bowl each of fresh cherries every day for breakfast! We sampled a mixture of dark red sweet, yellow, and light red tart varieties, all of which were more delicious than any cherries I had ever bought in the grocery store. I could never afford such a luxury in the states, but for us it was free.    
  The neighbors welcomed us to pick as much as we wanted from the fruit on the branches that overhung their fences and smiled at us when we thankfully accepted their invitation. Because many of the locals grew their own food and there was an abundance of produce, they were an overwhelmingly generous people. As the months went by, we enjoyed the same privilege with apricots, pears, blackberries, mulberries, apples and a delicious fruit that most westerners have never even heard of called an Ayva. If that wasn’t enough, the neighbor across the street from us was an organic beekeeper so we were always generously supplied with ample quantities of raw untreated honey in the comb. And many times we were brought heaping plates of homemade Turkish delicacies just because we were foreigners.  
I thought, “Wow, this must have been what the Israelites felt like when they entered the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.” Picking from “vineyards and olive trees which they did not plant.” (Deuteronomy 6:11) I have since learned that it is likely that the region we were living in was within the original boundaries of the ancient “Promised Land” given to the children of Israel as recorded in the scriptures. I am now living in Jerusalem, in a town called Ein Kerem and have been equally blessed to pick daily from the trees and vines that grow wild in the walking paths and hills near my dwelling. Fresh figs, pomegranates, passion fruit, pomelos, grapes, lemons, almonds and olives. All superior in flavor as the ground is really fertile. Just like in Turkey, the people value their fruit trees. Of course it only seems natural, but I was intrigued to find that biblical law actually commands them to preserve fruit trees. When Israel was acquiring the land that they were promised and they became engaged in battle with enemies, they were given the following instructions.
 

Deuteronomy 20:19-20: When you besiege a city for a long time, while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; if you can eat of them, do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is man’s food. Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, to build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it is subdued.

It seems like a funny thing for God to mention in the midst of instructions about how to wage war, but if you read the previous chapters in Deuteronomy, you’ll see that God wanted His people to have abundance. He wanted them to have a surplus enough to travel at least three times a year to celebrate the biblical feasts for weeks at a time. God also wanted them to be so well supplied that it was easy for them to share year round with those less fortunate and in need.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22: When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.

This was God’s welfare plan. It wasn’t a handout, but a “hand up” to the poor who could have security in knowing they could glean the leftovers of the harvest to sustain them and meet their basic needs. It was a way to preserve the dignity of the poor who didn’t have much money or their own land. They did not have to beg for food, they could go and gather it for themselves. God designed nature and gave laws that if followed would protect and provide for all people. God is the ultimate giver. You can appreciate His generosity when you pause to think of how one plant or tree can produce hundreds of seeds. If you only had one tree and you saved all the seeds from the fruit, you could plant an entire orchard. One tree could give over a hundredfold increase. It is easy to see it is not God to blame for the lack in the world, because if man followed God’s instructions there would be enough.
 

Proverbs 13:23: Abundant food is in the fallow ground of the poor, But it is swept away by injustice.

Deuteronomy 15:4-5: However, there will be no poor among you, since the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today.

cherries 1The biblical pattern for receiving abundance is having a willingness to give and share.  And the biblical admonition for keeping it is stewardship and remembering the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 6:12).  This Thanksgiving holiday, as you take the time to meditate on God’s blessings and thank him for His provision in your own life, look for opportunities to bless and share with others who may be alone or struggling.  And if you yourself are in a dry season and experiencing lack, remember, like the early American pilgrims, God answers prayer.

Psalm 107:1: Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.