1 Once you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you take possession of it and are settled there, 2 take some of the early produce of the fertile ground that you have harvested from the land the Lord your God is giving you, and put it in a basket. Then go to the location the Lord your God selects for his name to reside. 3 Go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him: “I am declaring right now before the Lord my God that I have indeed arrived in the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”
4 The priest will then take the basket from you and place it before the Lord your God’s altar. 5 Then you should solemnly state before the Lord your God:
“My father was a starving Aramean. He went down to Egypt, living as an immigrant there with few family members, but that is where he became a great nation, mighty and numerous. 6 The Egyptians treated us terribly, oppressing us and forcing hard labor on us. 7 So we cried out for help to the Lord, our ancestors’ God. The Lord heard our call. God saw our misery, our trouble, and our oppression. 8 The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with awesome power, and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land—a land full of milk and honey. 10 So now I am bringing the early produce of the fertile ground that you, Lord, have given me.”
Set the produce before the Lord your God, bowing down before the Lord your God. 11 Then celebrate all the good things the Lord your God has done for you and your family—each one of you along with the Levites and the immigrants who are among you.
Israel’s tradition has always been infused with story. Ancient Hebrews told the stories of Creation, Eden, Adam and Eve. Most of all, they told the story of how God sent plagues on the Egyptians and led their people to freedom through the Red Sea. In fact, even the word “Hebrew” seems to come from a root meaning to “pass over.”
So it comes as no surprise that the original Jewish celebration of the harvest – a kind of Thanksgiving – was likewise filled with story. When you showed up in Jerusalem with the firstfruits of your harvest, you set them before the altar. Then, with the priest standing there, you retold the story of Jacob, your ancient ancestor, whose family went down to Egypt to escape a famine but ended up as slaves. You told how, even as your people suffered over many generations, they grew in strength and numbers. You told how God finally heard your people’s prayers and led your family out of Egypt to freedom in a new land.
I love how thanksgiving in ancient Israel was tied to a story, tied to your ancestry, tied to a multi-generational drama where all God’s intentions for this people were being worked out. In every trial, Israel looked back to this story and remembered God’s love and faithfulness. They still do, every year, around the table at Passover.
Around your Thanksgiving table, I pray you’ll likewise look around at the generations gathered and give God thanks for where you’ve come from, where you’re headed, and how God has seen you through. Celebrate God’s faithfulness through every twist and turn, and don’t be afraid to tell your story!
For Pondering & Prayer
What story of God’s faithfulness in your life do you return to when things aren’t going so well?
How do you see God’s faithfulness playing out in the lives of those gathered around your Thanksgiving table?