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Three Rules for Thanksgiving Day—Deuteronomy 26:10-11
Jack Klumpenhower

Let’s be clear from the start. I hate rules. But with the Thanksgiving season upon us, I’ve noticed that the Bible has rules about harvest celebrations. Even if you don’t like rules either, will you look with me at some of God’s rules?

The book of Deuteronomy has instructions for the Israelites to follow once they start farming the land God is giving them. Each settler must bring some of his first crops to God’s place of worship. There he must present his gift by reciting the story of how God saved his people from slavery in Egypt and brought them to a rich land. The words he must say are in Deuteronomy 26:5-9. Then the instructions continue:

Then place the produce before the Lord your God, and bow to the ground in worship before him. Afterward you may go and celebrate because of all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. Remember to include the Levites and the foreigners living among you in the celebration (Deuteronomy 26:10-11).
I notice three rules here that we could apply to our Thanksgiving holidays.

Rule #1: Go to church

Thanksgiving Day comes with demands of family, travel, and meal preparation. It’s hard to squeeze in a full worship service. Many churches don’t even hold Thanksgiving Day services anymore. Often, the closest I’ve come to deliberate worship on the holiday is a quick prayer at the table, wedged in between the pumpkin pie and the football game.

But there’s something special about physically going to church. We speak words of praise and thanks, bring an offering, and bow publicly before God. It honors God and it’s good for the soul. God says to do this first, then go celebrate.

Rule #2: Include the needy

One year I volunteered at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. I found that lots of other people had the same idea. Someone donated a turkey dinner and TV cameras showed up. Then we all went home to eat our own feasts.

Levites and foreigners had no land rights in ancient Israel. They were the have-nots, dependent on the job offers or generosity of others. In that family-first society, they might easily have been offered token gifts and then forgotten. But God said to include them in the family celebration. Lonely and needy outsiders should sit at the family table as a normal part of the holiday.

Interlude: About those rules

The problem with mentioning these rules is that you might brush me off for being preachy. Or you might accept that these rules are good. Then I fear you’ll either start following them and feel proud, or keep your old habits but feel guilty about it.

That’s why I hate rules. I wouldn’t bring up them up except that the last one can address this problem. It isn’t a rule about behavior, but about the heart.

Rule #3: Remember your salvation

The reason our text gives for the harvest celebration is “because of all the good things the Lord your God has given to you.” God had a reason for making his worshipers recite how he’d saved them when they were foreigners in Egypt. It prepared them to bow with truly grateful hearts, and to welcome the needy with the eager embrace of those who know what it’s like to have been homeless.

Our own salvation story has even more power to change the heart. In Philemon verse 6, the Bible again mentions good things from God: “I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.” Our good things are in Christ. True generosity will flow from us as we grasp how wonderfully Jesus has saved us. We’ll need to study this salvation and meditate on it, share it and sing of it, even speak it aloud like the worshiper in Deuteronomy.

There’s no doubt many of us could stand to pay more attention to rules #1 and #2. I want to encourage that, but not as a way of proving how kind or pious we are. These are more than rules. They proclaim that the sacrifice of Jesus is alive in our hearts, and that his cross is powerful and true.

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