Israel was really good at expressing thankfulness to God. The book of Ezra records a time when the Israelites were returning to their land to rebuild the temple many years after it had been destroyed, and they had been exiled as punishment for their rejection of God. God promised not only to punish them for their disobedience, but he also promised to restore them. He kept that promise and they were thankful.
“And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel.And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” (Ezra 3:10–11 ESV)
We can learn two things from this – first, Israel thanked God for the work in progress. They hadn’t finished the temple…not even close…but they stopped after laying the foundation to hold a mini-party, they did so out of thankfulness to God for the work in progress.
Likewise, we are all works in progress. Thanksgiving is always a time to consider the last year, and hopefully to give thanks. We might be tempted to think that we haven’t come as far as we’d hoped, maybe we’ve had setbacks, or perhaps the hardest year of our lives. But we all have progress, however small, and for that we should thank God. What foundations, that may have even been destroyed, have been rebuilt? Or are in the process of being rebuilt? Express thankfulness to God.
Second, Israel thanked God for who he was – God is good and he loves us. After many years of extreme hardship, brought on by their disobedience, they have lost everything – their country, their homes, possessions, many lives and they are starting over. But they do so while clinging to the deep-seated knowledge that God is good and he loves them. Yes, he allowed them to be nearly wiped out, but he is bringing restoration.
Whatever kind of year you’ve had, God doesn’t change. He is still good and he still loves you. Trust Him. Keep this truth in the center of your thoughts, especially in difficult times. Our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, he forgives sin and is a God of justice. [Exodus 34:6-7] He keeps his promises.
Israel knew this because they are back in their land, rebuilding their temple and rightfully thanking God for it. We know this, because we live on this side of redemptive history where we know that God sent Jesus. As He promised He sent the Messiah, that came through the line of Israel. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, to rescue and redeem those who could not do so for themselves. He came to be the atoning sacrifice for our sin, our failure, our weakness, our rejection of our God.
And we didn’t deserve any of it.
So while we can learn a lot from Israel about thankfulness, ultimately we should be thankful for what came out of Israel – our redemption in Jesus Christ.
The early got this – and Martin Lloyd Jones summed it up powerfully in his usual bluntness –
“The early Christian church was a rejoicing, praising church that is filled with thanksgiving, magnifying the grace and glory of God. They were a thankful people. But why was this? . . . What is a Christian? Well, Christians are men and women who know that they are what they are by the grace of God. Their sins are forgiven. Why? . . . Christians know that they owe everything to the grace of God in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They have received it all as a free gift . . . Now if you can believe a thing like that and not feel grateful and thankful, then I do not understand you. It is impossible.”
Christians, we should be the most thankful people on Earth all the time, but perhaps this year, I’m most thankful that God is not as blunt as MLJ. He does understand us, our weakness, our ungratefulness and in his jaw-dropping mercy and grace gave us Jesus. And for that…we should be abundantly thankful.