For hundreds of years, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived in bondage as Egyptian slaves. Then, in a miraculous event that served as the very foundation of developing Israelite culture, God freed His people to bring them into their own land. Through Moses the deliverer, God sent plague after plague against His enemies until, finally, His people were released. God showed up in spectacular form, appearing as a pillar of cloud and fire, and led His people through the Red Sea on dry land. Notice, immediately after these amazing events, how the people respond to their God and Rescuer. Exodus 16:2-3 tells us:
And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt…”
The Israelites Complain
Did you catch that? Miracle after miracle, spectacle after spectacle, with the presence of God visible in their midst, the first thing the people do is complain. And their complaining didn’t end there. When God provided food from heaven, the people complained. When God gave them water out of a rock, the people complained, and when God finally led them to the edge of the Promised Land, the people refused to enter, complaining about the size of its inhabitants. In fact, they had rejected God’s kindness so often that He decided to teach them a lesson they and their descendants would never forget. He taught them, among other things, how to be grateful. For this generation of ex-slaves, this lesson would take 40 years to learn.
It’s easy to sit back and judge these people. Certainly, I would have made better choices. I wouldn’t complain… But ask yourself; how do you respond to the goodness of God in your own life? How long after God blesses you with something amazing do you wait before grumbling about His blessings? When you are blessed with an education, do you complain about teachers or assignments? Or when you are blessed with a job, do you complain about the work you do, your boss, or your co-workers? When you are blessed with a child, do you complain about the late nights and dirty diapers? You see, it is so easy to become like the rebellious generation of Israelites who perished in the wilderness.
So, what is the remedy to this problem? How do we keep from grumbling? While future generations of Israelites that we read about in the Old Testament don’t have the best track record, they did institute practices to help guard against an attitude of rebellion. Perhaps the biggest part of this was the Feast Days.
Feasting with a Thankful Heart
Feast days, or festivals, were yearly opportunities to remember and give thanks for the goodness and kindness that God had displayed in the past. By celebrating festivals annually, the people would never forget what God had done for them. During these feasts, the people would come together and recite their history, giving thanks to God. To a lesser degree, the weekly Sabbath day of rest also served this purpose as it reoriented the worshipper to have a heart of praise and gratefulness toward God.
And what better way to celebrate than with food? Of course, we do this all the time. Try to think of a celebration that doesn’t involve food. Typically, the happier the occasion, the more it revolves around eating. It is a great way to establish gratitude in our hearts with good memories of friends, family, and feasting.
Our Feast: Thanksgiving
In the United States, we have a holiday that accomplishes this explicitly. It is even called Thanksgiving. Like the Jewish feast days, Thanksgiving is a time when we join together with our community and remember the goodness and kindness of God. We do this historically, remembering what God did in the lives of our ancestors. We do this in our community, recognizing what God has done and is doing in our nation. And we do this personally, cultivating thankfulness in our hearts toward God for His faithfulness.
This Thanksgiving, as you look out over the holiday feast, or even as you microwave a single serving of frozen turkey, take the opportunity to remember and give thanks to God. Take the opportunity to guard your heart against grumbling. Remind those around you of the great things God has done in history and in your life. Practice thankfulness and see how remembering God’s goodness impacts your faith in a positive way.