Holiday literally means “holy day.” Some holidays in biblical times were occasions to thank God for the harvest, while others praised God for His hand in historic events. These holidays included Passover, Pentecost and Purim.
Today, we embrace many holidays, from Christmas to Easter. Even national holidays like Thanksgiving can be holy days dedicated to the Holy One. Gerhard E. Frost said, “Let us give thanks for Someone to thank.” What does Thanksgiving mean to you?
Our friend Christy said, “Up. Happy. Can’t wait.”
Barb, the Martha Stewart type, said, “Stressed.”
Barb’s husband said, “Memories.” Apparently Barb’s stress makes the holidays memorable.
One friend said, “Sad,” because a loved one will be missed.
Surprisingly, no one said “thankful.” Thanksgiving doesn’t come naturally. Therefore, America’s leaders ordered Thanksgiving by proclamation. In 1621, Gov. William Bradford wrote the first Thanksgiving proclamation to give thanks to God for bringing them to the new land. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln instituted the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving didn’t come naturally for the Israelites, either. God instilled it supernaturally. Biblically, thanksgiving glorifies God for His mighty works and overflows from a grateful heart. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord. … For You, Lord, have made me glad through Your work” (Psalm 92:1, 4). Only with Jesus’ help can we “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God” (Hebrews 13:15). If your thanksgiving has felt contrived, it can be revived by God’s Holy Spirit.
Lift Up …
Lord, I dedicate my life to You. Please help me to be thankful so I may proclaim Your praises to the whole world. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Look At …
Read Nehemiah 12:27, 30-31, 38, 40, 42-43.
Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. … Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall. So I [Nehemiah] brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall, and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs. One went to the right hand on the wall toward the Refuse Gate.
… The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way, and I was behind them with half of the people on the wall. … So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God, likewise I and the half of the rulers with me. … The singers sang loudly with Jezrahiah the director. Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.
Our text shows that once the walls were rebuilt, the work ceased and the worshipers gathered. Before the Israelites glorified God they purified themselves. Jerusalem gathered for three reasons: to step out in faith upon the rebuilt walls; to sing out praises to God for His finished work; and to shout out a witness that the watching world could know their God was the one, true God.
To discover the recurring themes in Nehemiah 12, note the repetitive words. First, circle the words joy and rejoicing. Second, underline the word thanksgiving. Finally, highlight the words that have to do with singing or music.
- Describe the ways the Levites celebrated the dedication of Jerusalem’s wall.
- Explain how they prepared for the celebrations and why.
- Recount how the thanksgiving choirs made their way around Jerusalem.
- What is the key topic in the last sentence, and who caused this expression?
- List those who rejoiced. Who else heard the celebration?
Live Out …
- The Israelites dedicated their city, homes and families to God. So can you. Before celebration came purification. Personalize this purification prayer for your city, home and family: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
- Next, the people praised God together. Gather your family for a drive around the city or a walk around your home to sing praises to God. Who will overhear you, and what impact could it have?
- True celebration comes from the heart of God. List the things that you are thankful for this season. No matter the circumstance, how has God made you joyful?
All the world loves a parade, and so does God. Noah watched the animals parade onto the ark two-by-two. While escaping Egyptian bondage, the Hebrews marched toward the Promised Land. In Canaan, Joshua and the people formed a procession with trumpets blaring, and the walls came tumbling down. And those who returned from captivity with Ezra and Nehemiah paraded atop the city walls with songs and musical instruments.
Contemporary parades look quite different from their biblical predecessors. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the largest, with giant cartoon-character balloons, elaborate floats and joyful marching bands. Originally, Macy’s Department Store employees were first-generation immigrants proud of their new American citizenship. They longed to celebrate Thanksgiving with a festival similar to their parents from Europe.
Believers possess dual citizenship. On Earth, we may enjoy the spectacle of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but we long for the Savior’s ultimate procession. Like Nehemiah, before joining this heavenly celebration we must be “purified with blood” (Hebrews 9:22) for the remission of sins. On that joyful day, “with the trumpet of God,” the saints will come marching in (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Lenya Heitzig is a Bible teacher and author. She and her husband, Skip, started Calvary of Albuquerque, N.M., one of the fastest growing churches in the country.
Penny Rose is also a Bible teacher and is a co-author of several Bible studies, including the “Fresh Life Bible Study Series,” which she wrote with Lenya.