James 5:1 (KJV) Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving by Arno Froese - Part 1

Thanksgiving - Part I 

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From Dependence on God to Dependence on Man. Thanksgiving for the people of Israel involved much more than a one-day celebration.

“And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field” (Exodus 23:16).

Thanksgiving for the people of Israel involved much more than a one-day celebration. Thanksgiving, in plain words, means acknowledging God for granting crops to grow and harvest.

Ancient Thanksgiving
It is not our intention to research ancient festivals related to giving thanks to a deity for a bountiful harvest. However, we will point to a few to show that it is quite normal for man to thank God for food.

An amazing volume of information is available on the internet relating to ancient Thanksgiving feasts:

First Thanksgiving in Ancient Greece
The Greeks held this festival over three days in the month of Pyanopsion, or October. Many of the rituals of this festival were kept secret, but scholars know some of the customs. A good part of the Thesmophoria was conducted in torchlight…While the Greeks gave thanks that Demeter gave a good harvest so they would not starve in the winter during this time, it is in large part a fertility festival carried out by free, married women to ensure the fertility of the earth as well as of humans and animals. However, it seems that during the Thesmophoria the people also gave their wishes that Demeter would bring a good harvest again.

The Roman Thanksgiving Celebration
The Romans held a similar festival to the Greeks. In Rome, the goddess of grain was named Ceres and her festival was called Cerelia. This holiday was also held in early October, possible a bit earlier than the Greek Thesmophoria. The first fruits of the harvest were offered to Ceres in honor and thanks. Unlike the Greeks, the Romans included music, parades, games, and a big feast in their celebration.

God Gives Food
All celebrations relating to Thanksgiving for food originate with the realization that God gives food. That is why believers, even today, give thanks to God before they eat their meal.

At the very beginning, God provided food for man, “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat”  (Genesis 1:29). Needless to say, man before he fell into sin was designed by God to be a vegetarian. However, thereafter God said, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things” (Genesis 9:3).

overflow2It is God who gives life and it is God who sustains life. That fact today is virtually ignored in the scientific world. Man has achieved so many marvelous things and produces so much food that there is an overabundance available in most countries of the world. Nevertheless, that does not change the fact that man totally depends on God’s grace to send rain so vegetation can grow to feed man and animals. But in general, man does not acknowledge that simple fact.

It matters not what part of the world, or what type of religious belief; most publicly and openly confess that life depends on a good harvest and that God (or in most cases, idols) is responsible for granting us sustenance for life.

God or Science?
Belief in the supernatural, belief in the divine—regardless of whether pagan or believing in the living God who created heaven and earth—this inherent belief was fundamental but is now being replaced by so-called scientific facts and technology.

Take, for example, the English naturalist Charles Robert Darwin, born 12 February 1809, died 19 April 1882, educated at Christ College, Cambridge (1828-1831). He is credited to be one of the most famous originators of a theory called evolution. No scientist since that time has presented a foolproof scientific case proving that evolution is a science. Yet, without exception, the whole academic world teaches evolution as a scientific fact, while in reality it is based primarily on faith.

human2We acknowledge the many achievements of science, its understanding of the intricate functions of life in plants, animals, and man. But the more man learns how God created things, the more he becomes independent from God. That is today’s natural process; away from God, closer to self. The better we can explain our world geologically and topographically, and understand the multi-functioning and interconnected operations of planet Earth, the less we need the Bible and the Author of Holy Scripture, the Creator of all things. That is the sad fact.

Nebuchadnezzar Example
Let us now take a closer look at FAITH in the Bible.

In Daniel chapter 2, we find world history recorded in 49 verses. The king had a dream. No one could interpret that dream because the king had forgotten what he dreamed. Then came Daniel on the scene; he prayed to God and verse 19 says, “Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.” This rather peculiar dream consisted of an image made out of gold, silver, brass, and iron.

King Nebuchadnezzar is special. He is the gold medalist of Gentile rulership; thus, we read, “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory” (verse 37).

This statement is strange because in our time we look down on the primitive nations which were ruled by rude dictators. True from human perspectives, but not from heavenly because Nebuchadnezzar is the superior leader of the Gentile world, “Thou art this head of gold.” We must keep that in mind even when analyzing our world today.

Nebuchadnezzar Believed
Daniel’s interpretation, which he had received from God and passed on to the king, must have touched the soul of Nebuchadnezzar, “The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret” (Daniel 2:47). What a tremendous statement by the first Gentile world leader, “your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings.” Nebuchadnezzar converted, but not to a living faith.

The next chapter begins with Nebuchadnezzar building an image, not according to the dream, but according to his own imagination, “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon” (Daniel 3:1). Nebuchadnezzar is the recipient of the blessing of God: he is the “head of gold.” He even recognized the God of heaven, yet that was apparently not enough; he needed more, so he created his own image of gold. The purpose—all had to worship the image.

daniel32Most of us are familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were thrown in the fiery furnace but came out untouched. Again, the king recognizes God, “Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God”  (Daniel 3:28). For the second time, Nebuchadnezzar recognized God—but did not KNOW Him.

God Must Know Me
It is not sufficient to know God, but God must know you. This fact is particularly fitting for our days, when multiple millions follow the Christian religion, praise Jesus, do great works, even miracles. But that is not sufficient. We find the record in Matthew 7, where believers in the Lord Jesus do many wonderful works, cast out devils, prophesy in the name of Jesus, yet they have never attempted to really know this Jesus. Subsequently, Jesus did not know them. We read this shocking verse, “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23). The words, “I never knew you” clearly show that Jesus must know me personally after I have known Him.
In Nebuchadnezzar’s case, it was obvious that he only recognized God based on his experience, but went no further.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Conversion
His downfall began when he gave credit to himself instead of to the God of heaven; thus, we read, “The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30).

That is precisely what is happening today in our modern world. It’s “I,” “me,”  “my.” In other words, we have achieved great things; we have become independent from God.

Nebuchadnezzar had to be debased to the level of an animal. Finally, his testimony concluded, “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase” (Daniel 4:37). That is the reason Nebuchadnezzar is the greatest Gentile leader—the head of gold.

Sailors Believed
From the Book of Jonah, we learn of the faith of the pagan sailors. When Jonah went aboard the ship on his way to Tarshish, instead of Nineveh, God sent a great storm. We read, “Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.  So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not” (Jonah 1:5-6). The shipmaster surely believed that this storm was subject to a higher power; thus, he challenged Jonah, “What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God.”

Many tens of thousands of ships sail the oceans every day; all rely upon the technology created by man. When there is a storm, they are relatively sure in which area and, in most cases, they will avoid it. But no captain would tell the passengers to call upon God. When the ship is in trouble, the “shipmaster” calls the Coast Guard.

Also, it is interesting that Jonah “was fast asleep.” In the midst of this mighty storm, Jonah is resting, sleeping. We realize Jonah’s absolute faith in the Living God. He certainly knew God personally.

Nineveh Believed God
Jonah got a second chance; thus we read in Jonah 3:1, “And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time….”

What happens next is absolutely amazing. Jonah comes to Nineveh and begins to proclaim a simple message, “yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Surely no one in their right mind would take seriously a person proclaiming imminent destruction. But the people of Nineveh did.

How did the people know that Jonah was sent by God? They were idol worshiping pagans. We do not know how he looked after having spent three days and three nights in a fish, which spit him out on the land. He certainly must have appeared strange to the people of Nineveh. There is no record as to how long he traveled. We do know that he arrived in Nineveh and preached.

What was their reaction?

“So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5). There is no second guessing here; the people believed God. They believed the prophet who spoke in the name of God. They did not consult any of their idols, prognosticators, or soothsayers, but they simply “believed God,” the Bible says.

Man Depends on Technology
That would be out of the question today. Most religions are segregated, and one would definitely not listen to the others. Besides, today we have sophisticated systems, being able to communicate instantaneously around planet Earth at any time. Religion, faith in the Living God, or even faith in idols, is no longer decisive because we have technology to inform us about anything happening the world over. At this point in time, there are thousands of scientists working on ways to forecast earthquakes. Man in his quest for more knowledge will continue to eagerly investigate details about God’s creation, but without acknowledging Him.

Politicians Believe
Here in Nineveh, it’s not only the people but also the political authorities as well. Jonah did not need to go to the palace asking for permission to speak, or request an audience with the king. The people of Nineveh told the king the things Jonah proclaimed: “For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes” (Jonah 3:6).

Believing in a higher power was as natural as eating bread and drinking water. Atheists apparently had not come on the scene yet.

Philistines Believed
Another example in the Bible showing faith in the divine is recorded in Judges 16. It was during the time Samson judged Israel. A man with supernatural strength, but in the end, he was deceived by a woman and captured by his enemies the Philistines. Here is what we read in verses 23-24, “Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.  And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us.” The Philistines gave credit to “Dagon their god” for capturing Samson the Israelite.

The Philistines believed in a higher power.  

Syrians Believed
Another event that needs to be mentioned relates to the king of Syria, the enemy of Israel. Benhadad had gathered a mighty army with 32 kings allied to him. The destruction of Samaria was all but assured.

Then comes the prophet and makes this announcement to King Ahab, “Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou seen all this great multitude? behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD”  (1 Kings 20:13). King Ahab was rightfully frightened and discouraged, therefore he astonishingly asked, “By whom?” The prophet answered, “Thus saith the Lord, even by the young men of the princes of the provinces.” How many were there? “Then he numbered the young men of the princes of the provinces, and they were two hundred and thirty two: and after them he numbered all the people, even all the children of Israel, being seven thousand” (1 Kings 20:15). A great multitude against a handful of only 7,232 men. There was no hope for Israel to win against the Syrians’ superiority. But verses 20-21 record a different story: “And they slew every one his man: and the Syrians fled; and Israel pursued them: and Benhadad the king of Syria escaped on an horse with the horsemen. And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter.”

After Syria was defeated, we read the following: “And the servants of the king of Syria said unto him, Their gods are gods of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they” (verse 23).

The Syrians most certainly believed in a higher power and the power of their gods.

There is no doubt whatsoever the servants, advisers, princes, counselors, priests and kings, all believed that Israel’s “gods are gods of the hills.” They were fully convinced that the ultimate authority was to be found in the invisible world. In this case, they gave the “gods of the hills” the credit.

One year later, Benhadad was ready to fight Israel again. The unequal challenge is documented in verse 27, “And the children of Israel pitched before them like two little flocks of kids; but the Syrians filled the country.” And the outcome? “And they pitched one over against the other seven days. And so it was, that in the seventh day the battle was joined: and the children of Israel slew of the Syrians an hundred thousand footmen in one day” (verse 29).

We must take note of the reason for the defeat of the Syrians, “…Because the Syrians have said, The Lord is God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys” (verse 28).

While King Ahab and Israel deserved just punishment, victory is recorded nevertheless. The reason? The Syrians insulted the God of Israel.

Collective Judgment
This should be a lesson to each of us, regardless of what your fellow man does or does not do, particularly your fellow Christians. Be very cautious when using judgment against anyone in the family of God you dislike—you are touching God. He has saved that person, cleansed him with the blood of His Son, and called him His own. Whenever we blanketly judge a group of people, we are also judging His children, who are among the ones we may call our enemies.

It has become popular lately to blanketly condemn all Arab and Islamic people, but by doing so, we are condemning His children as well. We must not forget there are many Christians in the Muslim world. Here the words apply, “For he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:8). The honor of God is at stake. When we blanketly denounce a group of people, we touch the apple of His eye.                                            

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