I led the devotional at my home church Wednesday evening, November 25 – ambitiously choosing to do a survey of the History of Thanksgiving … without even getting to American history; just sticking to the Bible. My next few posts will summarize the main points.
Cain and Abel offer gifts before God, evidently having heard dad Adam and mom Eve speak of hearing God walking in the garden in the cool of the day and reasoning that a God who could take a form which enjoys walking might also enjoy eating. Scripture doesn’t record either God or their parents requiring them to do so. I believe that, knowing God was Lord of all His creation – giving growth as well as life – they made these offerings out of the thankfulness in their hearts.
Cain offered “some” of the fruits of the soil. Abel offered the fat portions of the firstborn of his flock – the ones he had known longest; which had, in a world with few people, been most familiar and most dear.
So the first references to that root word “thank” in scripture are about thank offerings and how to offer them. And they emphasize that both the meat sacrifices (Abel) and grain sacrifices (Cain) were acceptable and to be appreciated.
The sons of Adam and descendants for generations afterward offered these gifts to God out of the gratitude of their hearts until Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his own son Isaac, something which – in spite of any reasoning that God could raise him to life again (Hebrews 11:19) – almost certainly could not have been done out of gratitude. So God put a stop to it, and provided out of the bounty of His creation a ram with horns caught in the brush (Genesis 22:13). The next verse adds: “So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.'”
This centuries-long chain of thank offerings leads me to believe that the first kind of thanksgiving that people celebrated – recognizing God’s bounty – was most pleasing to Him when celebrated from the heart.