Deuteronomy 8:2 – And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
Thanksgiving is a time of remembering. The tradition of Thanksgiving has always been to take time out to remember God’s care and provision for us and thank Him. The Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. They remembered and gave thanks. They remembered the Mayflower voyage which brought them to a new home. They remembered the hard winter of 1620 which took the lives of half their group. They remembered the good spring and good harvest of 1621. They remembered the peace they had attained with the Indians. They remembered all the trials as well as the good things and gave thanks to the Lord. They remembered all the way that God had led them.
The Pilgrims followed the scriptural pattern of thanksgiving. They not only looked forward to their promising future, but they looked backward with thanksgiving. The scriptural pattern of thanksgiving is seen in Deuteronomy 8 as it was given to Israel long ago. The setting was the east side of the Jordan River with the people of Israel preparing to enter Palestine. God had forged Israel into a nation in the furnace of Egypt. The Lord led His people out of that land of bondage and through the wilderness toward the promised land. Israel was delayed from entering Palestine because of their unbelief and rebellion, and they wandered in the wilderness for forty long years. But now, in Deuteronomy 8, the people of Israel were on the threshold of their new home. Amid all the excitement and preparation for crossing the Jordan River the people were given a few solemn sermons. These sermons are what Deuteronomy is all about! The words were spoken by Moses, but they came directly from the Lord. Israel was commanded never to forget the past when they looked toward the future. When they entered and experienced the blessings of the new land (vs7-9) they were always to thankfully remember all the way the Lord had led them (vs10-18).
The scriptural pattern of thanksgiving is still to be followed today by the growing Christian. We are to remember all the way the Lord has led us. We are not only to experience what the Lord is doing for us in the present and look forward with anticipation to what He has done for us in the future, but we are to remember His ways with us in the past. And the implication of Deuteronomy 8 and the rest of Scripture is that we are always to remember with thanksgiving. (See Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and Philippians 4:6.) Is it possible to give thanks without remembering? Is it right to remember without giving thanks? All Christians should often take time out to remember with thanks all the way God has led.
We are to remember our beginnings. In verse 14 we see that Israel was not to forget their deliverance from slavery in the land of Egypt. They were to remember their miraculous beginnings. Without the gracious and sovereign intervention of the Lord they were a doomed people. Israel was to remember their exodus from 400 years in bondage–the providential leadership of Moses–the plagues that God brought upon their slave-masters. They were to remember the crossing of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army. The people of Israel were always to remember the God of their beginnings and give thanks.
Like Israel, growing Christians are not to forget their roots. Let us not forget how God brought us out of darkness and death and into light and life. (See 1 Peter 2:9 and Ephesians 2:1-5.) Think of the intricate web of circumstances and experiences (even unpleasant ones) that God wove together to bring us to salvation in Christ. Let us remember to thank the Lord specifically for Christian parents or faithful teachers or Christian friends that God used in our beginnings. When was the last time you thanked God specifically for a person He used in your beginnings as a Christian? We should not just pray for present problems or future plans. Every Christian is commanded to remember with thanksgiving the God of our beginnings.
We are also to remember our blessings. Israel was not only to think of all the blessings to come (vs7-9); they were to remember the blessings of the past in the wilderness (vs3-4). For 40 years the Lord had supernaturally provided for His people. He literally sent them bread from heaven and water from rocks. He kept their clothes and sandals from wearing out for 40 years (Deuteronomy 29:5)! Talk about miracles! The Lord used these blessings to humble and test His people, as we’ll discuss below, but they were blessings none-the-less. (See Nehemiah 9:20-21 in this connection.) Israel was to remember all these blessings of the past and give thanks.
Do we remember to thank the Lord for all His past blessings? Or are we too busy to remember? “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2). We have a responsibility to take time out to reflect on how the Lord has blessed us, and then to thank Him specifically for all these blessings. This should not be a 30-second ritualistic “thanks for good health and good weather” type prayer. Have we ever thanked the Lord for the blessing of living in a country where we can openly buy a Bible and read it? Have we ever given thanks for the fact that we are probably more blessed with food and clothes and leisure time than over (billions) of other people? A little reflection on this will not only result in thanks to the Lord but may change our whole outlook and lifestyle before the Lord. Have we ever told the Lord how thankful we are that He has preserved and protected us from the crime and corruption in this world? And what about our spiritual blessing? Read Ephesians 1:3-14 and see how many spiritual blessings you’ve forgotten to thank the Lord for recently! As the old hymn says, we should “count our blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise us what the Lord has done”.
Finally, we are to remember our beatings. Now the word “beatings” was chosen not only because it begins with the letter “b” for the alliterated outline (!), but also because it conveys the idea of discipline. God does not vent His wrath on us with a club or a whip, or anything like that, but He does discipline us as sons (Deuteronomy 8:5). Our heavenly father disciplines us out of love, and sometimes that discipline must come by way of a beating–a spanking! (See Hebrews 12:5-11 and particularly verse 6.) Israel certainly received more than a few slaps on the wrist out there in the wilderness! Even the way God provided for His people in the wilderness was a form of discipline, as verse 5 tells us. The way in which God led Israel in the wilderness was purposely designed to humble them and test them and expose their hearts (v2). He let them get hungry and thirsty. Why? To cause them to look to Him and learn that physical food alone is not sufficient for life; there must be that constant diet of spiritual food–the Word of God (verse 3).
Although the Lord purposely let His people get hungry and thirsty, He did not let them die of starvation or dehydration. He fed them with manna from heaven and water from the flint rock (vs 3, 15-16). Note that it was not home-baked bread (the typical kind that “the fathers knew”) or water from wells which they had dug. No! It was bread from heaven and water from a most unlikely source–hard solid rock! Why? To “force” them to realize that although God was humbling them and testing them, He was caring for them and He was providing for them and He was thinking of the best for them in the end (v16). But He was doing it in such a way that they could never say (even when they had inherited all the wealth of the promised land) that they had pulled off the Exodus and the “wilderness march” and the Conquest by their own power and strength (vs17-18). Yes, Israel was to remember all the way the Lord had led them–especially the discipline.
The application of this to the growing Christian hardly needs elaboration. Like the “children” of Israel, we growing Christians have to be constantly disciplined too (even a few spankings!) in order to shape up and look up! The Lord purposely permits us to go through hard times “in the wilderness” to humble us and test us and know what is in our hearts–not just what is in our heads! Hard financial times or hard family times or hard “failure” times can all be used of God to humble us and “force” us to look to Him in dependence. The Lord cares and He does provide for all that we need–not necessarily all that we want! He fed Israel with manna–not steak. He gave them long-lasting clothes–not the latest styles. He took them through the great and terrible wilderness with its snakes and scorpions (v15)–not along the Mediterranean beaches! So the Lord deals with us in discipline. Many times His discipline is unpleasant and not easy to take (Hebrews 12:11) and often misunderstood, but our best interests are always in view (v16 and Hebrews 12:10). Because of this we are to remember with thanksgiving our beatings.
This Thanksgiving, let us remember all the way the Lord has led us.