I was thrilled the day I discovered a by-the-way comment in Nehemiah, about choirs. I’m a choir director, you see. I have the most wonderful little choir. They show up smiling at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings. They let me boss them, and make them sing the same four measures over and over (and over) until the sound pleases me. They, all ten or fifteen of them, depending, and one very small mascot who has his own tiny chair and never makes a peep (yet! I’ll get him singing one of these days!), I say they make the most glorious music, beyond all reasonable expectation. And don’t even get me started on our beloved accompanist. But, oh yes, Nehemiah. Here’s the verse: “The custom of having choir directors to lead the choirs in hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God began long ago in the days of David and Asaph.” That’s Nehemiah 12:46 NLT. Is that cool or what? We choir directors have been around for a really, really long time.
Nehemiah, remember, led the final group of Jews back to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. He got permission from the Persian king (whom he served as cupbearer) to lead his people home. Once there, he encouraged, exhorted and supervised his countrymen in rebuilding the wall around the city. When it was finished, he appointed two large thanksgiving choirs, who sang from atop the city wall! Too cool. Okay, now it’s time to relate this story to Thanksgiving Day, which is my whole excuse for telling it to you.
In the Old Testament, a couple of Hebrew words are translated “thanksgiving.” Both of them include the idea of giving thanks and praise to God, and the idea of confession. Should I repeat that? Thanksgiving, in the OT, included the idea of confession of sin, and by implication, repentance.
Interestingly, President Abraham Lincoln included the same idea in his Proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1863. He recommended that everyone praise the Father for his blessings and mercies, and “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience” ask him to help those who were suffering because of the war, and to heal the wounds of the nation.
It might not be a bad idea this Thanksgiving Day, for us to focus on praising the Father for his blessings and mercies, and also to confess our sins and failures both personal and national. Then, forgiven and motivated to walk straight and talk true, we can do some New Testament thanksgiving (in Greek, eucharistia) which just means giving thanks, without the confession/repentance aspect. Crack open Revelation chapter seven to see angels, living creatures, and elders worshiping God with pure joy and praise and thanksgiving, with no need of confession or any consideration of sin at all. I sure look forward to the day when I will never again fall short of the mark, and thus have nothing to confess and repent from. I’m deeply thankful to know that that day in my life has been written in God’s book since before I was born.
Now go plan your Thanksgiving dinner. Make a centerpiece or something. And give thanks to God, for He is good!