The Thanksgiving Whale
Vol: 158 Issue: 27 Thursday, November 27, 2014
The first official Thanksgiving Day proclamation on the US continent was issued on June 20, 1676 by the governing council of the Charlestown settlement in present-day Massachusetts.
The occasion was the continuing existence of the Charlestown settlement, which had the previous winter been very much in doubt.
The first American Thanksgiving proclamation was issued by George Washington. Issued October 3, 1789, it proposed Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a “Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer.”
Over the course of the next seventy-four years, Thanksgiving was observed by different states at different times according to region. There was no unifying, national day of Thanksgiving until Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving.
Lincoln’s proclamation, issued October 3, 1863 was issued during the darkest days of the American Civil War, only weeks after the carnage of Gettysburg and Union losses at Chancellorsville and Chickamauga.
“Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
Lincoln’s proclamation set aside the last Thursday of November as the day that Americans, both at home and abroad, to give thanks to Almighty God for His Mercy and to beg for His aid in preserving the Union.
Lincoln’s proclamation, issued one hundred and forty-seven years ago, was both a proclamation and a prayer. The prayer was for the Union’s preservation. The proclamation was one of thanksgiving for answered prayer, expressing Lincoln’s confidence that God is a prayer-answering God.
The continued preservation of the Union, through the Civil War, two World Wars, the Cold War and two Depressions, stand as living testimony that our God remains a prayer answering God as long as we remain a thanks-giving people.
This is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I also believe that, for America, Thanksgiving Day is the most important holiday of the year.
It all has to do with the Thanksgiving Whale.
Jonah was instructed by God to travel to Nineveh to proclaim judgment against the great city. But Jonah refuses and boards a ship headed the other way for Tarshish.
This is the part when the sea erupts and Jonah finally tells the crew to cast him into the sea before they are all drowned.
Jonah is then miraculously preserved in the belly of a great sea creature (Jonah calls it a fish, but Jesus identifies it as a whale) for three days and three nights.
From inside the whale’s belly, Jonah was (quite understandably) thankful when he realized he wasn’t being digested. That must have been quite a moment.
In his gratitude, he repents and promises to obey God . . . and the sea creature then coughs him up on the shore of Nineveh. That’s the part of the Jonah story that gets all the attention.
And there’s a boatload of symbolism and messianic references and irony and other stuff that gets endlessly debated by scholars. (Not to mention the whale.)
But this is a column about Thanksgiving, not whether or not Jonah was in a fish’s belly or a whale’s belly.
So let’s pick up with Jonah on the beach. . . no doubt doubly thankful for dry land.
“And the Word of the Lord came until Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”
And so Jonah, still faintly smelling like fish, headed off for Nineveh without argument.
When he got there, he preached the message that Nineveh had forty days to live. Forty days. Period. God said so. That was it. No conditional promises were made.
“And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
Unexpectedly (for Jonah, who really despised the Ninevites) the people of Nineveh, the Scripture specifically notes, “believed God” and proclaimed a fast.
“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. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
“But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” (Jonah 3:5-9)
The Bible recounts that God did, of course, turn from His anger and spared Nineveh, which is the part of the story that brings us back to the importance of Thanksgiving to America.
God has already spared America – He did so when the nation was in peril of its survival unlike any time before or since. Think about it.
Had the Union been pulled asunder and the Confederacy established, the America of today would likely be a small, unimportant republic dominated by British Canada and the Dominion of the Southern Confederacy; surrounded by other small, relatively unimportant republics like Texas and California.
And so every year, on the last Thursday in November, we give thanks, by national proclamation, “to Almighty God for His aid in preserving the Union.”
Because every year that we have, He did. And I am thankful for that.
Every Thanksgiving, I realize that have more to be thankful for than I had the year before.
I am thankful beyond measure for each of you, my brothers and sisters of our Omega Letter Fellowship. You are my treasured friends and my most powerful supporters. Your prayers can move mountains — and they have.
Our forums are filled with testimonials to the power of our prayers, one for another. Your prayers for me are like an umbrella under which I regularly retreat for comfort and safety.
I am grateful beyond measure for those prayers, the power of which have been demonstrated to me so often and so dramatically that I would be terrified to contemplate a day without them. Thank you all for that.
Thank you for sharing your love and your friendship with me and with each other in our forums. It sustains me in ways I could never express.
Thank you for the support and the challenges and the comments you take the time to share in the daily Omega Letter forums. Thank you all for the undeserved respect you afford me there. It is a wonderful place of refreshing that I could not bear to be without.
Thank You, Father, for Your Son. Thank You for our victory in Jesus. Thank You for our country and what remains of our freedom. Thank You for the hope for America that each Thanksgiving Day represents.
Thank You for answered Prayer.
Happy Thanksgiving Day, my beloved friends and family. Enjoy your families and your friends and your freedoms. Enjoy what God has given you.
God bless us every one. And may God continue to bless America.
Featured Commentary: Thanksgiving and What It Means to Me ~ J.L. Robb