November 21, 2021

Learning about Thanksgiving from the Psalms

Passage: Psalm 100

Note: the first couple words of the message are clipped off at the beginning of the recording.


The Pilgrims set sail for America on September 6, 1620, and for two months braved the harsh elements of a storm-tossed sea. Upon disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they held a prayer service and then hastily began building shelters. However, unprepared for such a harsh New England winter, nearly half of them died before spring. Emerging from that grueling winter, the Pilgrims were surprised when an Indian named Samoset approached them and greeted them in their own language. A week later, Samoset returned with a friend named Squanto, who lived with the Pilgrims and accepted their Christian faith. Squanto taught the Pilgrims much about how to live in the New World, and he and Samoset helped forge a long-lasting peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. Pilgrim Governor William Bradford described Squanto as “a special instrument sent of God for [our] good.”

That summer, the Pilgrims, still persevering in prayer and assisted by helpful Indians, reaped a bountiful harvest. As Pilgrim Edward Winslow (later to become the Governor) affirmed, “God be praised, we had a good increase of corn; … by the goodness of God, we are far from want.” The grateful Pilgrims therefore declared a three-day feast in December 1621 to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends.

Ninety Wampanoag Indians joined the fifty Pilgrims for three days of feasting, [friendly competition], and prayer. This celebration and its accompanying activities were the origin of the holiday that Americans now celebrate each November.[1]

Most of us are probably familiar with the historical origins of the American Thanksgiving holiday. But the idea of giving thanks to God for his benefits goes back thousands of years. The Pilgrims knew that thanksgiving is a biblical virtue, and they practiced that virtue often. Giving thanks to God ought to be a normal part of our lives. We find the command to give thanks to God throughout the Bible. And it’s also biblical to set aside special occasions to focus on giving thanks to God for his blessings. Today, I’d like to look at several passages from the Psalms that talk about thanksgiving.

The words “thanks” and “thanksgiving” are found in the Psalms about 30 times in our English translation of the Bible. In the Hebrew language, there is not much difference between “thanks” and “praise.” For example, the same Hebrew word (יָדָה‎) translated at “praise” (53x) is translated as “give thanks” (32x). Likewise, another Hebrew word (תּוֹדָה‎) is translated at “thanksgiving” (18x) and as “praise” (6x). So the concepts of praise and thanksgiving are pretty well interchangeable/synonymous in Hebrew thought. We praise God by giving thanks to him.

Let’s consider several things the Psalms tell us about thanksgiving.

[1] David Barton, “Celebrating Thanksgiving in America.”

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