The First Thanksgiving

Title: The First Thanksgiving

Bible Book: Leviticus 7 : 11-21

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Thanksgiving



I want to say a few things this morning about the first thanksgiving, and I want to begin with a brief history lesson. According to an article by Dennis Rupert…

Spanish, French, and British colonists held several Thanksgiving services in America before the Pilgrim’s celebration in 1621. Most of these early thanksgivings did not involve feasting. They were religious in nature, i.e. worship services of thankfulness to God.”

Rupert goes on to say…

The (Puritan) Pilgrims set aground at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. … Pilgrim leader William Bradford wrote in his diary that the voyage was motivated by “a great hope for advancing the kingdom of Christ.” (But) their first winter was devastating. Weakened by the seven-week crossing and the need to establish housing, they came down with pneumonia and consumption. They began to die… (And) by the spring, they had lost 46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower.

The Pilgrims obviously needed help and it came from an English-speaking member of the Wampanoag nation, Squanto. Squanto decided to stay with the Pilgrims for the next few months and teach them how to survive. He brought them food and skins, taught them how to cultivate new vegetables and how to build Indian-style houses. He educated the Pilgrims on poisonous plants, medicine, how to get sap from the maple trees, use fish for fertilizer, and dozens of other skills needed for their survival.

The harvest of 1621 was a bountiful one and the remaining colonists decided to celebrate with a feast. The event occurred between September 21 and November 11, 1621. … The settlers asked Squanto and the leader of the Wampanoags, Massasoit, to bring their immediate family and to dine with them. The English had no idea how large Indian families could be and Squanto and Massasoit arrived accompanied by 90 relatives. The feast lasted three days.

We have to go back roughly three and a half centuries to consider the first occasion of Thanksgiving when the Plymouth Pilgrims sat down for a feast with their Indian neighbors in the fall of 1621. However, we have to go back roughly three and a half millennia, or 3500 years, to consider the first occurrence of the word “thanksgiving” in the scripture. In Leviticus 7:12, Moses mentioned a peace offering that is offered “for a thanksgiving.”

The Nelson’s Complete Book Of Bible Maps And Charts points out that there were three types of Peace Offerings:

(1) A Thank Offering (Leviticus 7:12):

To express gratitude for an unexpected blessing or deliverance

(2) A Vow Offering (Leviticus 7:16):

To express gratitude for a blessing or deliverance granted when a vow had accompanied the petition

(3) A Voluntary Offering (Leviticus 7:16):

To express gratitude to God without regard to any specific blessing or deliverance

The vow-offering appears to have been a peace-offering vowed upon a certain condition; the voluntary-offering, one offered as the simple tribute of a devout heart rejoicing in peace with God and man offered on no external occasion. (From Barnes’ Notes) As we think about this Peace Offering of Thanksgiving…

I. Let’s Consider The Focus Of This Thanksgiving Offering

A. The Focus Here Is On Approaching The Presence Of God

1. There Is The Manifestation Of Joining In This Offering

(Leviticus 7:11) And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which he shall offer unto the LORD.

7126. qarab, means to approach (bring near) for whatever purpose. The word is also rendered as “approach, bring (forth, near), to come (near, nigh), to draw near (nigh), go (near), be at hand, join, be near, offer.

2. There Is The Manifestation Of Jehovah In This Offering

(Leviticus 7:11) And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which he shall offer unto the LORD.

3068. Yehovah, means the self-Existent or Eternal; Jeho-vah, Jewish national name of God.

There are two parties involved in thanksgiving. We are not just thankful in general. There is a renderer of thanks and a recipient of thanks.

One of the great themes of Leviticus is approaching God, which is indicated by the frequent use of the term “offer,” meaning, “to approach.” So if the worshipper was to “offer unto the LORD” (vs. 11), then the focus of this thanksgiving offering was approaching the presence of God.

Sweet Savour; Voluntary

The Listing Of The Offering The Lord Of The Offering The Law Of The Offering

The Burnt Offering Leviticus 1:3-17 6:8–13

The Meat / Meal Offering Leviticus 2:1-16 6:14–18; 7:12, 13

The Peace Offering Leviticus 3:1-17 7:11–21, 28-34

Non-Sweet Savour; Compulsory

The Listing Of The Offering The Lord Of The Offering The Law Of The Offering

The Sin Offering Leviticus 4:1–5:13 6:24–30

The Trespass Offering Leviticus 5:14–6:7 7:1-7

A shadow reveals things in an opposite way from how they really appear. The shadows in the Old Testament reveals man offering sacrifices to God, but the substance of the New Testament is that God offered a sacrifice (Christ) to man.

The Light Of The Offering Approaching God In The Old Testament In The New Testament

The Burnt Offering For The Purpose Of Completeness (Colossians 2:10)

(Colossians 2:10) And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

The Meat / Meal Offering For The Purpose Of Consecration (Colossians 1:21-22)

(Colossians 1:21-22) And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled {22} In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:

The Peace Offering For The Purpose Of Communion (Ephesians 2:14)

(Ephesians 2:14) For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;

The Sin Offering For The Purpose Of Change (2 Corinthians 5:21)

(2 Corinthians 5:21) For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

The Trespass Offering For The Purpose Of Cleansing (1 Peter 2:24)

(1 Peter 2:24) Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

(See Sidlow Baxter – Lesson Number 10 for Leviticus)

B. The Focus Here Is On Appreciating The Provisions Of God

1. Notice The Expressions Of Thanksgiving Leviticus 7:12

thanksgiving – Hebrew 8426. towdah, meaning an extension of the hand; by implication it means avowal, or (usually) adoration; specifically by a choir of worshippers.

According to Matthew Henry, a peace offering of thanksgiving was offered “In thankfulness for some special mercy received, such as recovery from sickness, preservation in a journey, deliverance at sea, redemption out of captivity, all which are specified in Psalm 107 (vs. 1,8-9,15-16,31-33) and for them, men are called upon to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving (vs. 21-22).”

(Psalms 107:22) And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing.

2. Notice The Expediency Of Thanksgiving Leviticus 7:15

Leviticus 7:15 tells us that the “peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day that it is offered.” As Andrew Bonar stated, “Israel might hereby be taught to offer thanksgiving while the benefit was still fresh and recent.”

II. Let’s Consider The Feast Of This Thanksgiving Offering

A. Notice The Menu Involved In This Peace Offering

1. There Was A Blood Offering Leviticus 3:1-2,6-8,12-13

Warren Wiersbe noted that “after the priest had completed the sacrifice, a large portion of the meat went to him; the rest went to the offerer, who could then enjoy a feast with his family and friends.” Wiersbe also mentioned that this was “the only offering that was shared with the worshipers.”

2. There Was A Bread Offering

(Leviticus 7:12) If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour, fried.

(Omit vs. 13 for now.)

B. Notice The Meaning Involved In This Peace Offering

1. The Meaning Of The Livestock

As Bishop Perowne said, “We may not always be able to say what the exact relation is between the type and the antitype.” But it seems clear that the animals offered in the peace offering, whether bullock, lamb, or goat, all point to Christ, “For He is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14).

(Colossians 1:20) And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

2. The Meaning Of The Loaves

(John 6:35) And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

The lack of leaven in the cakes and wafers of Leviticus 7:12 further reminds us of Jesus in whom was “no sin” (1 John 3:5). The oil reminds us of the Spirit and the fact that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:38).

III. Let’s Consider The Fellowship Of This Thanksgiving Offering

It’s interesting to note that this peace offering is sometimes called the “fellowship offering.” Again, it was the only offering that was shared with the offerer, when both priest and worshipper became partakers of the remaining portion. And…

A. We Have The Components Of A Suggestive Fellowship In This Offering

Can I remind you that the Bible says in …

(1 Corinthians 11:23-25) … the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: {24} And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. {25} After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

1. This Offering Suggests The Fellowship Of Communion

“In connection with the celebration of the Passover there were two peace-offerings. The former of these is continued in the Lord’s Supper, which is a feast of thanksgiving for God’s greatest gift to men. We should thank God at the sacramental table for all special exhibitions of the Divine goodness.” (G. R. Leavitt from The Biblical Illustrator)

2. This Offering Suggests The Fellowship Of Christ

In this offering alone, we have the combination of unleavened cakes and leavened bread (vs. 12-13), reminding us that the sinless Christ fellowships with the sin-laden creature.

B. We Have The Caution Of A Severed Fellowship In This Offering

In verses 20-21, we’re reminded that continuing sin and uncleanness in the believer’s life brings a limited fellowship, and “that soul shall be cut off from his people.”

1. Continuance In Sin Disrupts Our Spiritual Fellowship that soul shall be cut off (vs. 20)

In the case of a Sabbath-breaker, being “cut off” meant death; but we’re not sure every violation of the laws of the offerings was a capital crime. In some cases, “cut off from his people” could mean being sent “outside the camp” until the person followed God’s instructions for cleansing. (Warren Wiersbe)

(1 Corinthians 11:27-30) Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. {28} But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. {29} For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. {30} For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

(2 Corinthians 7:1) Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

2. Contact With Sin Disrupts Our Spiritual Fellowship that soul shall be cut off (vs. 21)

(2 Corinthians 6:14-17) Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? {15} And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? {16} And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. {17} Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,


It was an amazing thing for the Puritans of the Plymouth colony to sit down and fellowship with the “heathen” Indians of the Wampanoag tribe so many years ago, but even more amazing is that the God of heaven would commune with savage man because Jesus, “having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20), has become our peace offering. In a letter dated December 11, 1621, one of the Pilgrims named Edward Winslow recalled that preparations were made for that first Thanksgiving “so we might after a special manner rejoice together.” He began the letter by saying, “God be praised,” and to that, our thankful hearts can say, “Amen.”

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