Thanksgiving was established as a national holiday in the United States by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The roots of the holiday can be traced back to 1621, when the Pilgrims offered a prayer of thanks before their meal with members of the Wampanoag Tribe. The Pilgrims were grateful for their first harvest in the New World—and for their Native American neighbors who helped make it possible. The momentous occasion is often referred to as “the first Thanksgiving.”
That would likely come as a surprise to certain Bible characters who gave thanks to God in memorable ways thousands of years before the Pilgrims arrived in the New World. These men and women demonstrated the kind of gratitude that pleases God—and perhaps inspires others.
One of the pinnacles of David’s reign was the arrival of the ark of the covenant—God’s dwelling place among His people—in Jerusalem. David was so grateful to the Lord for allowing the ark to be transported to Jerusalem that he could barely contain himself.
Second Samuel 6:14 says he “danced before the Lord with all his might.” Two verses later, he’s described as “leaping and whirling before the Lord.” His display of thankfulness was so exuberant that his wife chided him for celebrating in a manner unbefitting a king. David refused to let her spoil his thanksgiving.
“It was before the Lord,” he explained. “Therefore, I will play music before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight” (see 2 Samuel 6:21-22).
(1 Samuel 1:1–2:10)
A man named Elkanah had two wives: Peninnah, who bore him sons and daughters, and Hannah, who was barren. Hannah’s inability to bear children devastated her—and made her an easy target for Peninnah’s taunts.
Once a year Elkanah made the journey to the tabernacle in Shiloh to worship and offer sacrifices. And every year Hannah accompanied him. She spent her time there deep in prayer, begging God to open her womb.
Her cries of anguish were so intense that on one occasion, Eli, the priest at Shiloh, chastised her because he thought she was drunk. After Hannah explained her plight, Eli said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him” (1 Samuel 1:17).
God answered Hannah’s prayers and granted her the desire of her heart. She gave birth to a son and named him Samuel.
We don’t have to imagine the joy Hannah experienced or the gratitude she felt toward God. Her exuberant prayer of thanksgiving in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 expresses her feelings quite vividly.
The Samaritan Leper
Jesus was passing through a village in Samaria when He encountered a group of ten men who suffered from leprosy. The men cried out for Jesus to have mercy on them. Jesus heard their cries and healed them. He instructed the men to show themselves to the local priests so that they could be ceremonially cleansed.
The men did as they were instructed, and then nine of them went their separate ways. Perhaps they left to celebrate their healing. Perhaps they intended to share the good news with their loved ones. Perhaps they were just eager to rejoin society and begin their new lives.
The tenth leper likely had similar plans. But he had something else to do first. According to Luke 17:15-16, he “returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at [Jesus’] feet, giving Him thanks.”
Jesus was moved by the man’s response, which must have been almost as rewarding to the man as the healing itself. Because he went the extra mile to express his thankfulness, the tenth leper was able to connect with the Lord in a profound way.