Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789
By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions…”; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
I draw your attention again to that first sentence: “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits…” Webster defines “benefit” as:
1: archaic : an act of kindness : benefaction.
2a: something that promotes well-being : advantage.
2b: useful aid : help.
3a: financial help in time of sickness, old age, or unemployment. 3b: a payment or service provided for under an annuity, pension plan, or
3c: a service (as health insurance) or right (as to take vacation time) provided
by an employer in addition to wages or salary.
4: an entertainment or social event to raise funds for a person or cause.
In the modern world, we usually associate benefits with the item 3c: “a service (as health insurance) or right (as to take vacation time) provided by an employer in addition to wages or salary”. But the ancient world thought a little differently.
In the 103rd Psalm (verses 1-5), we read:
1Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits - 3who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Here the word translated “benefits” is the Hebrew word “gə·mū·lāw”, which best translates as “repayment, recompense”, or “that which is given in payback”. It comes from the root word “gaw-mal‘”, meaning “to ripen”.
The agrarian/pastoral setting in which this word originated had to do with someone planting a crop and then nurturing it until it came to fruition. The payback was the ripened fruit or seed, which provided the benefit.
Accordingly, we are here shown the true grace of God. For the Bible affirms that if we received what payback we deserved, we would be in trouble indeed.
The Apostle Paul admonished the Galatians to remember this. In chapter 6, verses 7-8, he writes:
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Earlier, Paul had asserted to the Romans (chapter 3, verses 10 and 23) that “There is no one righteous, not even one…” and again “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The Apostle James goes further (chapter 1, verses 14-15), reminding us of the consequence of sinfulness:
“Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
Thus, Paul states in (Romans 6:15-23):
15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There, in verse 22, is that word “benefit” again. This time, it is a New Testament Greek term, “karpon”, which mirrors the Old Testament Hebrew term in that it translates as “fruit”.
Praise God therefore that we have received, not what we deserved in payback from God, which would be death; but rather we have received the payback of life, which we do not deserve, but which comes from the grace and beneficence of Almighty God!
And as a result of the abundant grace of God, we enjoy a whole host of benefits. Many of these are delineated by the Psalmist (in 103:1-5 above): our sins are forgiven, our diseases are healed, our lives are redeemed from the pit, our heads are crowned with God’s love and compassion, our desires are satisfied with good things, and our youth is renewed!
There is little doubt that Congress and President Washington had such things in mind when they admonished us to set aside time for thanksgiving. May we heed that call! May we take time to acknowledge what James has told us (in chapter 1, verse 17) in the New Testament and remember that: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights...”
In short, may we celebrate honest and sincere “Thanksgiving” this day!