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  • Writer's pictureWayne Shelton

The Message of Zephaniah: What’s There to Be Thankful For?

Zephaniah 3:17

In his introduction to the book of Zephaniah, pastor Mark Dever offers a brief introduction to the Thanksgiving Day we enjoy celebrating in November. Because Zephaniah provides a number of truths for which we can be thankful, I adapted Dever’s introduction on Thanksgiving below.

The history of Thanksgiving in the United States is an interesting one. Its roots trace back to the common Christian custom of having special days set aside to praise God for his great blessings. In New England, this Christian custom meshed with the English custom of a harvest day celebration. After the European settlers arrived in Plymouth Colony (now Massachusetts) in 1621 and enjoyed their first harvest following many difficulties, they gave a special feast of thanks. They also invited the local Americans, the Wampanoags. Over the next 150 years, the colonies frequently held such thanksgiving days after the harvest had come in.

In 1782, the Continental Congress declared,

It being the indispensable duty of all nations, not only to offer up their supplications to Almighty God, the giver of all good, for his gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his Providence in their behalf: therefore the United States in Congress assembled… do hereby recommend… the observation of… a day of solemn thanksgiving to God for all his mercies; and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to God for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience to his laws, and by protecting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.

The first national observance of Thanksgiving by presidential proclamation – still our practice today – occurred in November 1789 at the recommendation of President Washington and the U.S. Congress. No regular national celebration of the day occurred in the early 1800s, though increasing numbers of states set such a day in the fall.

As tension in the nation over slavery grew and the country moved toward civil war, the poet and editor Sarah Hale began lobbying tirelessly for a nationally recognized Thanksgiving holiday. But it was not until the height of the Civil War in 1863 that President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November a national day of Thanksgiving. Presidential proclamations from the 1870s until the 1930s did the same.

In 1939, President Roosevelt, trying to help the economy by lengthening the Christmas shopping season, proclaimed the third Thursday in November as a national holiday for Thanksgiving. He did this again in 1940 and 1941 against a good amount of popular controversy over when the country should thank God. Congress then took up the matter and passed a joint resolution in 1941 calling for a compromise. They decreed that thanksgiving should fall not on the third, nor necessarily the last, but the fourth Thursday of November. Ever since, every president has proclaimed Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.

Amid current events, many Americans may wonder what the nation should be thankful for. The ongoing terrorists’ threat upon our soil, and the tensions of superpowers vying for the upper hand by crushing smaller nations. The spree of mass shootings from within our own people. Doubtless many Americans today feel less safe than in years gone by.

In addition to these kinds of worries, some may wonder about theme of thankfulness due to personal worries. Some have worries about money. Others have troubles in their family. Still, some struggle with the question of thankfulness as they wonder if their best days are behind them, or if God has anything good left for them for which they will be able to give thanks in the future.

To help us figure out what we have to be thankful for, we turn to the next book in our series on the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament, the book of Zephaniah. Zephaniah is not called a ‘minor’ prophet because he was unimportant, but because his book is shorter compared to the ‘major’ prophets. We know more about the man Zephaniah than we do mot of the minor prophets, particularly from v1: “The Word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah” (1:1). Why would they all be listed? Well, to show who his great-great-grandfather was – the great king Hezekiah from the previous century.

I hope you can join us as we look at the message of Zephaniah and learn what we have to be thankful for. Perhaps you can invite someone to come along with you. See you Sunday.

For His Glory,

Pastor Wayne

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