Public Square

What Can We Learn from the Second Thanksgiving?

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Almost everyone knows the story of the first Thanksgiving. They know of the terrible winter of 1621, in which almost half of the Plymouth Bay Colony died.

They’ve heard about how, with the help of the Native Americans, the colonists planted crops the following spring. By fall they harvested a great bounty. Governor William Bradford called for a celebratory feast. They lived happily ever after…except they didn’t.

The Second Thanksgiving

The colonists struggled through the next year. Many of the men were not motivated to work hard because of the colony’s collective community organization. They failed to plant enough food and experienced another lean winter.

Facing potential starvation, the colony abandoned their communal system. Each family was given their own land on which they could keep everything they grew for themselves. They alone were responsible for feeding themselves, taking to heart Paul’s admonition in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

This change brought dramatic results. More land was cleared. More crops were planted. Everything was going well until summer arrived. Bradford tells how the summer of 1623 was unusually hot with no rain for weeks. Edward Winslow writes a graphic description of the corn in his journal:

Both blade an stalk handing the head and changing the color in such manner as we judged it utterly dead…Now ere our hopes overthrown, and we discouraged, our joy turned into mourning…because God, which hitherto had been out only shield and supporter, now seeded in this anger to ham Himself against us.

Facing impending disaster, Bradford called the colony to a day of “humiliation and prayer.” For the Pilgrims, “humiliation” meant repenting from trusting in their own strength and ability rather than in God.

They prayed all day, but there was not a single cloud in the sky. Yet, near the end of the day, God gave them, Bradford says, “A gracious and speedy answer, both to their own and the Indians’ admiration that lived amongst them.” Bradford goes on to say:

For all the morning and the greatest part of the day, it was clear weather and very hot, and not a cloud or any sign of rain to be seen; yet toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain with such sweet and gentle showers as gave them cause of rejoicing and blessing God…It came without wind or thunder or any violence, and by degrees in that abundance as that the earth was thoroughly wet and soaked … which did so apparently revive and quicken the decayed corn and other fruits as was wonderful to see, and made the Indians astonished to behold.

From that day forward God continued to give them seasonable showers and fair weather such that they enjoyed a fruitful and bountiful harvest in the fall. The harvest was so abundant they ended up with a surplus of corn.

The Pilgrims planned another Thanksgiving celebration to honor God’s gracious provision of answered prayer. This was the second Thanksgiving Day in the New World.

Lessons Learned

There is a lesson to be learned from this story of the second Thanksgiving. We too often forget that the work of our hands is insufficient to achieve the work God has called us to do. “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

This Thanksgiving, let us give ourselves to “humiliation and prayer,” asking God to bless the work of our hands. Let us remember Paul’s admonition to be “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).

We know that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). We are not righteous by ourselves, no matter how good our work is. But we do have a great high priest who intercedes for us in the temple not built by hands. We stand and do our work in the righteousness of his sacrifice.

That is something for which we should be thankful. May God bless the work of our hands.

Editor’s note: From the team at IFWE, Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for your faithful readership. Don’t forget our 50% OFF Thanksgiving Sale starts Black Friday and runs through Cyber Monday. Use code: THANKS50. Preview the sale HERE

On “Flashback Friday,” we publish some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was first published on Nov. 23, 2016.

The header photo is under the CC0 / Public Domain License.

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