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This is the 2nd of a 3-part series for Thanksgiving, 2011.  

“Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers” (1 Chronicles 16:7). 

We rarely read 1 and 2 Chronicles as part of our devotional diet but they sum up the story of Israel, beginning with Adam (1 Chronicles 1:1) and concluding with the nation’s return from exile. This history is written looking back over the many years of God’s direction and dealings with His people. 1 Chronicles 16:7-36 (you will need to read it for yourself) occupies a pivotal place in this entire drama. David’s psalm was composed for the musicians of Israel to perform during this great time of thanksgiving and celebration – the return of the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence with His people. 

So, what is the context of this song within this documentary of Israel’s history? Or, more precisely, what is the “that day” we read of in 16:7? As discussed in the previous post, it is a song which was prompted by the return of the Ark but the background to this story gives us additional depth. David had defeated all the major enemies of Israel. So, in a sense, we see the conquest of the Promised Land completed. David had also united Israel – both the northern and southern tribes – under his kingship. He then captured Jerusalem and made it the capital city. It is here that he had built a palace for himself and was reigning. And now was a crowning moment in the saga of God’s covenant faithfulness and presence: the one thing seemingly missing, the presence of God as found in the Ark, was soon to be in its rightful place. 

David’s first attempt to bring the ark up to Jerusalem was disastrous. It had been loaded on  a cart and during its transport became unsteady. So Uzzah, one of the men guiding the cart, put out his hand to stabilize it. And in doing so, he was immediately struck dead by God. As a result, David was struck with fear (see 1 Chronicles 13:12) Paralyzed by these events, he became hesitant to make any further attempt to move the Ark.  

But, over time, God blessed the household where the Ark resided after that terrible day. So David finally decided to make another attempt to bring the Ark into the capital city. During this second effort all things were done in a very different and detailed manner. Based on God’s command, the Ark was now carried by the Levites (15:2) and David assembled singing Levites (priests) to accompany the Ark. At last, with great chorus and celebration, the Ark of the Lord was brought into Jerusalem (15:28).  

David himself accompanied the Ark’s entry, reveling in its arrival in Jerusalem with dancing and song as an expression of his uninhibited joy. Although David’s dancing was a very normal display of ecstasy and zeal in that time, his behavior was unusual enough that it disgusted his wife, Michal, the daughter of Saul. She thought that David’s lack of dignity was no way for a king to behave.

But in reality he was just celebrating, along with the entire nation, this powerful and prophetic moment. We need to understand that David’s dancing was not a display of silliness or attention seeking. Instead we find his words in 1 Chronicles 16:29-30 show his thoughts were focused on the presence and greatness of God: “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Tremble before him all the earth!”  

I believe this was an intentional act on David’s part. He was dressed in plain linen clothes just like the priests who accompanied this treasure. He purposefully refused to behave in the typical decorum of a great king on that day because he was welcoming God, God’s presence, and God’s rule into Jerusalem. David, it seems, was most concerned that the people realized that no earthly ruler, but the Lord their God, should occupy the highest office among them. By this very act David was declaring that he was not the real king of this city or nation. Instead it is the Lord God enthroned between the Ark’s cherubim that is the King over all of His creation. He alone is the great Ruler and now is fully revealed as sovereign over His people and His incomparable kingdom.  

And isn’t this the essence of true thanksgiving? God is present! He rules and reigns and is the creator and center of all things. He alone is exalted for who He is and what He has done. And He is our great King, ruling over His chosen ones, coming to us in the form of God the Son who became Jesus the Christ – the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The One to whom we owe all things, including hearts that overflow with gratitude, praise, and adoration.  

In another psalm – a true Thanksgiving prayer – we see David’s gratitude compelled by a profound sense of God’s presence and greatness: 

“You are my God; save Your servant who trusts in You.  Be gracious to me, Lord, for I call to You all day long. Bring joy to Your servant’s life, since I set my hope on You, Lord. For You, Lord, are kind and ready to forgive, abundant in faithful love to all who call on You. Lord, hear my prayer; listen to my plea for mercy. I call on You in the day of my distress, for You will answer me. Lord, there is no one like You among the gods, and there are no works like Yours. All the nations You have made will come and bow down before You, Lord, and will honor Your name.  For You are great and perform wonders; You alone are God. Teach me Your way, Lord, and I will live by Your truth. Give me an undivided mind to fear Your name.  I will praise You with all my heart, Lord my God, and will honor Your name forever” (Psalm 86:2-12, HCSB).

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“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19).

From what little I know about leprosy it is truly awful and would be similar to having AIDS today. Leprosy is an infectious disease that is characterized by disfiguring skin sores, nerve damage, and progressive debilitation. Also, in Jesus’ era, it was incurable. So lepers were, for all practical purposes, socially and physically quarantined and up to this very day there remains a stigma associated with the illness. The life of a leper was truly terrible. I’ve never been healed of leprosy but I’m sure it is a huge deal. Clearly it was for these 10 men who were touched by Jesus’ power of healing. For one it seemed to be of special significance – for he was one of the Samaritans so detested by the Jews. The Hebrews scorned them as dirty to begin with and I imagine the disease compounded this man’s ridicule and isolation.

The lepers’ address of Jesus, while standing at a distance, as Master indicates they knew Him to have great power. So when He commanded them to go they listened. But also they did something to receive their gift. In an act of faith this Samaritan, along with the other nine, obediently went to the priests in response to the Lord’s direction. To underscore Jesus’ divine nature, the scripture says that the healing took place even before they could show themselves to the teachers of the law, the place they needed to go to be “declared” clean. It was a miracle! Yet a real part of the miracle had to do with them acting upon the promise of Christ. I’ve always wondered if their restoration would have occurred it they had chosen not to act. I doubt it. But, in the end, they went and they were healed.

Yet this Samaritan was the only one to be compelled by a thankful heart to return and praise Jesus. This passage suggests that all ten were healed. I think it safe to assume that all were appreciative given their dire circumstances. But only this one visibly demonstrated his gratitude to the giver of this supernatural cure. It is clear that with this Samaritan that his appreciation for Jesus’ benevolent act impassioned him to return to Jesus and display his affection and praise. In this I believe we see that gratitude is inextricably linked to love and to a visible exhibition of its effect on us.

Gratitude is much like love in that it means little unless it prompts us to act upon it. Love motivated gratitude should be verbally expressed and outwardly demonstrated. This is not about the debtor’s ethic we so often see associated with a works-based religion. This Samaritan would have been cleansed whether he returned to Jesus or not. He did so out of a heart that recognized the magnitude of Jesus’ deliverance and healing and not from a desire to show himself worthy or out of a sense of pure obligation. Just the opposite – when he returned to His deliverer the Samaritan did so with loud shouts of praise for the Master and worshipfully thrust himself at the feet of the Lord.

I doubt that anyone who reads this will ever be cured of leprosy. But His children have been cured of something far greater – the disease of our sin and its destructive power. Analogous to the Samaritan’s plight, God, through Christ, has removed from us the ugliness, spiritual alienation, and ultimate death caused by our transgressions. Because He had declared us “clean”, we can, by grace through faith, come close to our Master who has delivered us – the one, Jesus, who “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). And due to this, like the grateful leper, we should be moved to honor and praise Him.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches I pray we become more like this Samaritan. May our appreciation for our Savior be more than an attitude. Let’s all ask God for such a love-saturated gratitude for Him that we seek after Jesus with loud praises and worship at His feet with such authenticity that it permeates all of who we are, our every thought and, accordingly, the way we project and exhibit His beauty through worshipful living (Romans 12:1-2). That, I believe, would be genuine Godward gratitude in its highest form.

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