Man holding up a boxer's arm
Painting of Blackfoot Native Am. Indian by George Caitlin
Blackfoot – Painting by George Caitlin

The ratio of embattled warriors to men, women, and children stood 2 to 1. As the Indian warriors entered the Pilgrim camp with five deer slung over their shoulders, I can imagine children’s play screeching to a halt and mothers pushing their youngest behind their skirts. Pilgrim Edward Winslow wrote that ninety Wampanoag warriors and 53 Pilgrims attended the first harvest feast later to be recognized as the first Thanksgiving. The pilgrims had barely survived their first year in the new land. Over half of their members had succumbed to disease, malnutrition, or the harsh elements of a New England winter, and those are the ones who somehow survived the rough sea voyage to America.[i]

drawing of Pilgrims

I’m certain the tension must have been thicker than the gravy that first Thanksgiving. There were cultural differences and a language barrier. However, the Pilgrims, humbled by a rough winter, relied on these new, unexpected friends. They wouldn’t have survived without the Indians’ help. The Indians taught the Pilgrims where to fish, better ways to stay warm, and how to plant corn and other local crops, and what better way to show their gratitude after a bountiful harvest than with a feast. Things must have relaxed a bit after the initial awkwardness wore off, for it’s written, the feast lasted three days with games, events, food, drink, and good cheer.[ii]

We can’t do it in our own power.

It’s hard to ask for help. Pride raises its ugly head, and we think we’ve got this or we can muster through. But why go it alone? Is it because we’re embarrassed to be seen as weak? Needy?

Even Moses, called by God and considered one of the most important religious leaders in history, needed help. The Amalekites had heard of Egypt’s defeat at the Red Sea and decided to take advantage of it’s neighbor’s weakened condition. However, a weary band of homeless Israelite wanderers traveled between the Amalekites and their target. The weakened travelers seemed easy pickings, so the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. God aided the Israelites. As long as Moses held up his hands with the staff, the Israelites assumed the advantage against the Amalekites.[iii]

I don’t know about you, but my shoulders start to ache if I keep my arms raised for an entire worship song, which is only four to five minutes long in length max. Moses had to keep his arms raised for an entire battle. His arms must have quivered, then shook, and succumbed to a full-on tremor. As soon as, he let them ease down a bit, the Amalekites started to win.

Enter Aaron and Hur.

Aaron, Moses’s brother, and Hur, his friend, saw Moses’s arms shaking and how each time they dropped, the Israelites began to lose. They knew their friend needed help, so they brought over a rock for Moses to sit upon, and then they helped hold Moses’s arms in the air and keep them steady until the sun set, and the battle was won.[iv]

I don’t know whether you look back on this past year as one of victory or one of barely surviving, but all of us need to take a moment and count our blessings. If we can pause in search of the best pumpkin pie recipe or turkey baking method, and be grateful for those people who’ve come into our lives. Those who’ve helped to hold us up and keep our arms raised. Those who’ve passed on a word of encouragement when we needed it, or allowed us an opportunity, or helped us to survive in a new situation or even a new land.   

Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for our friends and families. It’s a time to turn to the person seated to our right and left and let them know how valuable and precious they are. It’s a celebration of the victories God has given us and a time give Him the praise, and the best way to do that is to show hospitality and generosity for those in need.

Happy Thanksgiving

[i] Gingrich, Newt. Host. “Thanksgiving – Carving an American Tradition.” Newt’s World Podcast. Gingrich 360. 11/24/19.
[ii] “The First Thanksgiving, 1621,” EyeWitness to History, (2010). iii Exodus 17:8-13, English Standard Version.

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